The Irish Mail on Sunday
Ask.fm will address anti-bullying forum
A DIRECTOR of a controversial website linked with a series of teen suicides is to speak at a cyberbullying conference in Dublin this September.
Ask.fm is a social networking site that allows users to comment on each other anonymously – a factor critics say makes it a magnet for online bullies.
The site’s director of external affairs, Liva Biseniece, is set to give a talk on ‘youth online communication and safety’ at the National Cyberbullying Conference in Dublin Castle.
The one-day event is being run by anti-bullying charity Bully 4u and DCU’s National Anti-Bullying Centre. The organisers say it will be a chance for parents, teachers and principals to ‘shape the policy of the website’.
Latvian-based Ask.fm, which has about 65m users, has been linked to three teen suicides in Ireland.
Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Killargue, Co. Leitrim, took her own life in 2012 after being bullied on the site. It has also been linked to the suicides of Erin Gallagher, 13, and her sister Shannon, 15, from Ballybofey, Co. Donegal.
Ciara Pugsley’s father Jonathan has called on the website to take the conference seriously.
He said: ‘It will be interesting to see what these guys have to say but I wonder whether the recommendations from teachers and other people will be taken on board. All I would ask them to do is take away the anonymity aspect of the website.
‘They will say they have sorted the anonymity because you can push a button to say you don’t want it, but I think it should be a default setting,’ he added.
Ask.fm, which is hugely popular among young people in Ireland, allows users to create a profile, similar to Facebook. Other users can ask questions or make com-
‘It will be interesting to hear what they say’
ments – and can post cruel abuse, all with complete anonymity.
It has been forced to introduce some changes after advertisers started to leave following the wave of negative publicity.
Ask.fm has also introduced the option for users to register, rather than posting anonymously, as well as a report button – but Mr Pugsley does not think these changes go far enough.
‘There is a real lack of monitor- ing of what goes on on the site. I would like this issue to be raised with them when they come over as well,’ he said.
Mr Pugsley, who is setting out on a five-day charity cycle today to raise money for suicide charity Console, said he believes changes should be forced on websites such as Ask.fm rather than allowing them police themselves.
‘They will police themselves a little bit but that’s at a cost to the business so they will obviously minimise that cost, like any business would. They have certainly done a lot of talking recently but whether they are prepared to follow through is a different story.’
Jim Harding, founder and director of Bully 4u, said the event would be the first national cyberbullying conference to take place in Ireland: ‘We have a number of interesting people coming over to give talks, including one of the directors of Ask.fm,’ he said.
‘It will give parents, principals and teachers the chance to engage with Ask.fm and shape the website’s policy in a positive way’. l To donate to Mr Pugsley’s charity cycle, visit mycharity.ie