The Dilemma of Anonymity and Dangers of Ask.fm

Anonymity affords a precarious, irresistible power to teens online. Ask.fm is one app that’s exploding in popularity by allowing users to ask and answer questions to one another anonymously.

While Ask.fm is used by many teens as a digital playground to flirt and just have fun (and confess crushes), the lack of a name or face, can (and often does) open the door to cyber bulling, sexual conversation, and direct hits to a child’s self esteem.

Ask.fm is exploding in popularity among youth is growing with more than 57 million users and a staggering 200,000 new users added daily. It is currently ranked number 8 on Apple’s most downloaded free app chart—in front of teen app sensations Instagram, YouTube and Kik Messenger.

The site is also popular because it’s a cyber hangout that is parent-free and lacks the basic safeguards of Facebook or even Instagram. Ask.fm has no privacy settings, and no reporting system for violations. It’s 100% anonymous, which means, zero consequences for bullying, threats, or sexual content. Because of its anonymity, Ask.fm has also been linked to countless cyber bullying cases and even suicides.

Here’s how the site Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 5.26.01 PM

“If you receive a question that makes you uncomfortable for any reason, do not respond to the question, tell a parent, guardian or other trusted adult and block the user who sent it so they can’t contact you again. If the person keeps bothering you, report abuse to us by pressing the Report button and to law enforcement.”

While the app creators encourage you to “press the ‘Report’ button” we could not find a “Report” button on their site.

So, should you let your child download the app? Well, every opinion will vary. However, we believe that when things get anonymous online, the security risks skyrocket as do the opportunities for social drama and even emotional disaster.

Think about it. What good can come from teen peers interacting anonymously (enough can go awry when avatars and real names are attached)? This mom sees Ask.fm as a toxic, emotional cocktail too easily made from mixing one part anonymity with one part raging hormones and one part maturity deficit.

There’s little if no good that comes from anonymity online. This is one app you need to put your foot down on and ‘just say no’ to.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family.

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