Online bullying


Story Details

Welcome to the virtual world where anonymity is key and no question is off limits.

A cross between Facebook and a game of truth or dare... Ask FM tempts users to see what their friends and strangers really think about them.

The site boasts over 70 million users and has made its Latvian creators millionaires... But has the site gone too far?

“I’ve been told to go kill myself which is really hurtful. I've also been told I was going to get raped at a party,” says Tawnee Rogers.

“Just getting told to go kill myself and that I'm worthless,” says her friend Sarah Murray.

Best friends Tawnee and Sarah initially couldn't resist the appeal of ask fm...

“It gets a bit nasty when you really find out what people post on anonymous… what they think about you,” says Tawnee.

“My mum knows that I've got one but she doesn't read what's on it. I probably wouldn't want her to,” says Sarah.

Tawnee's mum became so distraught after viewing her daughter's profile she made her shut it down.

“She was really angry that I wasn't standing up for myself... I wouldn't eat for three days because someone called me fat. I was just very self-conscious,” says Tawnee.

UK teenager Hannah Smith was also taunted about her weight... The 14 year old was found hanged in her family home this month after bullies told her to 'drink bleach' and 'kill herself.'

At least four other teens users in the UK have taken their lives, leading British PM David Cameron to call for a boycott of the site...

“You can chose to escape it by turning it off but then that puts you outside of the peer group and that's not a choice that a lot of young people want to make,” says Cyber expert Dr Barbara Spears from Uni SA.

Dr Spears says teenagers should be more aware of their digital shadow…

“What goes online stays online... it's locked away maybe but it can still be traceable and our isp addresses are all there for everybody to see,” explains Dr Spears.

“Even if someone just hates you just slightly, everyone's going to get told to go kill themselves,” says Sarah.

Teenage boys aren't immune to the abuse either... Mitchell Sariovski was tormented on the question and answer site...

“People have said go kill yourself, you're stupid, you're not worth living,” says Mitchell.

“Teenagers are notoriously quite insecure and so they are constantly seeking some sort of validation for their own sort of opinions,” explains Psychiatrist Silvia Benovick.

Silvia says many teenagers are now deriving their sense of self-esteem from sites like ask fm without their parents knowing...

“They certainly would be quite disturbed by some of the negative comments that can be posted up there as well as the sexualized nature of some of the comments,” says Silvia.

But Mitchell’s found an easy way to beat the bullies...

“I don't post the comments and I look at them and think if they can't say it to my face well they're stupid, they're worthless… don't give the bullies a sense of satisfaction.”

But it's not so easy for some… Dr Spears says teenage girls are more compelled to answer...

“You just kind of feel like you have to answer because sometimes if you don't the person will keep messaging you and call you weak or… you just feel like you've got to answer it,” says Sarah.

But answers are harder to come by for Hannah Smith's family... Following the latest disturbing twist… an inquiry by ask fm into the teenagers death found 98% of the vicious comments sent, came from her own computer.

“It reflects a relatively new phenomenon being detected and that is where young people are actually using the internet as a form of self-harm so they're wanting to find out whether other people are also thinking this as well,” says Silvia.

But Dr Spears says shutting the site down is not the answer...

“As soon as you shut this down another one will appear... We really need to educate parents and young people about the risks involved”.

Her advice to parents...

“Parents need to look for change, they need to look at how their young person's behaving… looking at their profile but make that part of the education process… take a screen shot, record it, report it and not respond or engage with it,” says Dr Spears.