Like some cool secret club that doesn’t have a marquee or sign above the door, Ask.fm has, so far, been flying under the radar to the tune of 65 million users in more than 30 countries. Of course, most of the users on the Latvian-based social media site are young people who likely got fed up with their grandparents figuring out how to add-request them on Facebook, but now that the mainstream media has learned about it, Ask.fm is likely going to become about as cool as Friendster.
The possible undoing of the strange little social question-&-answer site’s cool cache is surprisingly Hannah Anderson, the girl recently found after being kidnapped and held at gunpoint in the Idaho wilderness. Anyone who travelled California’s highways in the last few weeks knows of the case because we were all constantly reminded by an electronic Amber Alert telling us to be vigilant for a “blue Nissan Versa.” Anderson, who allegedly signed on to Ask.fm with the username Hannahbanana722, eschewed the typical route of being paid a large sum of money to do a major news interview in favor of answering questions about her ordeal by randoms for free (woo new media!). The Q&A, which lasted several hours included such telling statements about the experience as her answering, “He deserved what he got,” when asked if her kidnapper should have had a lengthy prison sentence instead of being shot to death by FBI agents during a shootout.
Anderson, who confirmed her identity by uploading a picture of herself smiling to the site and later had her account verified by a close family friend, admitted that she “could be crying” as she was typing out answers. Apparently kidnapping (and having your brother and mother murdered) is one of those traumatic experiences that leaves you unsure quite how to feel.
Ask.fm has endured other controversies though — just weeks before the Anderson blip, the site was undergoing fire in the UK, being blamed for the cyberbullying that lead to the suicides of four British teenagers.
The social media site, which requires its users to be at least 13 years of age (but does not have an effective verification system in place) is the latest in a long line of controversial youth-centric social sites where cyberbullying runs rampant. Before Ask.fm there was Formspring and before Formspring there was Stickydrama.com.
So now with the spotlight firmly on Ask.fm (and not to mention, HannahBanana722 disabling her account), it becomes a question of where do the cool kids go to party next?