By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) – Online social network Ask.fm said on Monday it would clamp down on bullying after coming under fire from child safety campaigners for a string of suicides in Britain that were linked to the website popular with teenagers.
Earlier this month Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself at her family’s home after suffering months of bullying on the Latvia-based website, which allows users to post questions and comments to each other, anonymously if they want.
This was the fourth teenage suicide in Britain linked to the website in the past year and prompted some companies, including Vodafone, Laura Ashley and the Save the Children charity, to withdraw advertising from the site.
Following Smith’s suicide, Prime Minister David Cameron said Internet users should boycott “vile” websites that allow cyber bullying to avoid any more deaths, while some schools urged parents to get their children off the site.
The founders of Ask.fm, Russian brothers Ilja and Mark Terebin, said on Monday there had been a full audit of the website’s safety features and that as a result, they would hire more staff to moderate comments, including a safety officer.
They would also create a new function for users to report any bullying or harassment, and raise the visibility of a button to stop anonymous comments, they said in a statement.
Ask.fm has attracted 70 million users since it was founded in 2010. The site made headlines in the United States last week when kidnapping victim Hannah Anderson logged on just 48 hours after her rescue in Idaho to openly answer personal questions about her ordeal.
“I think they’ve gone far enough to make the website safe for teenagers to use but I also think they can do a bit more. Get rid of the anonymous bit completely, because if you’re anonymous, you can bully,” Smith’s father, David Smith, told Britain’s Sky Television on Monday.
A report this month from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) indicated that online harassment, abuse or cyber stalking was experienced by almost one in five children who used social networking sites.
The UK Safer Internet Center, which promotes the safe use of technology, said it was “delighted” by the changes announced by Ask.fm, which launched an iPhone app for users in June.
“We strongly advise users, especially children, to switch off anonymous questions, and to report any abuse they see on the site, whether targeting them, or other users,” the center said in a statement.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
[Two girls bullying another via Shutterstock]