The story of 14-year-old Nadia explains why Ask.fm, a social media website, is increasing safety measures for young people online.
The fresh-faced Italian schoolgirl was like many of her peers: a lover of social networks, especially Ask.fm. The Latvia-based website has 100 million registered users worldwide who ask each other questions, often anonymously.
Using the alias Amnesia, Nadia had asked her online network for emotional help. She posted a desperate S.O.S. onto Ask.fm, and in exchange, she received insults and even incitements to suicide. "Kill yourself," many anonymous users wrote on her cyber-wall.
On Feb. 9, Nadia jumped to her death from the 10th floor of an abandoned hotel near the northeastern Italian town of Padova. According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Nadia left a letter addressed to her grandmother, saying, "I'm sorry to have disappointed all of you." The letter announced her death and indicated the place. Nadia's mother found her daughter at the foot of the building, recognizing her silhouette.
Nadia's 21-year-old boyfriend told local papers that the girl was depressed. While her parents have been unable to fully explain the suicide, they are publicly blaming Ask.fm. Meanwhile, the Internet company has revised its methods for policing content.
"Ask.fm has implemented a number of key changes to policies and procedures with the aim to make young people safer online," Liva Biseniece, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News. "We urge our members to use the reporting, blocking and deleting options available to them."
This isn't the first time that Ask.fm has come under fire. Last August, a British teenager killed herself, leaving behind a trail of bullying messages from the site's users. London-based newspaper the Sunday Times cited an Ask.fm source saying 98 percent of that teenager's messages came from her own computer — suggesting she was sending hostile notes to herself.
"We intend to cooperate fully with the Italian authorities regarding this tragic case and note that suicide cases of young people are always a very complex overlap of social, economic and emotional aspects," Biseniece said.
Giovanni Ziccardi, a professor of legal informatics at Milan University, said social network aren't necessarily to blame in cases like Nadia's.
"We can't consider an Internet-based platform liable for the contents its users post," Ziccardi said. "Except for those cases in which abuses and misuses are flagged."
After Nadia's death, Italian police started an inquiry. Roberto D'Angelo, the public prosecutor in Padova, opened a probe, and confiscated Nadia’s mobile phones and a personal computer. D'Angelo didn't respond to e-mail requests from Bloomberg News asking for a comment.