The website linked to the suicides of two Irish schoolgirls last year and a 14-year-old girl in Britain earlier this month has finally introduced new safety measures in a bid to tackle cyberbullying.
Ask.fm is to introduce a “bullying/harassment” button, investigate reports of abusive behaviour within 24 hours, and hire more moderators and a safety officer.
Simon Grehan, an internet safety officer with webwise.ie, said the measures were a step in the right direction for Ask.fm, but said the site still has major credibility issues and is seen as “toxic”.
Ask.fm, a Latvia-based website, ordered an independent audit of its safety features in the wake of the death of British schoolgirl Hannah Smith, who took her own life on Aug 2. She had been urged by online bullies to cut herself and drink bleach.
The site had also been linked to the deaths last year of Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Co Leitrim, and Erin Gallagher, 13, from Co Donegal, who took their lives after being subjected to anonymous bullying.
In a statement, Ask.fm’s owners, brothers Ilja and Mark Terebin, said they had “engaged professional advisers to conduct a full and independent audit” of the site.
Based on the findings, changes will be made to “existing policies in three core areas: Reporting and moderation, registration, and corporate visibility”.
The report button will be more prominent, and “bullying/harassment” will be introduced as a category alongside “spam or scam”, “hate speech”, “violence”, and “pornographic content”.
Amendments to the report button will be in place by September, while new members of the moderation team will be in place by January.
However, Mr Grehan questioned whether Ask.fm was now taking action in light of the fact that it had lost a large number of advertisers due to negative publicity.
“The site is now toxic,” he said. “They are now trying to save themselves as a business by becoming more responsible. But it will take a lot of convincing for people in my field.”
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