WATCH ABOVE: Nicole Bogart explains why Ask.fm was almost shut down last year.
TORONTO – Anonymous social media site Ask.fm was almost shut down by its new owners, following months of controversy after being linked to several teen suicides and cyberbullying cases.
In an interview with BBC, Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds admitted the company considered pulling the plug on the anonymous question-and-answer site after purchasing it in August 2014.
“We did look at shutting it down and we thought about it significantly as an option,” Leeds told BBC in an article published Monday.
In 2013, Ask.fm garnered massive controversy after a 14-year-old Leicestershire, England, girl died by suicide following months of cyberbullying on the social network. The teen’s death ignited debate about how website operators handle cyberbullying and even led British Prime Minister David Cameron to call for a boycott of sites that allow cyberbullying to continue.
When Ask.com bought the site in August, owners vowed to crack down on cyberbullying or shut down the site.
But now, the social network is hoping to rebrand itself as a safe place for users.
Ask.fm has launched a new safety centre that aims to provide users, teachers and parents with information about safety and tips to prevent cyberbullying.
Under the “teen” section, the site urges users never to answer questions they don’t feel comfortable answering and to avoid content that makes them feel upset, angry or afraid.
“Please recognize your own personal boundaries and reach out to us when you need help. Also, don’t let other users be repeatedly unkind to you,” reads the website.
“We’ve designed Ask.fm so that you can report inappropriate content, delete negative comments, and block questions from threatening or disrespectful users, and decide whether or not you want to receive questions from anonymous users.”
But the ability for users to post anonymously remains Ask.fm’s greatest challenge, as it provides a “safe” environment for bullies.
According to BBC, the site has extended the use of software that allows them to better sort through questions and answers to find key words and phrases associated with abuse. Leeds said they have also hired additional staff to comb through content.
“We’re now seeing about 40 per cent more content in total than we saw before either before it gets to a user or just afterward and usually we can respond in under 15 minutes to anything that we’re seeing that isn’t appropriate,” he said.
The social network has also organized a safety advisory board made up of leaders in online safety.
Ask.fm has 143 million registered users who ask about 50 million questions per day.