Ask.fm is a question and answer social networking site founded in 2010 that allows users to ask questions anonymously. It was created in Riga, Latvia by brothers, Ilja and Mark Terebin. They wanted to create a rival of Formspring, another Q and A style social networking site. Ownership changed in 2014 and again in 2016. A user's profile displays questions the user has answered. The platform's branding and revenue models have been constantly changing since its creation. Ask.fm is the subject of many ethical concerns because an abundance of cyberbullying hat has occurred on the site, known ISIS recruitment, and dangerous marketing strategies. Suicides of teens in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been linked to the platform. Ask.fm continues to commit itself to find new ways to promote internet safety.
- 1 History
- 2 Use
- 3 Ethical Concerns
- 3.1 Cyberbullying
- 3.2 Suicide
- 3.3 Isis Recruitment
- 3.4 Dangerous Marketing
- 3.5 Public Response to Criticisms
- 3.6 Analysis of Responsibility and Accountability
- 3.7 Platform Structure and Comparison to Other Social Media
- 4 Commitment to Internet Safety
- 5 Similar Companies
- 6 References
Brothers lja and Mark Terebin founded Ask.fm in 2010. InterActiveCorp(IAC) bought the site in 2014, promising to improve safety measures and address bullying concerns. In 2016, IAC sold Ask.fm to Noosphere Ventures, an asset management firm,.
Ask.fm headquarters moved from Latvia to Dublin, Ireland, after the purchase in 2014. IAC determined that to help Ask.fm with their safety issues, they needed a location with pre-existing infrastructure and networks.
Branding and Interface
When first created in 2010, Ask.fm allowed users to send questions anonymously. Ask.fm featured tabs to see questions the user was asked and friends’ responses to questions.
IAC promised to address safety concerns in 2014. They hired Catherine Teitelbaum as Chief Trust and Safety Officer, who tightened policies, created a Safety Center, and implemented a Safety Advisory Board, which was committed to removing users with multiple complaints and responding to complaints immediately. New measures also gave parents and adults the power to request an account be deleted.
In 2016, the site was rebranded to highlight human's innate curiosity as social beings. It emphasized learning about other's thoughts and feelings to create better connections and discover more about oneself. They introduced a mascot named Owlcat designed to represent an owl's wise nature and a cat's curiosity. Other rebranding updates included new features that allow users to emulate their personalities, such as responding to questions with gifs from GIPHY.
In 2017, the site unveiled the discovery page for users to see the most liked posts in their area and frequently used hashtags. Other updates included: more customizable background options, hashtags for profiles, suggested friend connections, a “view more” button for long posts, and the ability for users to indicate their online status.
Later in 2017, to address negative comments and self-bullying, the phenomenon where users send themselves hurtful messages anonymously, Ask.fm implemented the emotion-distress AI management service, Koko. Koko finds hurtful content, removes it, and then offers the affected user support.
In 2018, Ask.fm and the Diana Award, a UK charity, worked together to add a Safety Center page that includes material to educate students, teachers, and parents about online safety and Ask.fm safety features.
Later in 2018, Ask.fm released an initial coin offering (ICO), the cryptocurrency equivalent of an initial public offering. To promote the new cryptocurrency, Ask.fm sent a team of "crypto enthusiasts" to bury 50,000 ASKT, at the peak of Mount Everest.
In 2018, Ask.fm created a new major project known as Ask.fm 2.0. The product uses the question and answers framework of Ask.fm with blockchain technology that provides token incentives for content creation. The idea stemmed from the creation of a proprietary cryptocurrency known as ASK Token (ASKT). The initial launch of ASKT offered up one billion tokens, 50% of the total amount, to investors and users and set the initial price at $0.1 per token, with plans to later sell an additional $100 million. The change intended to allow Ask.fm to break away from an advertising-based revenue model and, instead, rely on payment directly from users as fees on these transactions. CEO of ASK.fm, Max Tsaryk, remarked on the release of ASKT and ASK.fm 2.0 saying, “...blockchain technology can boost access to knowledge and how it is assessed through a tokenized social media community where people are incentivized to deliver thoughtful and in-demand responses.” 
ASK.fm 2.0 was designed as a separate platform from ASK.fm. Giving users the option to switch to the new platform and partake in cryptocurrency-based interactions. The use of ASK.fm tokens on the site allows users to offer a bounty for answering questions. After another user provides an answer and the answer is verified, the answerer earns the bounty tokens. Multiple users can answer a bounty question, and each user would receive a portion of the reward. 
A user must create a free account to use Ask.fm. Users provide their email and date of birth to sign up (users must be over 13 years old). Once an account is created, they can add a profile picture, write a bio, add hashtags to their profile, and declare if they are online or offline. To find friends, users can connect their various social media accounts, where Ask.fm gives suggestions based on these accounts. At the top of the screen are six icons. The house icon is where the user can see their feed of questions and friends' questions. The question mark icon is where questions asked of the user are located. The person icon is the user's profile. The icon depicting two people is where the user can search for friends or hashtags and connect their other social media accounts. The lightning bolt is where notifications show up, and the gear icon is where settings are.
User settings include opt-out of receiving anonymous questions, allowing other users to share posts and subscribe to their account, indicate if they are online or not. They can pick a gif that describes their mood, control notifications, change their password, deactivate the account, view whom they have blocked, and log out of their account.
When the user clicks the red plus sign icon button at the top right corner of the page, they can ask someone a question anonymously or openly, create a photo poll where people vote on their favorite of two photos, or ask questions to users nearby with a shoutout.
In 2013, Ask.fm had 60 million users in 150 countries and gained around 300,000 new users every day. About half of all users were under the age of eighteen Users flocked to the app for a sense of community and entertainment. They engaged in a virtual world free from adults and supervision. It is a place where users can explore their identity. Users want to be accepted by peers, so they join their friends and neighbors on Ask.fm. The possibility of someone secret asking them questions and engaging with them is exciting for users.
The users are predominantly adolescent which makes them very impressionable. Many young people are said to be "crowdsourcing their identity online."  They feel an incredible pressure to respond immediately to Ask.fm messages that others, even people they don't know, send them. Young people are being shaped by anonymous experiences online sometimes more than offline experiences. Often times, young people utilize their Ask.fm account in coordination with a Twitter or another social media. This leads to a wider audience viewing and accessing user content which results in others influencing their personality. The conclusion to this influence on adolescence has been negative mostly, resulting in bullying, harassment and a great amount of time looking at one's phone resulting in sleep deprivation. The influence that peers have on identity formation has always been critical in young peoples' lives but the addition of anonymity and technology has enhanced this and made it more dangerous for the end user.
Cyberbullying is a concern that has put Ask.fm at the center of attention. The anonymity of Ask.fm allows users to “hide behind a screen” and say anything without disclosing their identity. The namelessness permits people to engage in heated debates, harassment, and bullying. In the early years, Ask.fm had few safety controls and users could not lock down their accounts. Studies found that users on Ask.fm had more issues with bullying and abuse than users on any other social networking platform. As a result, the Ask.fm environment was more negative than other sites.
In twelve months spanning 2012 and 2013, nine Ask.fm users died by suicide due to the harassment and bullying they received. All victims were between the ages of twelve and seventeen as detailed below.
Ciara Pugsley (15)
Erin (left) & Shannon (right) Gallagher
Jessica Laney (16) 
Joshua Unsworth (15) 
Hannah Smith (14)
Rebecca Sedwick (12) 
Ciara Pugsley was the first teen in the media for committing suicide due to online bullying and harassment on Ask.fm. The fifteen-year-old was called "slut" and "ugly" by a slew of anonymous teens online until her suicide in September of 2012. 
Erin & Shannon Gallagher
Erin Gallagher was cyber-bullied by users on Ask.fm regarding her weight and appearance. She posted messages in response, lashing out at her abusers before she died. She committed suicide in October of 2012 at the age of thirteen. Erin's fifteen-year-old sister Shannon Gallager took her life two months after her younger sister's death.
Jessica Laney, a Florida native, was told on Ask.fm that she was mean, fat, and no one liked her. Her close friends asked her to close her accounts due to the abuse on multiple occasions but sixteen-year-old Jessica wanted to see what people were saying about her. She responded defensively to comments that told her to die or kill herself "already." Her friends were shocked by her sudden suicide in December of 2012.
Anthony Stubbs was missing for over a month before he was found hanged in the woods in Lancashire, England. His family spoke out against Ask.fm as a tool for Anthony's abuse.
Joshua Unsworth hung himself in his garden in April 2013 after receiving months of abuse on Ask.fm relating to his laborer father and dating life. He was fifteen-years-old. 
Daniel Perry committed suicide at age 17 after being subject to an online scam orchestrated by someone he believed himself to be in a relationship with. Daniel also received messages on Ask.fm such as "kill yourself mate" that are believed to be connected with his suicide. 
Hannah Smith was a fourteen-year-old from Leicestershire, England. She was reportedly harassed on Ask.fm for months up until her suicide in August 2013, but it was later revealed that the hurtful messages may have been sent by Hannah herself. Ask.fm revealed that 98% of the messages sent to Hannah came from the same IP address as her computer. This case illuminated the risk of self-bullying as a form of digital harm that can, in some cases, be equated with physical self-harm.
Rebecca Sedwick received messages on Ask.fm saying "nobody cares about you," "you seriously deserve to die," and "drink bleach" until her suicide at age twelve in September 2013. Rebecca's death leads to police questions about the validity of arresting bullies when their victims commit suicide. Two of Rebeccas classmates were arrested for harassment but were later released due to lack of evidence.
Further bullying on the site did not stop after their deaths, however, site founders claimed no responsibility, blaming society for the problems. British Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, called for a boycott of Ask.fm and websites like it that allowed for unmonitored harassment. He pushed for those that created these sites to take responsibility and action on the issue.
In 2014, three teenage girls from Denver, Colorado, joined Isis, an Islamic terrorist organization. They ran away from home and went to Syria to an Islamic State Camp. Thousands of Jihadist accounts on the platform would answer questions people had about joining them. Government and safety organizations struggled to combat the recruitment because it was difficult to identify the casual nature and language of the conversations. There were few references to violence, so words would not be flagged in filters.
As part of the launching of ASKfm 2.0, Ask.fm sponsored a publicity stunt in which four members of the cryptocurrency community climbed Mount Everest to bury a crypto wallet containing 500,000 ASKT worth $50,000. On May 14th, 2018, the climbers successfully summited the mountain and left the wallet behind. As they descended the mountain, the climbers found themselves in worsening weather conditions. They left behind three of their Sherpa guides who had completed the summit with them. Two of the three Sherpas made it back to camp. One, Lam Babu Sherpa, was left behind on the mountain and never found; he is now presumed dead.
In the wake of the incident, Ask.fm initially ignored the Sherpa's death. They reported solely on the success of burying the Ledger wallet, which resulted in public criticism calling Ask.fm disrespectful and dishonest. Questions were asked about the ethicality of these types of marketing techniques and their worth. Max Tsaryk spoke of the incident in an interview with FinanceMagnates stating that while it was regretful, it was no different than other publicity stunts carried out by companies like Google and Red Bull.
Public Response to Criticisms
In 2013, many people had called for it to be shut down, from various petitions, Facebook groups, and parents of the victims themselves.  In response to such heavy criticism, the owners of Ask.fm issued an open letter. In this letter, Mark and Ilja Terebin said that they while they state that bullying is an "age-old problem" that is not "unique to their site." 
Analysis of Responsibility and Accountability
McGill associate professor Shaheen Shariff has discussed the extent to which they could be responsible for this. The main question at the heart of his investigation. Despite the lack of provisions on their website, he believes that the age of digital technology has "shifted the traditional norms of communication." Uniquely, he thinks that the main cause of this is due to "society and popular culture." 
Platform Structure and Comparison to Other Social Media
In terms of the platform itself, many experts such as lawyer Nima Niami who specializes in online bullying believes that the platform is innocuous. However, anonymity itself and the young user base calls for more provisions. 
Commitment to Internet Safety
Ask.fm's safety philosophy is based around three pillars: Safety Equals Collaboration, Safety is Personal, and Anonymity Equals Responsibility. As a result of the vast majority of users being under the age of 18, they understand it is their responsibility to educate these users to make the platform a positive experience.
Safety Equals Collaboration
Ask.fm states that "no single technology, platform or law can magically make an online experience 'safe'". For this reason, they are committed to searching for potential causes behind the safety issues that platforms such as Ask.fm endure. They state that the answer to questions such as "where does the bullying start?" are rooted in society as opposed to product design, and therefore, can only be answered by working together as a community.
Safety is Personal
They work to create a customizable platform for all users to design their personal level of safety that they see fit.
Anonymity Equals Responsibility
Safer Internet Day
Safer Internet Day is an international event centered around raising awareness on current topics regarding the online community. This event was started in 2004 and as of 2021, is celebrated in 170 countries worldwide. In the United States, Safer Internet Day is hosted by ConnectSafely, a nonprofit based out of Silicon Valley, which focuses on educating society on the safety and privacy in the digital realm. This year, the event occurred virtually on February 8th, with the slogan "Together for a Better Internet", where lesson plans and home activities were provided to promote the use of connected technology safely. Prior to the global pandemic due to COVID-19, this event took place in two major cities designed for high school and families of young children, both of which are growing up in a time where technology is most prominent in daily life. In 2015, Ask.fm became an official sponsor of Safer Internet Day 2015: Actions and Activism Toward a Better Net and World. Catherine Teitelbaum, Chief Trust & Safety Officer at Ask.fm, spoke at the event about dealing with trolling and social cruelty. Ask.fm has continued to be a sponsor of Safer Internet Day over the last six years.
Ownership Changes and Platform Changes
In 2015, the ownership of Ask.FM had changed to the owner of Ask.com. The usage dropped significantly after the new owner tried to clean up its practices. Since the app had previously been a site that was the grounds for bullying and harassment, they had removed the previous owners / founders and increased oversight of questions, hired a Chief Trust and Safety Officer, and created a safety advisory board to monitor potential abuses of Ask.FM. The safety board was comprised of five top anti-bullying experts. Among these included Dr. Justin Patchin from the CyberBullying Research Center and Marsali Hancock of iKeepSafe.org.  The new owner also vowed to respond to all bullying allegations within 24 hours and promised to revamp all safety and moderation policies within six months. In an interview with the Silicon Valley news site Pando Daily, the owner of Ask.com at the time said that "we're not going to run a bullying site... If we can't fix Ask.fm "we'll shut it down." 
Ask.fm is not the only company that utilizes anonymity in this online space.
Reddit is the sixth most visited site in the United States. Reddit is described as a melting pot of trends, media, communities, and jokes.  Most users on reddit "don't use their real names or birth year in their usernames, and it's strongly discouraged." As opposed to Ask.fm, the anonymity on Reddit has been seen as a "foundation for openness." This anonymity is kept in check by transparency.
Founded in 2013, Yik Yak is a discontinued phone app that allowed users to hold conversations anonymously with others within a 5-mile radius from their location. These conversations were called “Yaks” and users were allowed to write, reply, upvote, and downvote them. Initially successful, its growth was eventually stunted by public criticism over the app’s facilitation of cyberbullying and racism. Due to the anonymity of users and a lack of regulation, users were able to post demeaning comments with no repercussions. At Eastern Michigan University, students used Yik Yak to hold conversations about their professor during class. These conversations used crude and inappropriate language. The professor sent screenshots of such messages to university officials in hopes of them taking some sort of action, but her attempts were unsuccessful. Because of the anonymity of the application, there was no way for anyone to find out who was responsible for such messages. 
Founded in 2013, Blind is an app for employees to anonymously discuss workplace matters. Since its release, Blind has amassed a user base of more than 3.2 million users. The application is predominately used in Korea and the United States. Of its user base, approximately 2 million of its users are from Korea and 1 million are from the United States.
People can sign up for Blind using their work email. Once signed up, users are able to talk about salaries, workplace concerns, and employee misconduct with other users in rooms grouped by topics, companies, and industry. Users are completely anonymous during these conversations and can solely be recognized by their username and respective company. This has allowed employees to safely talk about work incidents, some of which include the Korean Air VP rage 7 sacking incidence and the Uber sexual harassment claims.
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