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    Communications 2 min read

    In digital communication, ASL (sometimes written A/S/L, capitalized or lowercase, and with or without a question mark) is an abbreviation for age, sex, location. This term was originally used in chat rooms, instant messengers, or online video games to ask demographic information about a stranger quickly instead of typing out each question individually.

    As ASL became a common conversation starter, users began responding in an identical format. A sample interaction might look like this:

    • surfergirl12: asl?
    • lotrlover1989: 16/m/nyc

    In the 1990s and 2000s, chat platforms such as AIM did not support user profiles like modern messaging tools (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, etc.), so the only identifying information was a user s screen name. Sometimes, users would also include an r for race or p for picture or physical appearance although this could spark controversy about cyberstalking, racial profiling, or generally inappropriate online behavior.

    The ASL question sometimes became an opening for catfishing situations, where a user poses as someone else and responds with misleading information. Even in contemporary online interactions, catfishing is still a risk that has dangerous real-world implications for human trafficking.

    The rise of social media and video calling technology meant people no longer needed to ask the ASL question in most settings, but it still sometimes comes up in online multiplayer games like Minecraft or anonymous chat services like Omegle. Digital literacy and Internet safety education helps users (especially young people) avoid sharing sensitive information to potential predators.