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'Mean Girls' in Real Life: Burnbook
By: Jennifer Graber
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Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Regina George and The Plastics. Far more hands are raised than there ever should be, and in a case of life imitating art, Mean Girls has become a cold, hard reality once more. We certainly did not need yet another avenue that encourages problems, yet here we are. A real-life burn book, like in Mean Girls, has been making the rounds in the social media realm.

Burnbook is a free app that allows users to “search for school communities within 10 miles of their location and then anonymously share text and photos for other users to review.” At first, and in theory, this sounds like an app with potential. Burnbook could be used to share ideas and works-in-progress for art, make-up, fashion, writing, personal development, and more. Feedback that would be provided could help positively shape these ideas and works-in-progress into masterpieces.

The hope for a positive impact from Burnbook is furthered by the app’s terms of service. Burnbook states that all users must be 18 years of age or older (or 17 with guardian permission). Users also cannot participate in anything illegal through the app. The most promising of all service terms is the app’s stipulation that Burnbook cannot be used to “bully, harass, threaten, or abuse anyone.”

Sounds all well and good, right? Yes. But let’s get real. The app is called Burnbook, people! Burnbook! The name alone connotes an air of negativity. The only other time I have heard of a burn book is from the movie Mean Girls. And in the movie it was used to gossip about and humiliate students at the fictional high school. Others are likely making that association as well.

Beyond the negative associations with the app’s name, there is the usage side as well. Students are not just using Burnbook to get feedback on a project or share a positive experience. They are using it to anonymously cyberbully other students. Some have said they are not even comfortable repeating the vile words that others have shared via Burnbook.

Bullying is not the only issue for Burnbook, either. The app has been used to make violent threats against specific individuals and schools. Just a quick Internet search reveals a litany of examples of such behavior. There are numerous stories of threats via Burnbook indicating bombs, shootings, sexual harassment, and more.

Burnbook is, not surprisingly, a primary issue for high schools. However, similar apps have caused turmoil at the college level, too. This has brought about several petitions calling for the app to be taken down to prevent usage. Additionally, Burnbook has received feedback criticizing its premise.

The app is now no longer available for download in the iTunes Store, but is still available on Google Play. The developer’s website is still active. My question is this — how does this app even exist? Seriously, how? It takes some brainpower to create an app, so why not use it for good? We don’t need help with bullying; people do that all on their own without any assistance. It certainly is a sad state that it is so natural for some to create something like Burnbook and perpetuate the idea that cyberbullying is somehow okay.

This is not to say we have to like everyone or agree with everyone, and not doing so equals bullying. That notion is absurd. But Burnbook goes far beyond that. Please be aware of this app and its implications.

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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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