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Move won't make Irish teens safer






It has become notorious as the social network most associated with bullying and teen trolling. Now that it is moving its legal base to Ireland, what powers do Irish authorities have to ensure that children using Ask.fm are protected from the worst of the service's cyberbullying?

The short answer is: not that much.

Parents worried about child safety on services such as Ask.fm can forget about the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. This is simply not an area that it is set to up to police. So what can parents rely on?

Ask.fm is to create the position of a new "law enforcement affairs officer" here. This is to "materially improve the safety of the site". What this will probably mean is that abuse will be reported to a figure identifiable by Irish people, especially as this person will be located in Ireland.

It is to be hoped that this improves things because the law, as it stands, is of little help.

The Irish Non-Fatal Offences Against The Person Act of 1997 is often cited as something to combat online "harassment" as it outlaws the "pestering, besetting… or communicating" with people in a way that would "seriously interfere with the other's peace… or cause alarm, distress or harm to the other". The problem is that this has to be "persistent", meaning that one-off nasty remarks are difficult to police.

But even if it is persistent, the harasser has to be identifiable in the first place. And this gets to the heart of Ask.fm's particular challenge: it is set up to default to anonymity. By not requiring identifiable account handles (as opposed to Facebook or Instagram, for example), it effectively encourages teens to hop on and off, casually scattering comments here and there.

Ask.fm says that it is making an extra effort to address issues such as bullying, including the appointment of its new Irish law enforcement officer. However, it will not change the basic goal of the social network, which is to provide a forum where teenagers can comment about one another, largely anonymously.

Irish Independent