Update as of 4/1/15: It appears that iTunes has taken down Burnbook but it is still available on Google Play.
The app Burnbook is causing problems, with anonymous posters cyberbullying users and making violent threats that have closed schools and led to lock downs in California, Texas, Oregon and elsewhere in just the past week.
School administrators around the country are sounding the alarm about this app that has led to cyberbullying and other issues in high schools and middle schools across the country. They warn parents that this app is not the old fashioned burn book used to share opinions and spread rumors that parents may know from their adolescent days or from the movie “Mean Girls.” The digital version, however, illustrates that what is shared online can have a bigger and wider impact and can last forever.
Here’s what parents need to know about the Burnbook app, which is available for free and categorized by school:
* It is rated 17+ in the App Store for sexual conduct, nudity, profanity, crude humor, violence, suggestive themes, alcohol, tobacco or drug use, all of which is described as “frequent/intense” on the app.
* The Terms of Service of the Burnbook app state “All users must be 18 years or older to use this service, or 17 with permission from a legal guardian.”
* Users post anonymously, and users do not register or create accounts. That lack of accountability is a big red flag. “Anonymous apps are magnets for abuse and can quickly dismantle the most innocent online interaction,” wrote Toni Birdsong in a McAfee Blog post about Burnbook.
* By definition, a burn book does not promote kindness or positive communication but rather is a forum for meanness. “Attaching that specific name to this app is red flag in itself and a good reason to stop and take a closer look at your child’s phone or have a timely discussion about anonymous apps,” wrote Birdsong.
* The description of the app says, “Together, we can keep a secret.” The company behind the app is named Blushhh, LLC. When I visited the app this morning, the quote on the home was: “You are who you are in the dark. All the rest is reputation.” — Oswald Chambers. To me, this evidences that the app is about secrets and not about accountability.
* It “has primarily been used as a forum for people to post slanderous and inappropriate content with anonymity,” said a school administrator in Washington state.
* The posts are graphic and Texas station KXII said it could not show many of the posts on television “because of their lewd and graphic nature,”
* It has caught the attention of law enforcement, with the Lackawanna County, PA district attorney’s office telling WNET that parents need to discuss the impact their online communication can have in the real world, including that cyberbullying can “implicate the criminal law.”
* It was created by a 23 year-old who told the NBC Dallas-Ft. Worth affiliate that he planned to install a filter this weekend to limit threats and posts that specifically name names. It will not do anything about the vulgarity found on the app. I’m dubious about this “fix.”
Many school districts have urged students to delete the app, sent letters to parents informing them of the app and asking them to get involved, and asked the developer of an an to exclude its students.
I read many articles about this app and no one had anything positive to say about the app. Some of the hurtful comments were heartbreaking, especially the one that said a student “should get cancer like his mother and die,” as reported by ABC.
Comments like that are not okay. Threats about violence at school are not okay. Burnbook is not okay.
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