NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ask.com's Q&A platform Ask.fm allows its 180 million monthly unique users to ask questions anonymously, an important feature in the site's success to date and one that could breed trouble for its new parent, InterActive Corp (IACI) ..Internet trolls, the ruthless attention-seekers which hide in the shadows of the anonymous web, have been able to grab more and more headlines recently. Days ago, a faceless hacker published photos of naked celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, after infiltrating their Apple (AAPL) iCloud accounts.
Time again, the option of online anonymity allows inhibitions to lift and ugly behavior to surface, with Latvia-based Ask.fm already having its own scar. In Italy earlier in this year, a 14-year-old suffering from depression reached out for support from the community only to be inundated with hate-filled messages. The teenager committed suicide in February.
Since then, the site implemented report, block and delete features, but with around 40% of the site's users aged 18 and under, the potential for future trouble is rife.
Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds remains optimistic the company, widely regarded as Ask.com's entry into the social and mobile space, can safeguard the platform while maintaining what made it so popular to begin with.
"In the past it had very much operated as a place for free speech where people could say whatever they want. We don't think that's the right approach," he told TheStreet. "There really has to be a safety-first approach."
Ask.fm currently operates in more than 150 countries with approximately 45% of its mobile monthly active users logging in daily. Its app has been downloaded more than 40 million times.
By investing "millions" in online moderation, Leeds said every post will be examined and abuse intercepted either by technical or human means. "We would not have bought the company if we didn't think we could do something about it," he said, though added, "It's going to take work." Ask.fm was acquired for an undisclosed amount.
The technology which has facilitated abuse thus far could be flipped on its head, he added. "Bullying is a pattern of abusive behavior, not one message... that's something that technology is really good at understanding," he said. "We're going to use that to filter out these messages and make it a much safer site."
Last month, Zelda Williams was harassed on Twitter (TWTR) so badly days after her father, comedian Robin Williams, passed away that she deleted her account. (Williams has since returned to social media). Over the same period, private blog network Gawker Media had to step in to police anonymous comments on its feminist blog Jezebel which among the worst included rape GIFs.
--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.