Friday 13 December 2019

Deaths of girls 'heartbreaking' - Ask.fm boss

Ciara Pugsley (15) who committed suicide after being a victim of online bullying
Ciara Pugsley (15) who committed suicide after being a victim of online bullying
Ciara Pugsley

Greg Harkin

THE boss of controversial website Ask.fm says he was heartbroken at the deaths of teenagers in Ireland who had been bullied on the site.

Doug Leeds, CEO of the new owner of the site, says he also parted company with the founding Latvian owners when he acquired the business.

Ciara Pugsley (15), from Co Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13), from Co Donegal, both took their own lives in 2012 after being subjected to vile abuse from anonymous posters on the site.

Mr Leeds, who runs Ask.com, bought Ask.fm three months ago.

"The tragedies of the past are absolutely heart-wrenching. As the father of three teenage daughters, I personally am committed to making Ask.fm a safer and more positive experience," he said last night.

"It is completely heartbreaking. Honestly, I think about this every day. I just can't begin to imagine the pain the families feel. There is no more important thing for me personally to be doing than working to make Ask.fm safer.

"I would never have become involved with Ask.fm at all if I didn't believe we could materially change it for the better.

"This is not the same Ask.fm that existed before. The founders left the day we acquired the site because they did not share the same vision and commitment as we do when it comes to user safety on the platform. We have a long-term plan to overhaul the site."

Mr Leeds said he would be prepared to meet Ciara Pugsley's father, Jonathan, to assure him about a range of new safety measures.

Mr Pugsley later said he would agree to meet Mr Leeds.

"All registered users on Ask.fm have known profiles, just as they do on most social networks," said Mr Leeds.

"They can use a feature that allows them to ask questions of other users anonymously. However, use of this feature does not mean they are anonymous to us. We have means to identify them, and we can and will provide their identifying information to law enforcement.

"Our appointment of a law enforcement liaison officer located in Ireland will provide immediate access to Irish law enforcement authorities to identify and prosecute those responsible for any criminal or abusive activity," he added.

The IDA told government departments about Ask.fm's planned move to Dublin, though it is not financially supporting the move.

It sent advisory notes to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs as well as the Department of Justice.

Children's Minister Dr James Reilly said his officials have already asked to meet the new owners of the site.

Concerns

"The Department of Children and Youth Affairs were contacted by the IDA, who indicated that Ask.com had stated an intention to relocate Ask.fm to Ireland," he said.

"The Department of Children and Youth Affairs stated to the IDA that it stands ready to brief Ask.com on child protection issues."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there have been "real concerns and anxiety" about Ask.fm.

But Fianna Fail's Children's spokesman Robert Troy said: "Despite very high-profile and even tragic cases, the Government has refused to facilitate any meaningful action to tackle cyber-bullying. It has gone without punishment."

Irish Independent

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