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By Jamie Butow
"You need to quit writing or whatever you do with my man."
"god you make me sick"
"dude u r so ugly, i dont see how a girl as pretty as lily goes out with ur ugly a**."
Those are just three of the "questions" I found posed anonymously to two Bakersfield teens on Ask.fm. I only edited out the one word.
Take a minute to process that.
Ask.fm is just the latest social media site to come to light for its intense cyberbullying reputation.
That reputation has been around for quite a while, but it took the suicide of 14-year-old Briton Hannah Smith for something to change.
Smith died by suicide earlier this month after receiving abusive messages from Ask.fm users such as "drink bleach," "go get cancer" and "go die."
Her father wants criminal charges filed against the operators of the site for not doing anything to prevent the bullying.
The 3-year-old Latvia-based site (I had to go to Google maps, too) has 60 million users worldwide, about half of whom are younger that 18 years old, according to ComScore Inc. And the site is populated predominately by anonymous users.
Last week the operator of the website said it would make it easier to report online harassment. It also plans to let users opt out of receiving anonymous questions and will hire more staff -- including a safety officer -- to moderate comments on the site.
The new staff and procedures will be in place by January.
Will that help?
As fast as we start to monitor these sites, new ones are popping up.
While Ask.fm, Keek, Snapchat and Tumblr take a backseat to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, they are still major sources of communication among teens.
Even 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, two days after being rescued in the Idaho wilderness, logged on to Ask.fm using the name Hannahbanana722 to share details of her kidnapping ordeal.
She said last week on "Today" it was cathartic to know so many people were praying for her.
As a teenager, she said, social media is the way she talks to friends.
I don't think there's any argument that these sites should be responsive in moderating questionable material and making sure users adhere to the terms of service they put forward.
But Latvian columnist Karlis Langins wrote, "I think it is just another case of parents blaming everything for their child's death and politicians reacting in a populistic manner."
There's a middle ground here.
While people who run social platforms have to make an effort to observe what is happening on their sites, parents have to make an effort to observe what is happening with their teens.
Last week I posted a link on Facebook.com/JamieButow2 to a news story out of Los Angeles about a school district that hired a company to monitor social media sites for evidence of cyber-bullying, vandalism and other crimes by students of the Glendale Unified School District.
While I think this is a great idea, I hope it's not costing a huge amount of money.
Check out the article and comment here with your thoughts on the school district taking this on. Is it their responsibility? Will it help?