Ask.fm promises to become bully-free and relocates to Dublin

Social media site popular with teenagers puts millions into fixing damaged image

Doug Leeds, chief executive of Ask.com, says the company plans to invest millions of dollars into improving the technological and human moderation of the website.

Doug Leeds, chief executive of Ask.com, says the company plans to invest millions of dollars into improving the technological and human moderation of the website.

 

The chief executive of Ask. com, the parent company of the controversial Ask.fm website linked to online bullying, says the group have hired the best safety experts in the world to ensure a safe and bully-free online environment.

Two Irish teenagers, Ciara Pugsely (15) from Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13) from Donegal, took their own lives in 2012 after being subjected to online bullying from anonymous users on the site.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Doug Leeds, chief executive of Ask.com, said the company plans to invest millions of dollars into improving the technological and human moderation of the website.

“The overwhelming majority of people who use the site are using it for benign purposes, for entertainment, for conversation,” said Mr Leeds. “However, there are things that need to be changed.

“We’re going to be very focused on making sure bullying is weeded out, that’s our biggest priority. We’re looking at every message either through the means of technology or humans and making sure that people can’t bully anybody else.”

The company announced on Monday it would be moving from Latvia to the Ask.com existing headquarters in Dublin.

Mr Leeds says the group decided to separate from the founders of the site Ilja and Mark Terebin, due to conflicting views on safety measures for users.

“We just didn’t really share the vision that they had,” he said. “They felt it was much more of a libertarian, laissez-faire approach to safety and we thought we had a much deeper responsibility to the users on the site.”

Mr Leeds says the social networking site has already established partnerships with government agencies and law enforcement groups, including the New York attorney general and the Maryland attorney general.

“We’re making (safety) controls more apparent so that the users and the drivers see the experience that they want.”

Anonymity vs Responsibility

Meanwhile, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, yesterday voiced concern over the company’s decision to move its offices from Latvia to Dublin.

He posted on Twitter: “Ask.fm relocation to Dublin is a matter of concern. I intend raising the matter with my Government colleagues.”

Mr Leeds told RTÉ radio he’d already met with the outgoing Data Protection Commissioner and with members of the IDA, Ireland’s foreign direct investment agency.

“I know that Taoiseach Kenny made a comment today saying he welcomes us getting into a dialogue with the Department of Children, which we would love to do, and working with NGOs,” said Mr Leeds.

“It’s absolutely our intention and our practice to work with governments to make sure that they understand our service and we understand their concerns.”

Jonathan Pugsley, the father of Ciara Pugsley, reiterated last night his concern over anonymous users on the site.

“My concern is the same as my concern two years ago, that users can post anonymous messages and I don’t think that leads to responsible behaviour,” said Mr Pugsley. “Once things have been said they can’t be taken back, the damage may already have been done.”

Asked if he would consider meeting with Mr Leeds, Mr Pugsely said he’d like to “look him in the eye and ask him a few questions”.

“Some of the talk that’s there and especially from Doug Leeds himself is very positive,” he said. “But at the moment it’s talk. It will be very interesting to see what the walk is.