Latest social media website could be a bullying threat to your family

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 6:00 p.m. MDT

Last month, Ask.fm officials announced that changes would be made to Ask.fm in response to the cyberbullying controversy. Included in those changes are an increased team of content moderators and higher visibility to the site's features that allow users to report bullying and opt out of anonymous comments.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to protect our users and stamp out bullying or any other kind of abuse," Ask.fm spokesman Ross Hall said in an email to the Deseret News. "Sadly, bullying can take place anywhere — on or offline — so it is important we, parents and users work together to fight it."

Hall said the company was also in the process of hiring a safety officer so that reports of inappropriate behavior made on the site are investigated and dealt with within 24 hours.

"If a user sees something that isn’t appropriate before we do, we would ask that they help us stand up to bullies by reporting it," Hall said. "Any complaints made about this kind of abuse are prioritized automatically and will be dealt with immediately."

Scherzinger said one of the challenges with cyberbullying is that it's a behavior that exists independent of any particular website. Anything that allows users to generate content online, from social networking sites like Facebook to blogs or online comment boards, can potentially be used to spread hurtful language about another person.

She compared social networking to the mythological Hydra, where you work to educate parents and students about the dangers of a website only to see three more rise up in its place.

Finding solutions

So what can be done?

"If we can have the conversation with kids to be respectful, to have empathy, to celebrate everyone’s diversity, if we can have that conversation it doesn’t matter what media comes because there will be another one next month," Scherzinger said.

She also said that bullying obviously pre-dates the Internet, but where gossiping and hurtful language once relied on human interaction to spread, a single post on a popular website can be seen by an entire student body instantaneously.

The consequences of that enhanced distribution are much higher, Scherzinger said, and many students simply don't comprehend those consequences and don't realize they're behavior is potentially prosecutable.

"I think the earlier we’re putting this technology into children’s hands, that’s as early and with as much force as we need to teach them how to use it," she said.

Carrie Jensen, associate director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, said it's hard to say whether cyberbullying is increasing or decreasing, since it is up to victims to self-report and because occurrence varies in different school districts and individual schools.

But she said unlike traditional bullying that many parents may remember from their youth, today's cyberbullying doesn't end when a student returns home at the end of a school day.

"That child that is being bullied can never escape from it," Jensen said. "It’s more prevalent in that way because there’s just more ways that a bully can access their victim."

Getting training

Prevent Child Abuse Utah conducts in-school training for students on a number of topics, including Internet safety, and Jensen said their presentation includes the "Three R's" of cyberbullying: recognize, resist and report.

She said students need to recognize that cyberbullying is an unfortunate reality they need to protect themselves against and parents need to recognize that their children are using technology somewhere, whether that's at home, at school or at a friend's house. Students need to resist the attacks of bullies, by blocking their messages if possible, changing their account names or simply ignoring them.

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