Ask.fm, the troubling secret playground of tweens and teens
Insanely popular with kids, the question-and-answer service thrives on anonymity, making it fun and dangerous. Spy on Ask.fm's public stream and you'll feel like you've been transported back to middle school, dumped in the center of he-said, she-said dramas -- sometimes innocuous, sometimes not. Here, hormone-crazed young boys and girls banter about their after-school plans, tease their peers, boast about their most recent hookups, and try to appear cool with expletives and graphic language. Ask.fm is a 3-year-old question-and-answer app that's wracked up 57 million users and is adding members at a rate of 200,000 a day. It's spreading from kid to kid, infiltrating middle schools and high schools the same way that mobile sensations Instagram and Snapchat have. The Latvian-run platform, launched in June 2010, resembles predecessor Formspring and offers a Web and mobile space where people create profiles so that anyone, not just other members, can ask them questions. The service was essentially a European clone of Formspring until the latter shifted focus in July of last year. Since then, Ask.fm has added about 50 million users. Today, Ask.fm has ballooned into a parent-free digital space where kids go to goof off and escape the built-in accountability of Facebook. According to brother co-founders Mark and Ilja Terebin, Ask.fm is big in Brazil, the U.S., Italy, Russia, the U.K., Germany, Turkey, Argentina, Poland, and France, though it has a presence in 150 additional countries.