Popular with kids, and—until recently—obscure to many adults, Ask.fm is a Latvia-based social networking site where members interact by inviting others to ask anonymous questions.
Though the site has more than 65 million members who interact in more than 30 languages, it wasn't until Monday that Ask.fm made headlines in the United States. That's when kidnapping victim Hannah Anderson, barely 48 hours after her rescue, logged on using the name "Hannahbanana722." Her identity later confirmed by her grandparents, Anderson openly answered personal questions about her ordeal, posted by anonymous strangers. She also posted several smiling selfies—cellphone self-portraits—as well.
Yet for all the catharsis and connection Ask.fm may have provided Anderson, as well as youth who are suffering lesser traumas of adolescence, it's also one more virtual hangout where kids go to torment each other.
Ask.fm, like Facebook and other social networks, limits membership to ages 13 and older. And just like Facebook, there are likely kids who lie about their age to join. Unlike Facebook, Twitter or even Tumblr, however, parents are likely not to know about Ask.fm, let alone what their kids are doing there. Teens are sharing more than ever on social media, according to a 2013 Pew study. And they prefer to do it anonymously, and on social media sites not shared by adults.
Just a few weeks before Anderson's action confounded Americans born before social media, Ask.fm made very different headlines in the United Kingdom, when Prime Minister David Cameron called for the boycott of such "vile" websites: Cyberbullying at Ask.fm was linked to the suicides of four British teenagers.
"The people that operate these websites have got to step up to the plate and show some responsibility," Cameron told Sky News, after parenting groups criticized both the government and Ask.fm for alleged abuses happening on the site, and asked the government to shut it down.
In an August statement following the death of Hannah Smith,14, the fourth UK suicide connected to the site, a spokesperson said in a statement: