Technology

Ask.fm unveils changes to safety policy

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Media captionDavid Smith, father of Hannah, on Ask.fm's new safety policies: "The government needs to bring in new regulations."

Social networking site Ask.fm has unveiled changes to make its site safer after recent online bullying cases.

It said it would view all reports within 24 hours, make the report button more visible, and include bullying and harassment as a category for a report.

It said some of the changes would be live on the site by September.

The father of Hannah Smith, 14, who is believed to have killed herself at home in Leicestershire after she was bullied on the site, welcomed the changes.

"I think it's too late, but it's not too little," Dave Smith said in an interview with the BBC. "They're actually taking a step forward and they're making things safer for children on the internet."

'New laws needed'

Mr Smith said Ask.fm did not need to be shut down, since it had shown it was ready to make its site safer. But he called on the government to do more.

"The government needs to bring in new regulations so that people are safe on the internet," he said.

"We also need to bring new laws in so that if somebody is abusive on the internet they can actually get prosecuted for it."

Hannah was found hanged at her home in Lutterworth on 2 August.

Ask.fm said it would:

  • Hire more staff, including a safety officer, to moderate comments on the site
  • Create a "bullying/harassment" category for reported comments, alongside "spam or scam", "hate speech", "violence" and "pornographic content"
  • Raise the visibility of a function to opt out of receiving anonymous questions
  • Limit the number of features unregistered users were able to access, and require an email address upon sign-up for registered users

John Carr, secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety, who is an adviser to the UK government on child safety, said: "The number of moderators they employ will be crucial as well as how fast they can be trained.

"But the measures they've announced definitely show they got the message and are moving in the right direction."

Report abuse

The UK Safer Internet Centre, which promotes the safe use of technology, said it was "delighted" by Ask.fm's proposed changes, and added the increased visibility of the "anonymous opt-out option" was an important development.

"We strongly advise users, especially children, to switch off anonymous questions, and to report any abuse they see on the site," the group said.

"We will continue to offer advice to Ask.fm about their processes, to ensure users have a positive and safe experience."

In July, 1.4 million people in the UK visited Ask.fm, according to the latest figures from internet research firm Comscore.

After her death, Hannah's father said that he had found bullying posts on his daughter's Ask.fm page from people telling her to die.

Latvia-based Ask.fm ordered a law firm to conduct an audit of the site and its safety features in the wake of Hannah's death.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called for people to boycott websites that fail to tackle online abuse.

Claire Perry MP, an adviser to the prime minister on child safety issues, said she was hopeful the "responsible" changes would "prevent any more tragic consequences".

"While I am concerned as to the length of time it will take for these crucial measures to be implemented, clearly these changes are positive steps in the right direction," she said.

Companies including Specsavers, Vodafone, Laura Ashley and the charity Save the Children withdrew their advertising from Ask.fm after Hannah died.

It has also emerged that another teenager, 17-year-old Daniel Perry, had been urged to kill himself by anonymous users on Ask.fm in the months leading up to his death.

Daniel is also believed to have been blackmailed on the internet and faced threats that images and videos on his laptop would be made public if he did not send money to an account.

A recent report from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) indicated that online harassment or abuse was experienced by almost one in five children who used social networking sites.

It suggested the most common sort of bad experience was bullying and trolling, but that children also received unwanted sexual messages, cyber-stalking and felt under pressure to look a certain way.

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