What is Burnbook? The latest anonymous app to cause cyberbullying concerns
TORONTO – Parents and teachers across the U.S. are expressing outrage over a new anonymous social networking app that they say is designed to encourage cyberbullying.
The app – dubbed Burnbook – encourages users to post “jokes, fails, shout outs, revelations, proclamations and confessions” on anonymous message boards.
The idea of a “Burn Book” was made popular by cult classic movie Mean Girls, starring Lindsay Lohan, in which the so-called popular girls used the book to start rumours, stories and gossip about their high school peers.
In the movie, things get pretty nasty when students read the mean-spirited things written in the book.
This is the main concern with the Burnbook app.
“Shame on the creators,” wrote one review on Apple’s App Store.
“I wish I could repeat the evil things that were posted so I could get my point across but I cannot bring myself to spread those gruesome things even further. If you are a parent investigating an app on your child’s phone, I would advise that you immediately delete it.”
“I don’t care if whoever made this is living through Regina George because this is horrible,” wrote another.
“This must be taken down ASAP. The idea of someone wanting to make chaos amongst teenagers is so incredibly wrong on so many levels.”
How does the Burnbook app work?
Burnbook uses your location to find local “communities,” which are sectioned off by schools. You can only pick one community – but can switch to a different one at any time.
Once you’ve joined a community, you are able to post photos, audio messages and status updates. Users can comment, like and up- or down-vote content to decide what stays on the app and what gets removed.
The app is anonymous – you are not required to sign up with an alias or create an account when you download the app.
However, the app requires users to submit their phone numbers to prevent abuse. “As long as you don’t post anything illegal, we will never give your digits to anyone,” reads the app description.
Not the first app to draw cyber bullying concerns
Burnbook is just one of many anonymous social networking apps that have prompted bullying concerns.
In January, anonymous messaging app Yik Yak was banned in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board after threats of violence and bullying were posted to the app.
Yik Yak – which works almost identically to Burnbook – was also banned in multiple school districts in the U.S. due to rampant incidents of cyberbullying.
Other anonymous apps like Snapchat and Ask.Fm have also been criticized for facilitating cyberbullying.
Burnbook has already stirred up its fair share of controversy
Despite being released just last week, Burnbook’s creators have already been forced to make changes to the way the app is monitored, after a user threatened to bring a gun to a San Diego area high school.
According to reports, the app’s creator vowed to include clear warnings that user’s IP addresses could be tracked to deter users from posting threats and delete content deemed offensive.
“We’ve changed out objectionable content. In some cases, we’ve actually contacted the police before they’ve contacted us,” Jonathan Lucas, the CEO and developer of Burnbook, told NBC San Diego.
“Freedom of speech isn’t necessarily freedom of anonymity. Anonymity is a privilege, not a right. If that privilege is abused, there are consequences.”
The app does clearly notify users of its community rules upon download – the rules state users are prohibited from posting content that includes nudity or violence.
Although the app warns users not to harass others, many still feel the objective of the app is to encourage bullying.
“At Burnbook, we take the safety and security of our users seriously. We proactively reach out to law enforcement anytime we become aware of a threat that might impact our members or the community. We are also working closely with online safety and security experts to review and improve our app to reduce bullying issues,” read a statement issued to Global News.
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