Ask.fm says changes will make site safer

Monday 19 August 2013 22.15
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The changes will include a more prominent 'report button' on the site, while more staff will be hired to work as moderators
The changes will include a more prominent 'report button' on the site, while more staff will be hired to work as moderators
Ciara Pugsley died in September after allegedly being subjected to bullying on the popular website
Ciara Pugsley died in September after allegedly being subjected to bullying on the popular website

Controversial website Ask.fm has introduced a range of changes, which are hoped to make the site safer for teenager users.

Ask.fm co-founders Ilja and Mark Terebin said an audit into the Latvia-based site and its safety features had now been completed.

The changes will include a more prominent "report button" on the site, while more staff will be hired to work as moderators.

It will also create an extra website for parents, as well as incentives to encourage people to register to use the site.

The question-and-answer website has been heavily criticised, most recently in the wake of a death of a girl in England.

Hannah Smith had allegedly endured months of torment on the site before being found dead in her bedroom in Leicestershire earlier this month.

Specsavers, Vodafone, Laura Ashley, EDF Energy and charity Save the Children all pulled adverts from Ask.fm, which pledged to work with Leicestershire Police concerning the death and instructed law firm Mishcon de Reya to carry out the audit of its site and safety features.

In a statement today, the site's founders said: "At Ask.fm we want our users to be able to have fun, share information, make friends and express themselves freely. We also want them - particularly our younger users - to be able to do this in a safe environment.

"In the light of recent events highlighting the impact online bullying and harassment can have on young people, we engaged professional advisers to conduct a full and independent audit of our site and its safety features.

"This audit has now been completed. Based on the findings and the recommendations that were made, we can today announce our commitment to making changes to Ask.fm's existing policies in three core areas: reporting and moderation, registration, and corporate visibility."

Changes to report button next month

Amendments to the report button will be in place by September and all reports will be reviewed within 24 hours.

“Bullying/harassment" will be introduced as a category alongside the existing categories of "spam or scam", "hate speech", "violence" and "pornographic content", and an option allowing users to opt out of receiving anonymous questions will be more prominent.

New members of the moderation team will be in place by January.

A safety officer will take overall responsibility for moderation at the site.

In an attempt to encourage people to register to use the site, unregistered users will not be able to access the same amount of features on the site as registered users.

Efforts to encourage people to register, will mean the site will be able to record the email and IP addresses of users and deal better with reports, according to the website.

Founders of the site also plan to create a separate website, live in spring 2014, from its social network, which will provide extra information for parents and others.

The website said in its statement: "The number of users on Ask.fm has increased dramatically since our launch in 2010.

"As the site grows we recognise that it must also mature and adapt, not only to stay relevant and attractive to our users, but to promote a safe and respectful environment.

"It is our hope that, as part of our continuing commitment to improve our site and its safety features, these changes will help achieve this."

Proposed changes 'do not go far enough'

The father of a Co Leitrim teenager, whose death by suicide last year was linked to alleged cyberbullying, has said the proposed safety changes do not go far enough.

Ciara Pugsley, 15, died in September after allegedly being subjected to bullying on the popular website.

Her father Jonathan told RTÉ News this afternoon the changes are a step in the right direction.

But Mr Pugsley said some were more reactive than proactive and overall they do not go far enough.

He said the site's problems would not be solved until the right to anonymity was taken away.

There was no reason for users to be anonymous and it only facilitated bad comments, he said.

He welcomed the addition of "bullying/harassment" to the report mechanism.

However, he added that most of the changes were only taking place because advertisers had started to pull out.

He said the Government needs to do more to strengthen legislation in the area as the problem is not going away.

He disagreed with the Government's claim that existing legislation is adequate.