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Ask.fm's Teen Suicide Case and the Anonymity Problem

A view before the funeral service of Hannah Smith at St Mary's Church in Lutterworth, England, on Aug. 16
A view before the funeral service of Hannah Smith at St Mary's Church in Lutterworth, England, on Aug. 16Photograph by Rui Vieira/PA via AP Images

Another terrible and familiar story about the impact of online bullying has led a chastened company to change its ways.

This time it’s Ask.fm, a website where people can ask one another questions. It has about 60 million users worldwide, many of whom opt for anonymity and about half of whom are under 18 years old. The site has come under fire after a British teenager killed herself this month, leaving behind a trail of bullying messages directed at her by Ask.fm users. On Monday, the site announced it was making a number of changes to prevent such behavior, according to a statement shared with the blog Techcrunch, including making it easier to report inappropriate behavior and allowing users to opt out of receiving anonymous communications. Certain features of the site will no longer be available to those who don’t register with an e-mail address. Next year, it will hire more staff to moderate comments on the site.