A new way for kids to be bullied online

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
February 23, 2014 01:00 AM

A social network platform called ask.fm is providing a new way for kids to be bullied, harassed and exploited online, and most parents are oblivious to the trend.

Ask.fm is accessed via computer or through a cell phone application and it allows those signed up to anonymously post questions of fellow users.

Users then answer the questions, which are in full public view, and many post pictures of themselves as well as personal information.

Most Sunshine Coast users of ask.fm appear to be teens in grades 8 to 10, although some students in elementary school are also using the platform.

Sechelt parent Gina Stockwell was alerted to ask.fm by a friend and she came to Coast Reporter to make sure other parents know about it.

"Parents need to have a look. Be diligent and go into your kids' account. See what they have on their phones and have the conversation," she said, noting she checked her child's phone. "When I saw the conversations and the content some of the kids were posting, it was scary."

She and a friend originally took their concerns to the Sunshine Coast RCMP, but the police could offer little help.

"We're very limited in what we can do," said youth liaison officer Const. Kevin Shepherd, noting ask.fm is based out of Latvia. "Trying to get warrants out of a Latvian company is a bit tricky."

He agrees the website is a danger to children, however.

"When I first saw it, I was just disgusted at what was being spoken about, the language, the sexuality in it, racial comments, bullying," Shepherd said.

Also of concern are the racy photographs many young girls are posting of themselves and the personal information being shared, like the towns kids live in and what schools they go to.

In an effort to educate children about the dangers of ask.fm, Shepherd held assemblies at Chatelech and Elphinstone Secondary schools late last year, but Stockwell said the information didn't make it home to most parents.

Shepherd said he's open to suggestions about how to get the message out to parents in the future and noted it's important for parents to have discussions with their children about social media use.

If it's needed, parental controls and monitoring devices can also be installed on cell phones and computers to be sure parents know what their kids are posting.

Shepherd said there isn't one website or source where parents can keep up to date on the new social media trends and stressed the need for parents to stay connected with their kids and aware of their Internet use.

"We can talk to the kids, but it's the parents who have to get on board," Shepherd said. "If it's happening at noon on a Tuesday on school grounds, then it's a school issue, but if it's happening at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, there's not much we can do. I know the school has a bit of a role, but we've got to get everybody on board with this."

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