Why Ask.fm cannot police their site any more than they already do.

A couple of weeks ago, a 14 year old girl, Hannah Smith, committed suicide after being taunted on the Ask.fm website. The father has since told the media that the site owners are directly responsible for her death (which is bollocks), and even David Cameron, the Prime Minister in the UK has called for a boycott of the Ask.fm website until they do more to police their users. Now, according to Wikipedia, Ask.fm has 65 million users, so lets run through the numbers shall we?

Lets assume that an employee monitoring the site looks at one question, decides whether it’s abusive (which can sometimes depend on the context), then takes the appropriate action, every 10 seconds. That’s 6 questions every minute. Assuming that they work a standard 9-5 working day, and have an hour for lunch, that’s 1008 questions every day, for a single employee.

Now lets assume that every user posts 2 messages on the site every day. That equals 130,000,000 (130 million) posts every single day. How many employees will be needed to monitor all of those messages?

1008 messages/working day.
With 100 employees – 100,800 messages/working day. Doesn’t look like enough.
With 1000 employees – 1,008,000 messages/working day. Still not enough.
With 10,000 employees – 10,080,000 (10 million, 80 thousand) messages/working day.
With 20,000 employees – 20,160,000 (20 million, 160 thousand) messages/working day.
With 40,000 employees – 40,320,000 (40 million, 320 thousand) messages/working day.

40 thousand employees, and we still haven’t even come halfway to the 130 million messages posted every day. In fact, the company would need to hire 131,000 people to monitor all of those posts. 131 thousand people, just to monitor posts. The claim that they need to do more to police their site is ridiculous.

Of course, these numbers aren’t accurate. Many users won’t post at all some days, and other users may post hundreds in a day. Also, employees aren’t going to spend every minute of their day looking through these posts. They may get called away from their desk. They may check their emails. They may chat to their neighbour for a bit, or go for a piss. The point is, it is entirely unrealistic to expect the company to be able to monitor every single post ever made on the site, and the claim that the company is in any way responsible for the death of Hannah Smith is ludicrous. The only people that can be blamed, are the users who harassed her, and her parents, for failing to notice that anything was wrong.

Let me ask you, Cameron: if this had all happened on Twitter, or Facebook, would you be calling a boycott on them? Somehow I doubt it. Ask.fm is being made into a scapegoat. By the media, such as the Daily Mail (who described the site as “vile”), so they can sell more rags, and the Prime Minister, so he can push for more internet legislation, such as the recently announced “porn filter”, due to be implemented in 2014, which oh by the way, is also going to block sites related to extremism, drugs, violence, and “forums”. The UK is heading down a path of internet censorship, with incidents like this being used as an excuse, and it’s only going to get worse in the future, unless we all do something about it. Signing this would be a start: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746

People have also criticised how people are able to post anonymously on Ask.fm, and on social networking sites in general. They say that people shouldn’t be anonymous, that they should be using their real name. Now if people are forced to sign up to these sites using their real name, and they start getting harassed, it’s only going to be worse than if they signed up anonymously. It is extremely easy to find people’s personal information using just their name. If you enter my name into Google, you can find my phone number and home address in about five seconds, hence why I post using an alias. If Hannah Smith used her real name, how long before the harassment starts coming through her phone, or in the mail? Ask.fm has an option to prevent people from posting on your page anonymously. Learn to use it.

To summarise, David Cameron, our Prime Minister who is also sees himself as an internet expert, wants Ask.fm to properly monitor their user’s posts. To do that would require more than tens of thousands of employees. Cameron, stop talking as if you know jack about the internet and technology in general.