Charlottetown girl urged to commit suicide on Ask.fm social web site

Jim Day
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A screenshot of the Ask.fm homepage

The nudge was cruel, mean spirited and hateful.

It could also have proven deadly.

Roughly six months ago, a Charlottetown teen started tapping away on the controversial and heavily criticized social networking site called Ask.fm.

The 14-year-old girl battles with mental health issues. Two months ago she tried to end her life.

Days later, her mother informs The Guardian, the girl was communicating on Ask.fm.

An anonymous site user, apparently aware of the girl’s fragile state, told the teen to take her own life, that she wasn’t worth being here.

The girl was terribly upset by the unconscionable posting.

On Sunday, more of the same, perhaps by the same anonymous Ask.fm site user.

The user fired off the following despicable message to the teen:

“You disgust me. You disgust everyone. You’re so pathetic, you’re nothing but a worthless attention beggar. You’re a piece of ----. It’s crazy how much a person can be hated, by the way, that would be you. The most hated person! ****ing loser. Go cut yourself and die ...’’

Mom, quite naturally, was furious.

“I was angry — very angry,’’ she says.

She reported the incident to the police. The police said they are aware of the site, but cannot do anything. The Charlottetown mother wants somebody to do something.

She doesn’t want teens to use the site. Ultimately, she would like to find a way to shut the site down.

“I feel like parents don’t really know what social media sites there are out there,’’ she says.

Parry Aftab, a lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security law, is very familiar with Ask.fm.

The social site was founded in Latvia and is available in a few dozen languages. The site lets kids ask questions and answer questions posted by other users. Exchanges can be done anonymously. Bullying is a major concern.

As with many social sites, some users keep things friendly and clean, while others post hateful comments or sexual come-ons.

Some of those comments have dire consequences.

“We have more suicides from Ask.fm than from any other site out there,’’ says Aftab, who founded the site wiredsafety.org to combat cyberbullying.

Aftab has reached out to the Aask.fm site consistently for the last three years.

“They have not been very co-operative with law enforcement or us,’’ she says.

Aftab, who has been able to shut down similar social sites, expects that to change.

“When you deal with these sites you either shut them down or you fix them...make them more user friendly,’’ she says.

“I’m optimistic that Ask.fm will change its practices to be safer for young people to use it...to stop cyberbullying among their users.’’

Currently, the site doesn’t monitor content, but users can report behaviour that’s violent, pornographic, or contains hate speech.

“If your teens do use the site, they’d be best turning off anonymous answers and keeping themselves out of the live stream — and knowing how to handle abusive behaviour if they do run into bullies,’’ advises the website commonsensemedia.org.

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Latvia

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Uzuki Cheverie
    July 25, 2014 - 17:09

    I've got two feelings towards this. First off, yes, bullies are bad and we need to learn to regulate activity on awful sites like this, but at the same time, we do need to come up with a way to teach kids how to handle bullies better. Because as cruel as this sounds, there are too many kids that are jumping straight to the solution of "suicide" - clearly they have not been consoled enough by friends/family/peers/etc. that suicide does NOT solve your problems and that there are better ways to deal with bullies. HOWEVER, we do need to do something about Ask.fm. I've tried it out once or twice, but I never used it more than that because I knew what kind of negativity surrounded that website and I swear, there are way too many kids with way too many awful things to say there, and because of the anonymous posting, they feel like they can get away with it, and for many of them, they can. All in all, we need to better educate both sides - educate those who think killing themselves is a "solution" to problems, and educate those who think it's perfectly fine to hide behind a username and attack others. Both are terrible, terrible things. Parents should also be playing a part in regulating what their kids are doing on the internet. As a person I know once said, "Leaving your minor teenage child in their bedroom alone with a laptop is like dropping your minor teenage child in the middle of New York Times Square alone and sayin 'Have fun'." And of course, Ask.fm is going to have to start putting their foot down if they want to be respected as an actual website for teenagers and adults to use and not have lawyers on their asses. Moderate things a bit better and put on serious rules about bullying/being a general asshole. Because this really needs to stop and that website is just garbage at this point.

  • Cat
    July 25, 2014 - 10:23

    I've actually had far worse things said to me on this site but my solution was simple. I blocked anonymous comments, then later deleted my account, because there's a lot of negativity surrounding the site. YES, I think that these things are horrible, as I've also endured them, BUT we also should be teaching the younger generation how to deal with these issues better. Many people will victimize and pity themselves rather than changing something about it. You are the sole person in control of your happiness. If you're not happy with your life or something happening in it, change it. There's delete buttons, block buttons, report buttons. Not that I at all condone bullying but there always has and always will be bullies in this world and we should be teaching kids how to handle these sort of things better. Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you or makes you happy. ✌

  • Jhonnie Walker
    July 25, 2014 - 06:43

    We can't expect what will really happens tomorrow. Therefore, better be safe, than regret and feel sorrow. And for safety of these students, your child, or maybe your relative. I would suggest emergency safety service that everyone can carry all days. Check it from here: http://safekidzone.com/?a_aid=52f12fafd5de8

  • .
    July 25, 2014 - 06:05

    I appreciate this story and the message behind it but is anyone a little concerned about the quality of this article?? The reading level is literally for a 2nd grader. It's really disappointing to see such shoddy work from a reputable news source. Shake my head. This girl deserves a respectable report.

  • ????
    July 24, 2014 - 20:01

    how is cyberbullying even real jhahahah like close your eyes.... i'm a teen who uses the site and anonymous hate is nothing... easy fix: you can turn anonymous off.... delete the app/your account.... and close your eyes and walk away..... or just stop taking everything so seriously. this is embarrassing for me to read, honestly. if you have mental health problems.. why use a site that has an anonymous feature? this just angers me so much...

    • Corporal Crusty
      July 25, 2014 - 13:01

      Google victim blaming and get back to me.

  • Mr. Dressup
    July 24, 2014 - 19:41

    It's hard enough out there without having your life immortalized on Spacebook or ASK. It was nice for those of us who grew up without it so at least some of the stories are forgotten. Parents should not be allowing children to use these networks until they are 18. This was a good straight up discussion here and without open comments it would not be possible. Not judging those involved but what was said was right about if internet rules can't be followed then bigger problems are likely. Cut a switch and crack down on them kids and the rats that posted such comments should get a good wigging.

  • enough already
    July 24, 2014 - 19:13

    Anon , please enough with the women are victims please . How do you know the perpetrated of this act is not a woman?

  • Every person in the history of ever
    July 24, 2014 - 18:37

    I've read ask.fm comments, and I've read comments on the guardian website. Guess which are worse?

  • jimbo
    July 24, 2014 - 14:53

    Jocelyne Lloyd, I think you and the Guardian do a fantastic job. I appreciate all the comments but I don't actually agree with all of them. We are very fortunate to live in a country where we can voice our opinions whether favorable or not. I must say that I am getting sick of so called self important people that think they have the right to suggest what should or shouldn't be put in the Guardian. To those people let me remind you the the Guardian is published for everyone not just for you. Guardian keep up the good work you are appreciated!

  • enough already
    July 24, 2014 - 10:01

    Easy way not to be abused, shut off the damn computer. These people will do anything for a little attention.

    • fellowislander
      July 24, 2014 - 12:45

      obviously you do not have teens "enough already" Yep this mom is looking for attention...that's kind of the whole point of going to the media. I bet that Mom would be happy if even one parent read this story and had their youth delete their askfm account so that they wouldn't have to go through what her daughter went through.

    • JJ
      July 24, 2014 - 14:20

      Agreed, everyone wants to pass the buck. Blame yourself for your childrens problems, not the internet.

    • Anon
      July 24, 2014 - 15:00

      @enough already This is not always an option in the wired world. I am a woman who works in IT who endured years of online abuse and disconnecting was not an option. I went to Charlottetown police three times, contacted The Guardian, CBC, and Community Mental Health. They told me to get offline but when I explained I worked in IT so not an option they told me to go back to school and retrain in something else... because I have the money to go back to university. I see The Guardian publishing this kind of article as a sign of progress. Also, women and girls are more often the victim of this kind of abuse and because of this, women and girls are disconnecting which is keeping women out of yet another public space. We're still in an age where we have to fight for the same rights as men.

    • fellowislander
      July 24, 2014 - 20:27

      Dear JJ do you have teenagers in this day and age? or are you even a parent at all??? If so they must be perfect and listen to everything you tell them to do...wow I sure do admire you and wish everyone's lives and the lives of their children were as perfect and simple as yours

  • townie22
    July 24, 2014 - 08:52

    there ARE tech savvie concerned citizens out there who will help track down sicko's like this that encourage suicides and get them banned, but there's not much info to get started on this one (i don't mean me, unfortunately i'm not very techie). there are people and groups on Twitter very good at this type of thing for helping with child abuse, suicide prevention, internet bullying, etc.

  • Edward Gregory
    July 24, 2014 - 07:57

    @JocelyneLloyd The point that 'Internet Trolling' made about the Guardian comments section was not necessarily about the content of the post, but the fact that they are anonymous and open. You can't dispute that. There ARE things that get posted on the comments section in the Guardian that are hurtful and unnecessary that would pass your scrutiny. Perhaps the content may be edited by The Guardian, but the fact remains that the posts are essentially anonymous.

    • Jocelyne Lloyd, web editor
      July 24, 2014 - 08:15

      Fair enough. Thanks for your comments. Jocelyne

    • fellowislander
      July 24, 2014 - 20:35

      anonymous yes but not untraceable. If it were flat out hate and charges could be made the police can trace who made the statement

  • WHAT!!!
    July 24, 2014 - 07:42

    So YOU (the Guardian) decides to quote it on the front page of the newspaper. How thoughtful!

    • Right?!?
      July 24, 2014 - 09:13

      Couldn't agree with you more!

  • concerned
    July 24, 2014 - 07:27

    If I were her mother, I'd be reporting this to the police rather than the media...

    • read, then comment
      July 24, 2014 - 08:54

      "She reported the incident to the police. The police said they are aware of the site, but cannot do anything. The Charlottetown mother wants somebody to do something."

    • SomeSense
      July 24, 2014 - 09:01

      Did you even read the article? It says she did report it to the police and they said there is nothing they can do, and really I don't think that it should be something the police should get into either.

    • Ummm....
      July 24, 2014 - 09:14

      She did.

    • don
      July 24, 2014 - 11:20

      they say police are here to help prevent crime but yet when this is reported and bulling is a crime they can not help till after a person is dead good job capital city police lol. one thing is do not join the site, 2 tell me what is a bully? he/she is a COWARD they will kiss your feet when you take control of them they then become a wimp. so remember kids that adults comes in all ages young and old but all they are is COWARDS plain and simple.

    • to concerned
      July 24, 2014 - 11:33

      If I were you, I would read this article again.

  • Cautious User
    July 24, 2014 - 07:20

    Also - there should be legal repercussions for minors. The police should be able to more than "nothing". They should have the full support and backing of the government to request the information from the ask.fm owners. There's got to be a way. This points to an ever increasing need for the current government to be serious about the state of mental health in PEI.

  • Please Wake Up
    July 24, 2014 - 07:03

    This is another reason why parents MUST monitor their children's activity on social networks. Lots of teens have cell phones too, how many parents check the text messages time to time? Bullying and hate exist. Protect your children. Know who they are interacting with. When you discover sites like this, or friends and acquaintances, that try to poison your children REPORT IT!!! A child, not an adult yet, under your roof, you need to protect. They are not going to like it much but monitoring the computer and phones is a way to protect them. Way too much technology for kids now.

  • Another Mom
    July 24, 2014 - 07:01

    No surprise. Two years ago, I read the same disgusting stuff when my daughter received it. A friend's niece was abused on social media as well. Because of the anonymity, the texts are more vicious and the emotional violence can be done 24-7. We wonder why so many kids are suicidal/cutting/depressed? Welcome to the "new age". You can try to monitor your child's online activity, but not as easy as you think. There is more than one parent that states they know exactly what their son or daughter is doing; they don't, guaranteed. And trying to teach a young teenager how to handle abusive behavior? That takes years, and the problem is "now". I feel for the mother. I walked in her shoes. To the girl who received the abuse.....don't believe it. It will get better. I promise. And while you feel alone in this, you are not.

    • Janet McLeod
      July 24, 2014 - 10:51

      Thank you for your thoughtful, compassionate response. The world needs more like you.

  • Cautious User
    July 24, 2014 - 06:57

    The saying " I feel if you don't know how to protect yourself on the internet, you shouldn't be on the internet" isn't entirely logical. It would be naive to think that just because you aren't present on the internet means that they're not talking about you. That's just not true. With most other social sites - people can do/say whatever they wish. Being willingly ignorant won't solve the problem! Ask.Fm is a bit of an exception here. Teens sign up for their own page and others (read: anyone) can post on it. The conversations on Ask.Fm would not happen if a teen does not sign up for it. To be honest, I'm not sure what will solve it - better parenting perhaps? If I ever heard my child speak like that, they wouldn't be allowed internet or a cell phone 'till they leave the house at age 35.

    • Truth Seeker
      Truth Seeker
      July 24, 2014 - 09:48

      Our teens are prohibited from using Ask.FM and they understand why. Yet one of them, knowing the risks, still secretly uses it. This generation is unbelievably unaccountable. The species is being seriously diluted. We can do the best job we can at home and still have our children choose what's popular over what's smart.

  • Internet trolling
    July 24, 2014 - 05:57

    I miss the days before the internet. People will post and say almost anything on there, things they wouldn't have the guts to say face to face with another human being. Personally I feel if you don't know how to protect yourself on the internet, you shouldn't be on the internet. If you don't know how to protect yourself, then you best find someone to teach you. As a parent I cannot understand part of the article, if this happened once, then why would you allow her to go back on again? She is a teenager, set some rules and make her follow them. If you can't do that, you have bigger problems then some stranger on the internet. P.S. Now that you have dealt with the ASK bullies, you have now opened yourself up to the local Guardian posters and their open and anonymous postings.

    • Jocelyne Lloyd, web editor
      July 24, 2014 - 06:39

      I just wanted to clarify something regarding your post, 'Internet trolling'. The Guardian's web comments are moderated and we certainly would never approve anything abusive like that. If something questionable were to slip through, we are here and accountable for anyone who wants to get in touch with us about having a posting taken down. That doesn't mean all of our commenters are always on their best behaviour and a flick of the thumb can accidentally approve something that the moderator meant to reject, but we do read every single comment before they go up, believe it or not! Jocelyne Lloyd, web editor. jlloyd@theguardian.pe.ca