Target 11 investigates link between popular chat site and bullying

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PITTSBURGH —

A Lawrence County woman still can’t believe the hurtful messages about her daughter that she uncovered on a popular social media website for teens.

“I was angry and concerned. I wanted to make sure my daughter didn't believe the things that were being said,” she told Target 11 investigator Rick Earle.

She agreed to share her story as long as we concealed her identity because she doesn’t want her daughter to endure more bullying.

She couldn’t believe some of the sexually graphic comments she found on Ask.fm.

“Things that you know where in my eyes horrific for a 14-year-old to have to read or hear,” she said.

Users post questions, often about themselves or others, and wait for responses, but those responses can be made anonymously.

In Florida, investigators said bullying on Ask.fm lead to the suicide of a 12-year-old girl last fall, and just last month another teen suicide outside of Cleveland, also blamed on bullying on the website.

“You can basically set up an account and be anybody you want and say what you want.  No repercussions,” said Internet security expert Rick Wallace.

With his help, Target 11 was able to go line and what we found was disturbing. 

One message read “No one wants you here.”

Another, “I recommend the rope.”

And we discovered even more comments pushing suicide:

“Your wrists are like cutting boards.”

“How were those pills last night? Try harder.”

Wallace said the hurtful messages are there all the time.

“It's there every morning.  They're getting up at three in the morning seeing who liked this, who commented on this, who else is joining it. It doesn't go away,” he said.

Target 11 contacted Ask.fm but never heard back, but it has made some changes that are outlined on its site to deal with some of the bullying.

The site hired a safety officer and made it easier to block anonymous posts.

The mother we spoke with said parents need to be involved, too.

“I hope parents are talking to their kids and checking up on them.  Yes, these teenagers want privacy but there is only so much you can give them if there's stuff out there like this,” she said.