What the Tech: What parents should know about Ask.fm

I’ve told you about Ask.fm several times over the past couple of years. It’s a social network that allows children to post anonymously. 

It’s been linked to several teen suicides the past few years.  Now 15-year-old Clancy Davis has disappeared, and her family told police she was bullied by other Ask.fm users.

 I sat down and talked with Ask.fm‘s chief safety officer, Catherine Teitelbaum, to find out what the network is doing to keep kids safe.

“We have been expanding our filters so that we’re catching about 40 percent more content or violations of our terms of service,” Teitelbaum said.

The controversial app was acquired last fall by Ask.com, and Teitelbaum told me things are different now.

If a keyword pops up in a conversation, a filter is supposed to catch it. Human eyes are also scanning posts and feeds.  

“Our in-house team can easily block, take down content, block users if they are repeatedly violating our policies,” Teitelbaum said. “We will take down those accounts.”

But those filters can’t catch everything.

Over the last two years we found several incidents of cyber-bullying. Kids telling other kids to kill themselves. At least nine suicides have been reported.

There’ve been no reports of Ask.fm-related suicides. Still, there are incidents of cyberbullying. Teitelbaum told me that while new filters and human moderators should increase safety, they still depend on users.  

“We encourage our users and have made it easy for our users to report content or behavior that they feel is inappropriate to us. That report is always anonymous,” Teitelbaum said.

Here’s what parents need to know: There are currently some 150 million registered users on Ask.fm, and about half are between the ages of 13 and 18.

Parents, if you’re concerned you can get an account at Ask.fm. Since it anonymous, your child won’t know you’re watching.

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