Attempts to curb abusive behaviour on controversial networking sites will have little effect, according to a new report.
Research from the University of Central Lancashire has found 38 per cent of young girls using Ask.fm have been sent frightening, upsetting or embarrassing messages anonymously.
The site has been linked to online cyberbullying and blamed for the deaths of a number of children including cases in Lancashire.
Senior lecturer Amy Binns, who conducted the research, said: “The founders have proposed a few changes, but the fundamental site design takes away responsibility and makes abusing your friends and classmates seem like a game.”
Facebook’s Ugly Sisters: Anonymity and Abuse on Formspring and Ask.fm, has been published in the Media Education Research Journal.
It is based on findings of a detailed survey of over 300 girls at a British state school about their use of Facebook, Twitter, Ask.fm and its predecessor Formspring.
The study found 38 per cent of the girls using Ask.fm had received frightening, upsetting or embarrassing messages anonymously.
Miss Binns said: “I think what’s happening in some cases is that the girls feel they don’t have a choice as to whether to respond or not – they’ve signed up to the site and have to take what’s dished out without complaint.”
She added: “This must be immensely psychologically damaging, to be simultaneously abused and derided for inviting abuse.”
The study also covered whether or not the girls were taking the site seriously.
Only seven per cent said it felt real to post anonymously, but when it came to receiving anonymous abuse, 46 per cent said it felt real.
Miss Binns said: “It’s tempting to think all this abuse doesn’t really matter.
“That it’s just name-calling and only a few highly-sensitive people are taking it seriously, but that’s not the case. A lot of these young people are not just shrugging this abuse off. These suicides are just the tip of a very nasty iceberg.”
The parents of Joshua Unsworth, 15 - found dead behind his family home in Goosnargh earlier this year - backed electronic petitions calling for ask.fm to be banned. Ask.fm has pledged a number of changes including viewing all reports within 24 hours and making the report button more visible.