Facebook’s Ugly Sisters: Anonymity and Abuse on Formspring and Ask.fm

Binns, Amy orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9173-3108 (2013) Facebook’s Ugly Sisters: Anonymity and Abuse on Formspring and Ask.fm. Media Education Research Journal . ISSN 2040-4530

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New question and answer websites Ask.fm and Formspring have brought highly specific and personal abuse to a new level amongst young people by providing easy anonymity to users within a circle of offline friendship groups culled from Facebook. Relatively unknown due to their unattractiveness to adults, these sites are growing rapidly and have already been associated with at least eight suicides amongst teenagers.

Media educators at school level encouraging self-awareness of social media use need to be aware of this new trend. At higher levels, these sites provide a fascinating current case-study of online disinhibition, and fit into ethical and legal debates on the responsibilities of platform providers, and of individuals as media producers.

This paper is based on an anonymous online survey of 302 13- to 16-year-olds at a British state girls’ school. Results showed abuse levels were significantly higher than on Facebook or Twitter. The girls felt using the Q&A sites with their real names felt more real than when asking questions anonymously, but receiving anonymous abuse felt significantly more real than either. Opinions as to the acceptability of “sending hate” were mixed, with some users feeling victims had no right to complain if they had entered the forum.

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