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Family call for Ask.fm to be ‘shut down’

Anthony Stubbs grandma, Maureen Jeffears of Moss Side, Leyland

Anthony Stubbs grandma, Maureen Jeffears of Moss Side, Leyland

The family of teenager Anthony Stubbs who was found hanged have called for a website infested by ‘cyberbullying’ to be shut down.

Pressure is mounting to shut down a web forum which has links to two tragic Lancashire teenagers.

The girlfriend and the young cousin of dad Anthony Stubbs, 16, who was discovered in Brickfield Wood, Leyland, in January, have been subjected to abuse by anonymous users of website Ask.fm, a social network aimed at teens as young as 13.

Today a Lancashire MP revealed he has contacted Home Secretary Theresa May in a bid to see if anything can be done to regulate such online forums.

Ask.fm, which has been branded a ‘stalker’s paradise’ because it allows anyone to post anonymous comments and questions to a person’s profile, was also the home of persistent online bullying against Joshua Unsworth, 15.

Joshua was found dead behind his family home in Camforth Hall Lane, Goosnargh, near Preston, earlier this month.

Anthony’s grandmother Maureen Jeffears, 56, said: “This site needs shutting down.”

The website, based in Latvia, has more than 40 million users worldwide.

Maureen, 56, said: “This site needs shutting down.

“I know Joshua said he was getting bullied in his comments and he said what the outcome was going to be. It is awful.

“After Anthony died Katie was still getting comments, there was even one about my other granddaughter Becky, who died 18 months earlier when she was knocked down by a car.

“She deactivated her account but one of her friends started getting them instead.

“When you get tragic stories like this, and this website is letting people get away with it who are driving people to suicide, it’s unacceptable.”

One anonymous user wrote on Charlotte’s page about destroying tributes left at the spot where he died.

Maureen said: “Our family and Anthony’s mum Denise were so upset by how sick and cruel someone could be – we went and the flowers had been pulled off and the cards ripped and thrown on the ground.

“It’s hard to understand people’s mentality. It brings back so much heartache.”

Ask.fm has more than 30 million users around the world.

The website lets anyone see the names, photographs and personal details of boys and girls as young as 13, then post comments or questions on their profile pages that range from insults to sexual advances and threats of violence.

Many children lie about their age and sign up before they are teenagers.

But unlike other popular services such as Facebook and Twitter, there is no way to report offensive comments, increase privacy settings or use parental control or find out who is behind the anonymous bullying.

The website is based in Latvia, which has made it even more difficult for police to take action.

Maureen said: “Ask.fm say they rely on anonymous comments but my argument is everyone’s IP address is traceable.

“Whereas other sites have an abuse policy for reporting abuse, they don’t have one.

“If it can’t be shut down there should be a policy brought into it where people can report abuse and people be brought to task for it.”

Ask.fm did not reply to the Evening Post’s request for a comment.

However, the co-founder of the website, Mark Terebin, previously commented in response to critcism: “We only have this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all. It seems that children are more cruel in these countries.”

Preston North MP Ben Wallace said: “It is heartbreaking to see such tragedy, especially as a result of bullying. Bullying is truly evil.

“I have written to the Home Secretary to ask what steps we can take as a Government to exert some form of control over web forums that expose young people to such vicious attacks.”

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said it regularly replies to parents and schools concerned about bullying linked to the website.

A spokesman said: “Sometimes young people post without considering the consequences.

“Before doing so young people should know that by using sites like Ask.fm, where anonymous comments can be made, they may be exposed to bullying and harassment.

“The comments posted can be extremely hurtful, upsetting and potentially harmful and the anonymous nature of these sites make it difficult to take action in response to these incidents. We would encourage children not to talk to people online they don’t know.”

Lancashire Police said anyone facing serious bullying or threats online should report it to the police on the non-emergency number 111, or if they felt they were in immediate danger, dial 999.

Anthony’s family now plan to set up a campaign to raise awareness of the problem.

Maureen said: “People need to learn that it’s not okay to bully somebody because of their sexual orientation, their colour, or whatever, because this is the devastation it causes for families.”

Advice can be found at www.childline.org.uk, www.beatbullying.org and www.thinkuknow.co.uk.

 

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