Controversial site Ask.fm announced in early November that it is moving its head office from its current base in Latvia to Dublin.
The move has sparked outrage among many, including Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan who took to Twitter to voice that the move was a “matter of concern” and would be raised with his Government colleagues.
Ask.fm is a social networking site that allows users to send questions and comments anonymously to other users, and to be questioned in return.
According to the sites official page, Ask.fm has “more than 120 million members in over 150 countries” with approximately “25 billion answers.”
The site has come under huge criticism in recent years as it has been linked to cyber-bullying resulting in a number of suicides among young people including Irish teens Ciara Pugsley and Erin Gallagher. Both girls died tragically in 2012, reportedly because they were both victims of bullying on the site.
Ciara Pugsley’s father Jonathan is now urging the Government to take action against the move and is shocked that the relocation was allowed to take place in the first place.
Speaking on the Ray D’Arcy show, the Leitrim father said the site tends to “breed vile comments.” He also added that he would “challenge anyone to go onto the site and not be on it a short period of time without seeing some horrible, disgusting comments.”
According to the sites official page , Ask.fm “have created a place for our members to have fun, share information, make friends, and express themselves freely. We want them to do this in a safe environment.” However, what has been under fire in recent times is the approach of the company to the safety and well-being of its users.
In August 2014 Ask.fm was bought by an American company, the owners of dating site Ask.com. According to head of operations and lead advisor on user safety Annie Mullins, “one of the conditions of buying that company was that the former owners left almost immediately from the day that [we] bought it.”
With the site under new management, Annie Mullins spoke on RTE’s Prime Time show about her company’s action to fight cyber-bullying and to introduce a completely different approach to user safety.
According to Ms Mullins, the new company has invested in moderation by hiring experts in internet safety both in the USA and across Europe and are looking to work in partnership with several organisations that are experienced in educating and advising parents on bullying.
Though the site has received a lot of bad publicity and has gained a difficult reputation, Ms Mullins commented that “the site is growing.” According to Annie Mullins, “anonymity is part of the functionality” of the site and again this feature is outlined on the site’s website as “something to be cherished because it gives young people the encouragement and confidence to ask the questions, have the conversations and find the answers to the challenges of growing up.”
The site states that it is in partnership with several of the world’s leading internet safety companies including Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), Insafe, and ICT coalition. On the sites safety centre page “ask anonymous questions”, “do share your thoughts with everyone” and “spread Ask.fm across the web” is encouraged, while “don’t say mean things” and “don’t be a bully” is discouraged.
Dublin South West TD Seán Crowe has said that the decision by Ask.fm to locate in Ireland has posed new difficulties and challenges for Ireland in terms of cyber-bullying and that the Minister for Children James Reilly should now do more to protect Ireland’s young from online threats.