| Social networking|
| Social Q&A website|
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June 16, 2010; 6 years ago (2010-06-16)
ASKfm is a global social networking site where users create profiles and can send each other questions.
The site was founded in Latvia and launched on June 16, 2010, as a rival to Formspring. It has since overtaken the latter in terms of worldwide traffic generated with 150 million monthly unique users as of March 2015.
The site was purchased by Ask.com in August 2014 with the intention to "focus on turning around the philosophy of the company and putting trust and safety first."
Since the acquisition, the company has made a number of changes toward its goal of improving the safety of its users. These include parting ways with ASKfm founders, Mark and Ilja Terebin, whom Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds described as having a "laissez-faire" approach to safety and proactively partnering with the New York Attorney General and the Maryland Attorney General in the creation of a multi-step plan to turn the site around. ASKfm has since launched its first-ever Safety Advisory Board of which John Carr OBE, Anne Collier, Marsali Hancock, Brian O'Neill and Justin Patchin are board members, as well as a new Safety Center which includes specific tools, tips and guidance for teens, teachers, parents and law enforcement. In February 2015, under the direction of Chief Trust and Safety Officer Catherine Teitelbaum, ASKfm sponsored its first Safer Internet Day and launched a #nobullies campaign to drive awareness of the company's no tolerance policy for abusive behavior on the ASKfm service.
At the time, existing leaders Mark and Ilya Terebin responded to the allegations by stating that they did have a reporting feature and employ a number of moderators to fight cyberbullying. Accordingly, the site had a "sexually explicit comment" monitor staffed by moderators; however, no comments were ever deleted, even for explicit threats. This was a major cause of criticism. Under Ask.com management, ASKfm has significantly expanded filters with key words and language patterns and has improved automated moderation. Human moderation has grown to 24/7 coverage and is catching 40% more user posts for human review.
On August 6, 2013, it was reported that Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old girl from Leicestershire, England, had killed herself, and that her father blamed her death on bullying responses she had received on the site. He called for tighter controls against social networking sites like ASKfm, saying that he had seen the abuse his daughter had received and it was wrong that it was anonymous. The Smith family calls were echoed by the parents of Goosnargh, Lancashire teenager Joshua Unsworth, who was reported to have been "cyberbullied" on the site prior to his suicide. The company responded by stating it was 'happy to help police'.
Following the suicide of Hannah Smith, British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a boycott of websites that don't take responsibility for dealing with cyberbullying on their sites. Several advertisers responded by severing links with the site, including (amongst others) Save the Children, eBay and BT. Vodafone had already stopped advertising on the site.
However, the site is still popular and growing. ASKfm has 150 million users, 25 billion answers and 49 languages.
Since Ask.com has acquired ASKfm, it has relocated its headquarters to Dublin, Ireland and spent millions of dollars to establish the infrastructure and process to improve safety. As part of its relocation to Ireland, ASKfm officials met with the Department of Children to assure the proper steps are being taken to "significantly improve" protections on the website. Aine Lynch of the National Parents Council said she met with the new owners of ASKfm at their request and that "they seem to be really going through the site to try and make sure that it's moderated better and that postings on it are more responsible."
However, some experts believe that the combination of offline contacts who know each other well, and the availability of online anonymity is a toxic mix that will inevitably lead to problems for some users.