LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Until last week, many parents didn't know anything about Ask.fm, but they quickly started asking questions after more than 500 students in Russellville stayed home from school following threats posted on the social media site.
At first glance, the format sounds harmless: a social media site that allows users to ask questions anonymously. In the teenage world, however, that anonymity is powerful and authorities believe it can be the perfect platform for vicious bullying and dangerous rumors.
Suicides of nine teenagers have been linked to Ask.fm this year alone. Jessica Laney hung herself after she was bullied relentlessly through her Ask.fm account, according to her family. Anonymous users called Jessica "fat" and "a slut." One post read, "Can you kill yourself already?" The harassment proved to be too much for the Florida teen to take.
Here in Arkansas, the 8th graders we talked to at Pulaski Academy said they've seen their friends flock to the site. School leaders cite Ask.fm as one of the reasons they recently held a social media event for parents. They want to make sure parents know what to look for when they're checking up on their children.
"I thought, ‘Oh what's Ask.fm?' I opened it up and I about died with the first question," said mother Nicole Kaemmerling. "It was very sexually explicit and I'm also like - I didn't even know if she knows what this means because it's not stuff you would think an 8th grader would know."
"They don't seem to have any restraints on what kind of language is used. It's profanity. I know it's profanity and I just don't approve about some of the ways that they talk about girls," said mother Regina Woziwodzki.
"So, we have to really be strong about what they can and cannot do," said mother Missy Lewis. "The things they can say that can go viral, that can hurt someone and once it's out there - you can't take it back."
The teen girls we interviewed said they've even seen cruel comments made and rumors started about teens who aren't even on Ask.fm. Anyone's reputation can be at risk once their name is posted.
Eighth grader Kennedy Richardson refuses to get an Ask.fm account.
"I think it gives the person behind the screen too much power," said Richardson. "Going anonymous, you don't get to see who's asking the questions. It gives that person too much freedom to ask whatever they want and a lot of the stuff that people ask on Ask.fm, it hurts a lot. So there's no point in having an Ask.fm just to get hurt."
"It's bad because if it asks something bad, it associates that with your name if you post it because you're not protecting your reputation at all with those questions," said 8th grader Tatum Smith.
The website is based in the country of Latvia, which means US laws don't apply. If things do get out of hand, as they did recently in Russellville, federal authorities have to be called in.
Drew Latch with the Russellville Police Department takes what happened there very seriously.
"We need to urge parents, once again, to pay attention to what your kids are doing online," said Latch. "Sometimes they don't understand the severity of what they're getting into."
In that case in Russellville, two teenagers were arrested. Despite all of the criticism, Ask.fm is one of the fastest growing websites in the world with more than 80 million users.