The Malta Independent 23 November 2014, Sunday

Troubled teenager tormented on Ask.fm

Malta Independent Sunday, 30 March 2014, 10:30 Last update: about 6 months ago

“She’s a f***king attention seeker, that’s why she has pics of her cuts lol.” “anorexic? what a loser.” “There’s nothing to envy because you are skin and bone.” “You enjoy hurting people, but then you cry and cut yourself when someone hurts you.” “Is your clit pierced?”

This is but a small snapshot of the pages and pages of abuse, most of which were anonymous, that 15-year-old Lisa Marie Zahra was subjected to in recent months on the notorious social networking site Ask.fm. The teenage girl was found dead two weeks ago at the bottom of Dingli cliffs.

The controversial site has already been the subject of intense media scrutiny in the UK following a spate of suicides after teenagers suffered months of anonymous abuse by fellow users.

The website allows users to post anonymously on other people’s profiles, with many using the veil of anonymity to heartlessly bully people they know.

One post by someone claiming to know Ms Zahra warns her of the danger of using the site.

“aw xbin, careful cos u might b another victim of ask.fm. either handle the hate or if u don’t like it stop the ability to have anonymous answers. I no u, nd ur a gr8 person. i don’t want u to die.”

The use of the website among Maltese teenagers is prevalent, and the ability to join the site under a pseudonym means that parents can often be unaware of the abuse their children are being subjected to online.

Ms Zahra’s obvious cries for help on the website were often shot down with cruel comments from her peers. One picture posted by the teenager shows her holding up her arm displaying a large number of self-inflicted cuts on her wrist and forearm.

Many of the users interacting with Ms Zahra on Ask.fm evidently knew her, yet some nonchalantly refer to her self-inflicted wounds as “cuts,” as if she were merely posting a picture of a grazed knee after a fall.

The picture in question is probably more shocking for adults than it is for teenagers, who unfortunately must come across similar images regularly on sites like Ask.fm.

One comment called Ms Zahra “a depressed “f**k” and an “attention seeker”. “She has an illness wow. You don’t need to put it all over facebook and tumblr that you’re f**king depressed,” an anonymous user said.

The Malta Independent on Sunday took a decision not to publish the aforementioned photo out of respect for Ms Zahra’s memory and family, but this paper nevertheless feels it has an obligation to raise awareness with parents and children alike about the perils of using such websites.

There are, however, brief moments of decency on her Ask.fm profile page. One anonymous user commented on one of her photographs: “You're so pretty. c:”, to which Lisa Marie tellingly replied, “Thank you for not insulting me or sending me hate.”

The vast majority of the posts on her profile, however, were clearly tantamount to cyber-bullying in its worst form – kicking a person when she is already clearly down, and in the process undoubtedly adding to a young girl’s problems.

 

Maltese police have regularly sought information on abusive users

The Maltese police are well aware of the problems and threats posed by Ask.fm and have tried to get information from the site, only to be confronted by a brick wall. The police have warned parents to closely supervise their children’s internet use, particularly their use of social networks.

The police also appealed to parents to be “particularly attentive to their children's use of social networks in view of the potential of having other users of the same website misusing such a service.”

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday this week, the Malta Police said that it “has regularly sought information about users who were making abusive use of Ask.fm in a manner that amounts to a criminal offence. It must be pointed out that although Ask.fm provides the facility of posting comments in an ‘anonymous’ manner, the administrators of this website would still be logging information that could help identify the persons making use of their website in an abusive manner.

“As this particular social network is based in Latvia, requests by the Maltese police authorities are channelled through the Latvian authorities. The Malta Police Force reiterates its position that Ask.fm is not an illegal website in itself as this is just another social network website.”

Any reports lodged with the police about criminal activity taking place through such social networks will be “thoroughly investigated,” the police said.

 “The Malta Police wishes to take this opportunity to remind readers about the elements of proper parental involvement whenever minors, especially young children, are making use of the internet or technology in general.  

“It must be pointed out that parental supervision is key to providing guidance on responsible internet use, identifying any situations that may give rise to abuse as well as address instantaneously any circumstances that are brought to the attention of parents.” 

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