Ask.fm urges users to help end bullying

Site with 180m users employs just ‘dozens’ of moderators

Controversial social media site ask.fm is urging a ‘do it yourself’ approach to weeding out cyberbullies after revealing the number of moderators it directly employs to carry out safety checks for its worldwide user base is just dozens.

External contractors hired by the teen-oriented question and answer site increase the numbers involved in moderation to an unspecified “hundreds” but they are attempting to monitor the activities of 180m users in 40 languages on a round-the-clock basis.

They are also trying to monitor much more material than before. They no longer limit checks to conversations reported to them by concerned users and they now also monitor unanswered questions — meaning they are responsible for at least 26m new question and answer sessions every day.

US web entrepreneur Doug Leeds, who bought the site from its heavily criticised Latvian founders in August and moved its headquarters to Ireland in recent weeks, said the moderation team was now using more sophisticated technology to alert them to inappropriate posts.

“We’ve changed the way we do moderation significantly, adding a whole bunch of new filters. We’re now capturing about 40% more content in our filters,” he said in an interview with the Irish Examiner.

“And we’ve changed the way people can report. We’ve added options for reporting. We’ve also ramped up significantly our ability to moderate videos and images.”

He said the company would announce further changes in the next few weeks but while he intended hiring more moderators, he said ideally the users themselves would do much of the policing.

“That’s something we can do a better job of in our product — make it easier for people to both shut down conversations that they’re not willing to have, and allow their friends help them moderate their own stream.

“Friends in the community almost always outweigh the flamethrowers in the community. What we have to do as a product is help that sort of community, collaborative filtering rise to the top.

“If we get the collaborative effort right, it will be millions [of moderators] because people will be doing it themselves.”

Ask.fm has a troubled history, with accusations that its largely anonymous format creates a haven for internet trolls and that it has contributed to a number of teen suicides here, in Britain and the US.

Mr Leeds acknowledged it faced challenges. “The feed has cleaned up significantly. There’s a lot less of the real mean-spirited and hateful stuff but we have a way to go.

“We’re blocking hundreds of people a day in some way. That’s a tiny fraction of a percentage but it’s not insignificant.”

Children’s Minister James Reilly signalled last month he would monitor progress in improving standards on the site.

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