UK Prime Minister Calls ask.fm A 'Vile Site,' Blames It For The Behavior Of Some Vile Users

from the a-bigger-target-is-always-easier-to-hit dept

Another tragedy in the UK and Prime Minister David Cameron has moved swiftly to ensure the moment doesn't pass without comment. As is Cameron's standard m.o., he has sent his mouth ahead as an advance party, allowing his intellect and reasoning to arrive at their leisure.

The impetus for Cameron's latest blast is the suicide of a 14-year-old girl who was apparently bullied by other users of teen-heavy social site, ask.fm. And like his earlier attacks on various web entities, triggered by the kidnapping and murder of a 5-year-old girl, Cameron blames the acts of individuals on third parties.

Internet users should boycott "vile" websites that allow cyberbullying to help prevent more deaths of young people, the prime minister has said.

David Cameron asked parents to boycott sites that granted bullies unmoderated access to young people and said those who posted abuse online were not above the law.
Calling for a boycott isn't the issue. This is a perfectly acceptable response, although slightly less so when the head of a nation does it, which adds a hint of censorship to the proceedings. No, it's the fact that Cameron believes the sites themselves (no others are named at this point) are "vile," mistaking (perhaps purposely) that ask.fm, in and of itself, is neutral at worst. It's the users, and then only a small subset of them, that are "vile."

There are many sites on the web that normal people would consider "vile," like theYNC.com or, for that matter, LiveLeak, which shows plenty of uncensored videos depicting very graphic violence. A social media site that allows users to ask questions and receive answers from nearly anyone is prone to be abused by trolls and sociopaths, but the site itself is not "vile."

Cameron added more to that, some of it even reasonable.
He urged website operators to act responsibly to protect children from bullies, following the death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who killed herself on Friday after receiving abuse on Ask.fm.
There's nothing wrong with asking websites to provide more moderation but government officials asking/demanding this sort of compliance need to be aware that not every site will have the financial or technical ability to monitor incoming content with an efficiency that will please any aggreived parties. In fact, no site, no matter how well-funded can hope to achieve this. Abuse can and will slip through the cracks.

Even a behemoth like Facebook is unable to control every instance of offensive behavior that occurs under its purview. This is just part of the territory. If you provide a service for millions of users, abuse is inevitable. This is because you're serving human beings, some of whom are truly amoral.

Calling the site "vile" simply shifts all of the blame (in a very official manner) to ask.fm, something Cameron really has no business doing. But this is how he handles the web -- it's the biggest target's fault. Child porn is the fault of search engines. Abusive behavior is the fault of ask.fm.

Even if ask.fm's moderation efforts were the very least it could do, it's ridiculous to think it should be responsible for abusive messages sent by its users. It should make a real effort to moderate more of its users' messages, but at some point it will hit a wall in effectiveness, especially considering how popular the service is. Pushing it to do more than it can capably handle will only result in overreactions that will curtail its usefulness for its members.

Cameron's call for a boycott is already having an effect. Many advertisers are pulling out of the site. Someone may want to ask Cameron how ask.fm is supposed to better police its users when its revenue streams are swiftly drying up and its user base is being warned away by the Prime Minster himself.

If it continues in this fashion, chances are ask.fm will just go under. People who buy into Cameron's projection of user behavior as the behavior of the site itself will be happy. People who think the site offered nothing but bullying will feel they've won a battle. But those abusive users, who won't be affected by boycotts, outrage or a sudden lack of revenue will just go elsewhere and abuse other people. After all, they're not on the radar. Only the hosts are.

Cameron points out there are laws against the sort of bullying behavior that reportedly occurred on ask.fm and that "just because it happened on the internet," those behind the bullying shouldn't expect to be above those laws. Good points, but they're points Cameron's ignoring. There are laws in place against this behavior, but those have to be deployed against the offending users, something Cameron talks about, but doesn't seem very inclined to actually pursue.

Attacking the nameplate out front is easy and usually results in some very visible, if skin deep, changes by the entities being attacked. And why not? The attack itself is only skin deep. It's easier than dealing with the underlying issues or asking people to take personal responsibility for themselves or their children. It's also easier than explaining to someone post-tragedy that terrible people inhabit the world and it's impossible to prevent all of them from ever harming others.

This is Cameron hanging the web in effigy, nothing more. Any perceived effects will only last until the crowd wanders away.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 3:38am

    Let me emphasize something:

    Attacking the nameplate out front is easy and usually results in some very visible, if skin deep, changes by the entities being attacked. And why not? The attack itself is only skin deep. It's easier than dealing with the underlying issues or asking people to take personal responsibility for themselves or their children. It's also easier than explaining to someone post-tragedy that terrible people inhabit the world and it's impossible to prevent all of them from ever harming others.

    Dealing with the real offenders would require a competent Government.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 3:45am

    Re:

    More like a competent police force. Sadly they're too busy waiting outside the Ecuadorian embassy in case Julian does a runner.

     

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    QW, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 3:57am

    Vile?

    There's a degree of irony inherent in this story.

    David Cameron might not realise this, but the archaic use of the word 'vile' was to mean "of little worth or value".

    So it's fair to say that David Cameron's contributions to the internet have all been pretty vile to date.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 3:57am

    Re:

    Dealing with the real offenders would require the arrest of the Government.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 3:58am

    As with the porn block call, good parenting is the key to fix all of this.

    When I was younger I was bullied, in school admittedly, and I was taught by my parents that words are just words and nothing more.

    Obviously the parents want to blame the bullies as they are the ones who cause the initial hurt but the parents need to make their teenagers open up to them (I know its very difficult) as it is a very important lesson to learn to ignore this kind of abuse as it happens all the time throughout life, not just at school.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 3:58am

    According to reports here (Aus), Ask.fm is saying that 98% of the messages appeared to have come from the girls own IP address. http://goo.gl/YzJvaF

    That makes it an entirely different kettle of fish. I'm actually seeing a strong echo of "attack the 'internet' anytime anything goes wrong" (Which I personally got pissed with in the 90's) in David Camerons politics. Or in other words, pure dirty distraction politics and nothing else.

     

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:07am

    Children and teenagers are more likely to be bullied at school or on the bus. Pity Cameron doesn't seem to think that is a bigger problem than cyber bullying.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:08am

    Re:

    Not meaning to state the obvious but the IP could have been her schools IP?

    That would make Ask.fm's point moot.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:08am

    Re:

    Boycott schools and boycott the busses!

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:12am

    Re:

    That's interesting. I was bullied at some point too and my parents did a great job in the occasions it happened. When it get physical (as in I was in danger of getting injured) they stepped in and the bullies were properly dealt with but they usually just taught me to manage it. It reminds me of the Zangief kid. The moment I got mad and punched one of the bullies hard (I now that I think about it that was dangerous) the bullying stopped for a good while. And amusingly my parents were the ones to tell me "just give one of them a good, hard punch and you'll gain their respect". Obviously there are other ways but at the time it worked wonders ;)

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:16am

    Re:

    Precisely. While it's just a few stupidity in form of text it's rather ok. I used to remain silent while they lashed at me verbally then I asked "U done? Cuz I got better stuff to do than listen to trash." The worst thing for a bully is when you are not affected. Amusingly that's when you become somewhat the bully heh. It was amusing for me for sure ;)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:21am

    Re: Re:

    IT would also make it the school's problem, as legally speaking, all school are supposed to have a zero-tolerance attitude to bullying.

    However, if the school wasn't fully aware of what was going on, than the perpetrators would need to be the ones who faced justice (NOT vengeance).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:25am

    Re: Re:

    You could read the article...

    202 abusive messages, 4 came from other ip's. 198 came from "her own computer".

    That was a mixed up messed up kid. I have no doubt she was bullied at school, and probably at home, and had a horrible life. But did she kill herself because of being bullied on Ask.fm? No.. Ask.fm (in this case) is nothing except someone that David Cameron can blame.

    Blaming the Internet, or blaming the latest evil from the Internet for the causing someone to do something that someone else doesn't like is a subject that has come up here before.

    I've said a bit about over the years, but it doesn't really matter. As I said in the first post, it's pure distraction politics.

    The domestic political program isn't going to well -or all the pesky reports about American spying are starting to hurt the UK Gov- so therefore blame "The Internet" for something, start the media jumping up and down, announce an inquiry, and the new laws. And then say "haven't we been good Mp's and working hard" and most of the sheeple will have totally forgotten about the earlier stuff.

    Nasty, but -in most cases- it works. So they keep doing it (at least in England..)

     

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    RyanNerd (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:34am

    Never let a serious crisis go to waste

    9/11 - Patriot Act (plus a bunch of other controlling legislation)
    Boston Marathon bombing - Police State in Boston
    Sandy Hook - Calls for gun control
    Child Porn - Government "Active Choice" which isn't a choice.
    14yr old Suicide - Internet control and moderation

    I could go on. Anytime there is an emotionally charged issue that can be perceived as a problem that the Government is called on to "do something" we end up with less freedom and more Government powers.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    When you built a community and have a problem, ask for help from the community

    There are unually long-timers with good behaviour records that merits delegating some level of moderator right (like temporarily hiding inappropiate messages) or even be assigned as moderator.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    On the same note why don't we boycott the phone companies for allowing prank calls, bullying, stalking and so on?

     

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    Call me Al, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    Cameron's next step

    Surely we will soon see the following:

    "Cameron lambasts evil telephone provider for nuisance phone call"

    "Cameron angered by diabolic postal service for poison pen letters"

    As much as I approve of some of his politics, when it comes to the Internet he is an absolute idiot.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 5:06am

    Next up: David Cameron blames air for propagating the soundwaves carrying insults from the vocal chords of teenagers to the eardrums of other teenagers. Air is vile and must be shut down.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 5:15am

    Re: Vile?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 5:18am

    Re: Never let a serious crisis go to waste

    Some folks take it one step further and claim the government is behind the serious crises to begin with. Intentionally causing a problem so that they can "fix" it later - with overwhelming public support.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 5:24am

    So anytime anyone who is part of the Government does something wrong, we should blame Cameron and demand he do a jig to appease us.

    Cop beats a suspect for no good reason, start dancing.
    Someone misuses public funds, start dancing.
    Etc etc...

    Hopefully he'll be so out of breath he will stop saying stupid things, get a firsthand understanding of why what he is demanding others do is stupid, and leave office to take over the lead in Lord of the Dance.

     

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    JamesF (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 5:28am

    He who casts the first stone

    So if the people in charge can't control their users, they should be held accountable for their actions?

    Interesting. Here's a list of things that Cameron, by his own logic, is accountable for - http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/legal-aid/eligibility/list-of-criminal-offences.pdf

     

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  23.  
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    Vic, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 6:04am

    Wat an idiot...

    What an utter idiot... (Cameron I am taking to you...) Shouting your mouth of like that.

    It is VERY sad that this girl felt that this was the only way out. I do not in any way want to make light of this, HOWEVER... The internets is not at fault. It is not ask.fm's fault. It is the people who used ask.fm and send the messages who is at fault. Also, what is the matter with people... If you do not like porn, do not go to the pornsites. If you are getting bullied on a website, dont go there... How freaking hard is that.

    Thousands die every year because of car accidents. Lets ban cars... What about the ocean... People die there too. Lets just lock everyone up for their own safety.

     

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    Immortallucifer, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 6:08am

    Hmmm.....

    So Cameron asked parents to boycott sites that granted bullies unmoderated access to young people.....so does that mean I should send my kids to school?

    Sometimes I am ashamed to be British.

     

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    Tim Griffiths (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 6:29am

    Seems like a warmup to the same old game.

    Attacking the site is really an attack on sites that allow for anonymous users. Imagine if the UK porn filters put ask.fm (a vile site) as part of it's dafualt blocks? After all, think of the children whose lives will be saved! And if it's going to be ask.fm why not any platform that allows for any kind of annonimity as, after all, they could be used to bully the children these filters are to protect!

    In very short order you have an extremely compelling reason for sites to simply not allow anonymous use and an attempt to normalise being identifiable online. Which of course won't even stop bullying... it's very easy to identify who's bullying who in schools and yet that, strangely, remains a problem... but I really don't think that's the point.

    This is another case of the government using "think of the children" to push for a change that would be completely ineffectual for that goal but is really attempting to do something completely unrelated. It makes me feel a bit sick actually.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 6:43am

    Re:

    We live in an age of no consequences. Parents don't want to be told they have failed. Most adults don't want to live with the consequences of their actions. Its the governments fault they did it, clearly they should have been stopped.

    The whole country has become a nation of children.

     

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  27. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 6:46am

    So if ask.fm doesn't control its site, blame Cameron!

    See the similarity to your own thesis?

    "Even if ask.fm's moderation efforts were the very least it could do, it's ridiculous to think it should be responsible for abusive messages sent by its users." -- It's not responsible for the sending, but for leaving them up...

    "[ask.fm] should make a real effort to moderate more of its users' messages, but at some point it will hit a wall in effectiveness, especially considering how popular the service is." -- OOH! I'll do a little "triangulating" here 'cause that sounds directly opposite Mike's notions that "platforms" have NO responsibility whatsoever.

    "Cameron's call for a boycott is already having an effect. Many advertisers are pulling out of the site. Someone may want to ask Cameron how ask.fm is supposed to better police its users when its revenue streams are swiftly drying up and its user base is being warned away by the Prime Minster himself." Oh, boo hoo! a) Any business better have cash reserves to handle downturns for whatever causes*. b) It's obviously not just Cameron blustering, but widespread agreement that causes the loss.

    [* I'll take the perhaps self-serving ask.fm statement with large doubt, as whatever the source, vile is vile. My comments above are on equally off-original-topic points that the minion raises.]

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:03am

    like stated, Cameron has mouth in operation before brain is in gear. this is a usual situation for a politician, particularly one that has insufficient knowledge of a subject and also wants to be seen, not as a dictator, which at the moment he most definitely is but as someone that cares! his aim, on the backs of the USG, is to take as much control of the internet as he can and to instill what he thinks it should be doing and be capable of doing. he needs to be reminded that the UK is supposed to be a democracy and a democracy doesn't stop just because the leader is turning into a megalomaniac with dictatorial tendencies! he wouldn't put up with with being told what he can and cant do, how he should and shouldn't raise his kids or anything else. what, therefore, does he think gives him the right to tell everyone else in the UK? seems to be losing the plot if you ask me!

     

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  29.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    Re:

    What a great idea hold politicians responsible for everything their subordinates do. We could clear out entire governments and start fresh. Brilliant!!

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    So out of curiosity, how much money has Cameron directed towards suicide prevention programs in the UK?

    Why does he expect others to do more than he will?

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:10am

    Re: So if ask.fm doesn't control its site, blame Cameron!

    I think you're getting caught up on the meaning of responsibility.

    It's a good idea for a website to curate it's comments but they should not be legally responsible for them. Does that help?

    I'm not sure how an company can be expected to hold enough cash in reserve to deal with a mass exodus of customers.

    I also don't think you're really aware of how much weight the masses put on the words of leaders.

    Good work for not even dropping the G bomb today.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:15am

    Lets ban cars while we're at it

    Tens of thousands of crimes are committed every year with cars, such as transferring illegal goods like drugs! We should therefore outlaw all cars and trucks and other motor vehicles that drive on the road!

    If you don't support outlawing cars then you're supporting 'vile' drug dealers and criminals!

     

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  33.  
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    Guardian, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:20am

    nazi's are running the world

    hitler or more importantly mussolini's kind are the ones running the show , and musso's had jews in it just like today...

    someone has been killed with a pencil quick lets make pencils illegal...

    someone has been killed with a hammer , quick lets ban hammers

    YA see where this leads and why it looks so stupid...

    i hear oxygen is giving these creatures on earth the ability to kill others...we NEED TO BAN OXYGEN

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 7:57am

    I'm glad I'm not a politician

    When I hear that someone committed suicide because of some jerk(s) on the internet, I'm not sure I could force myself to react in a politically way instead of the instinctive "what an idiot."

    And I'm absolutely sure I couldn't then blame someone entirely different for it. Not with a straight face at least.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 8:09am

    I sure hope Mr. Cameron didn't lose any teeth when he knee-jerked as hard as he did.

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 8:37am

    Help has arrived!!!!

    "Even a behemoth like Facebook is unable to control every instance of offensive behavior that occurs under its purview".

    So the NSA has a monitoring program to assist with that on a global scale.

     

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  37.  
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    me, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 9:00am

    David Cameron

    Is a vile Prime Minister

     

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    AB, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 9:19am

    Re: Seems like a warmup to the same old game.

    Heh. As anyone who lives in or near the real world knows, there's no such thing as preventing anonymity on the internet.

    The truth is that the majority need to stop 'minding their own business' and get involved when they see or hear something bad like bullying. Currently only a small number of people speak out and the rest of us are stuck living with rules built on those opinions. As long as the silent majority remains silent they will never be appropriately represented in government.

     

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    Anonymous Monkey (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 10:11am

    Re: Wat an idiot...

    Lets just lock everyone up for their own safety.


    I Robot.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 10:31am

    Next time one of the ministers of Cameron's cabinet does anything "vile" (and judging by the past there will almost certainly be a next time) I assume the UK government and Cameron himself will be held responsible rather than the minister him/herself.

     

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    Garrison Cooper, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 10:52am

    98% of the abusive comments came from her IP. The most likely explanation is that the messages came from a family member or from herself.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2389212/Hannah-Smith-Suicide-teen-trolled-say-La tvian-website-chiefs-Ask-fm.html

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 11:25am

    Of course there was a very simple solution to the bullying if it was that bad, she could have stopped going to ask.fm. Anyone else think that's a crazy idea?

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 11:57am

    Re: Wat an idiot...

    If you are getting bullied on a website, block the the bullies or, if thats not possible, report them to the moderator. Not stop using the site, esp. if all you friends are there.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re: Never let a serious crisis go to waste

    What are you doing out without your tin-foil helmet?
    You're compromised.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 12:46pm

    Re: When you built a community and have a problem, ask for help from the community

    By that analogy Ask.fm is more like having a crack house on the corner.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 12th, 2013 @ 1:22pm

    Re: Re: Wat an idiot...

    Ok. But if you can't block the bullies, the site doesn't do anything about it, and the bullying is so severe that you're actually being harmed by it, then you stop going to the site. It's just basic common sense.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 1:38pm

    In other words: David Cameron is cyberbullying ask.fm. I hope there is an investigation. The cyberpublic needs to be protected from this dangerous man who is irresponsibly using his cyberwords to cause real cyberharm.

     

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  48.  
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    Anonymous, Aug 12th, 2013 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Lets ban cars while we're at it

    I know! Let's just ban the internet!

     

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  49.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2013 @ 9:03am

    Paying attention to abuse

    Even a behemoth like Facebook is unable to control every instance of offensive behavior that occurs under its purview

    When a website that houses a social network is brought to the attention of abusive, careless verbal attacks against its users or by its users and acts without reguard to the abuse, then there is a problem. That is no crack in the wall.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 13th, 2013 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re: Re: W(h)at an idiot...

    Ok. But if you can't block the bullies, the site doesn't do anything about it, and the bullying is so severe that you're actually being harmed by it, then you stop going to the site. It's just basic common sense.

    Also, before you stop using the site, you could make that bullying known to site admin/ operators. Passive\/Acitve

    >:-D

     

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    Mike Raffety (profile), Aug 13th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    Bullies?

    "He urged website operators to act responsibly to protect children from bullies,"

    And who is protecting the children from bullying text messages right now? Or bullying phone calls? Wonder how the phone companies would react to a similar call for them to moderate text messages and phone calls! They have an even better argument about scale.

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Doug, Sep 3rd, 2013 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "From her own computer" and "from the same IP address" are two completely different things. The article does not clarify at all, but does reinforce the idea that it was solely by IP, and then somehow conflates it with computer, showing how little they understand about how it works.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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