Pressure grows on website as major brands pull ads

Pressure is growing on one of the web’s most controversial social networking sites as a raft of major brands have pulled adverts — because of its lacklustre response tocyberbullying.

A number of Irish companies, such as the Northern Irish Tourist Board, Eircom, and Setanta Sports, were not even aware their adverts were on the site. Many had bought bundled web packages from media agencies where their adverts could end up anywhere on any number of websites. Eircom and Setanta Sports both halted their advertising yesterday.

It is believed, however, that a number of international supermarket chains as far back as last year had specifically asked media buyers to blacklist ask.fm in their media buy.

A spokesman for Setanta Sports said: “We have instructed our agency to instruct the network to ensure that our ads are no longer served there. If it is the case that our ads have appeared on this site, I expect them to be removed with immediate effect.”

Save the Children, The Sun newspaper, Specsavers, British Telecom, and Vodafone are among the major international brands which have severed links with the site in the past 24 hours.

The father of Irish cyberbullying victim Ciara Pugsley earlier this week joined British charity Beatbullying in calling on advertisers to boycott the site as he said the founders of the site would have to be forced into corporate responsibility.

As the number of companies dissociating with the site grew yesterday, the Latvian-based company issued a lengthy, open letter saying it does not stand for bullying and that its safety measures were “in-line with, if not better than, other social networking sites”.

“We have been working with experts at the UK’s Safer Internet Centre, and thus the wider EU InSafe organisation, and are in constant discussions with them regarding our privacy and safety policies and the ways in which we may be able to enhance them,” he said.

In Britain, prime minister David Cameron also backed the calls to boycott irresponsible sites, saying that such social networking sites must “clean up their act. .

In an open letter, Ask.fm said the site had an “in-question reporting function” which had been in place since last year and was “similar to the in-tweet function announced by Twitter this week”.

“If parents see something on their teenager’s Ask.fm page that they are concerned about, they too can click the in-question reporting button and alert our moderators,” the letter said.

The letter also says a team of moderators was present “around the clock — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year” who manually check all site content.

“We believe one of our site’s advantages is that everything is open — rather than hidden in private inboxes. This means that anyone can report anything they see that may be of concern,” it added.

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