The mother of a friend of Hannah’s confirmed to reporters that the posts were hers and said that her son had urged Hannah to take some of them down. But law enforcement officials and the website itself have not confirmed or denied the origin of the posts. As of late Wednesday morning, the account attributed to her in media reports – Hannahbanana722 – did not turn up on a search of ask.fm.
It’s not uncommon for teens to think of the Internet as a diary, or as a way to communicate with people about difficult subjects without having to face them in person, so the posts might have been a way of “getting attention that she thinks is healing, but in the end, it’s not,” says Parry Aftab, a New Jersey-based lawyer, cyberbullying expert, and founder of the WiredSafety charity.
While people can find a sympathetic audience and some who genuinely care on Internet forums, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and “trolls who look for emotional stories … and ask questions to enrage [the person posting], to set them up for humiliation, or to use as a means for other attacks,” Ms. Aftab says.
Getting an accurate picture of one’s audience on different sites, and setting the right boundaries as circumstances shift, can be difficult for teens and adults alike.
“We all are navigating how to manage wanting to interact and seek support but yet having all that communication be potentially recorded and available for long period of time,” says Amanda Lenhart, director of teens and technology initiatives at the Pew Research Center in Washington.
Among the questions reportedly posed to Hannah was whether she was raped, which she declined to answer. The kidnapper, James Lee DiMaggio, appears to have been the one who murdered her brother and mother. He was killed by an FBI agent in Idaho during her rescue.
As a whole, Ms. Lenhart says, young people “are quite perceptive and concerned about privacy” and take steps to protect it on sites such as Facebook.