Sadly a 14 year old teenager named Hannah Smith recently took her own life, with many media reports laying the blame squarely at the door of the Ask.fm website. Claims have been made that such websites that allow anonymous questions to be asked, are nothing more than a bullying forum. Except I don't think that ask.fm should be the sole recipient of blame. I'm not an advocate of Ask.fm, but in terms of the wider "troll" debate, I think some things continue to be misunderstood.
If you receive a malicious phone call, would you demand that the phone company be banned? If you receive a malicious or threatening letter, would you demand that the postal service be shut down? The problem in cases like this isn't always the medium which is used, but the horrid and twisted people who carry out these disgusting acts. Calling for websites to be banned is ignoring the base issue; some people are horrible and mean.
Ask.fm allows people to ask questions anonymously, but there is an option where you can easily switch off the ability of people to send you anonymous questions/abuse. From there, people would need to have registered accounts. People may still use fake names, but it allows you to add them to a black list. There are instructions on how to report any malicious accounts as well.
From the main page on Ask.fm you can use two clicks (settings, followed by privacy) to get to a screen where you can turn off the ability of others to send anonymous questions. You can also view the blacklist of any registered users you may have blocked.
I've seen news stories which have raised concerns that the above stated measures are difficult and confusing. I think they're as easy as they could be. I believe that a number of parents (not all) in this day and age, get very pissed off when the nanny state tells them how to raise their child.
Yet many (again not all) parents are all to quick to demand that the government absolves them of parental responsibility. I'm not for one minute saying that what has happened to Hannah Smith isn't a complete tragedy, but I think we are looking in the wrong places.
Perhaps both the state and parents need to make sure that young people are truly aware of the risks the Internet can harbour, and how these issues can be combated if the child is unaware. Some people may feel unable to chat to their parents about specific problems they have encountered, or even have parents to chat to. However, if we go down the route of banning everything prior to something bad happening, we might as well live inside a box and never emerge.
Whether telephones, Internet, postal or any other means of communication, you cant block everything bad prior to it happening. It's just as important that people know what they can and should do, when something does happen.
A segment on the news showed a friend of Hannah Smith stating "I knew of it, but she never ... she always said it didn't matter ... she wasn't that bothered about it", which makes this story all the more tragic in that the "do not allow anonymous questions" option is a simple tick box.