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Kidnap victim’s site of choice: What is Ask.fm?

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Posted at 2:34 PM, Aug 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-14 16:35:40-04
By Jonathan Anker

HLNtv.com

(HLNtv.com) — When rescued kidnapping victim Hannah Anderson decided to give her first interview since her horrific ordeal, she didn’t go to Oprah. Or a primetime TV slot. Or even People magazine. The 16-year-old went online.

Specifically, she went on Ask.fm.

On Tuesday, an Ask user with the profile name @Hannahbanana722 fielded questions from other people on the Q&A social site, responding to dozens of inquiries about both her abduction (she didn’t run because “He would’ve killed me”) and her personal life (she’s “not currently” looking for a boyfriend).

HLN has confirmed, through the father of one of Anderson’s friends, that the account belongs to Hannah Anderson. According to the father, his son told him Hannah used the account before her abduction and has been very active on it since her return. However, the account was disabled late Wednesday morning.

Anderson’s decision to be so candid, so public, so soon after the kidnapping — which ended with Anderson’s abductor shot dead by the FBI Friday evening — may be surprising, but the teenager’s decision to do so on Ask, should not be.

The user-fueled, question-and-answer social media site is massively popular with younger users. On Monday, Ask sent a tweet announcing it now has 70 million users worldwide. It essentially functions as one big Reddit “Ask Me Anything.” Users can skip around the site asking people whatever they want, with the end result being profile pages that read like questionnaires.

It recently drew heavy criticism as a hive of cyberbullying, however, following several instances of teenage Ask.fm members committing suicide after being harassed on the site. The suicide earlier this month of 14-year-old British girl Hannah Smith prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to call for a boycott of Ask.fm. Several advertisers recently cut ties with the site, which allows users to remain anonymous and does not delete posts — even those that contain threats or have been reported for abusive content.

Responding to the criticism, Ask released a statement which in part claimed Smith was effectively bullying herself. “With the Hannah case, the company have looked at every identity — the (computer) IP addresses are trackable. She posted the anonymous things herself.” They added that, “The vast majority of our users are very happy teenagers, who use Ask.fm to converse with their peers around the world” and that “We do not condone bullying of any kind.”

While battling a reputation problem that has produced headlines wondering if the site has “a Myspace problem,” most interactions on the site are about what you’d imagine for a place that comes across as an extended, virtual high school hallway. Just, with more text-speak and emoticons.

“why arent u and savannah friends anymore? Because, She’s NOT a good friend.”

“You’re hot! :)‎ awh thankss [:”

“Who was your first celebrity crush? That girl who plays Sabrina the teenage witch. AHHAHAHA”

“fave song? Hurt by Johnny cash at the mo”

“What crazy things do you dream of trying someday? I’ve always wanted to bungee jump but I’d be too scared.. :$”

And millions more like that. Also, lots and lots of Justin Bieber and One Direction posts. Fair warning.

Similar to other social sites, users can follow each other or “like” certain posts — and there are a bunch of fake celebrity accounts. However, unlike most other sites, you don’t have to be a user to ask a question. Not that that’s keeping people from signing up anyway: According to the UK’s Mirror, Ask.fm is adding 200,000 users a day.

A petition seeking to close it down has just more than 7,000 signatures.

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