The Anonymous (& Potentially Dangerous) App You NEED To Know About

The ‘Burnbook’ app is like a virtual version of the Burn Book made famous in the movie ‘Mean Girls.’

From Yik Yak to Secret, there are plenty of apps taking up teens’ free time. Just when you think you’ve heard them all, they’re already obsessing over a new one—it’s the inevitable cycle of life with smartphones. And now there’s another anonymous app gaining popularity in schools. It’s called Burnbook, and critics say it’s opening the door for dangerous cyberbullying.

If you’ve seen Mean Girls, chances are you’re familiar with the concept of a “burn book,” or a book where people write nasty comments about others. While in the movie it was an actual book, the Burnbook app is a virtual space where users anonymously share comments and photos.

On the surface, it seems like the app warns users against cyberbullying and misusing it. In fact, Burnbook’s terms of service state the following:

“1. All users must be 18 years or older to use this service, or 17 with permission from a legal guardian.

2. You may not use Burnbook for any illegal purpose.

3. You must not bully, harass, threaten, or abuse anyone while using this service.”

Screen Shot 2015 03 10 at 12.46.05 PM The Anonymous (& Potentially Dangerous) App You NEED To Know About

(Image from the iTunes App Store)

Yet despite those guidelines, ABC News interviewed teens who used the site and received rude, cruel comments. Even if the rules state that bullying isn’t allowed, that doesn’t mean it’s not going on.

An 18-year-old Burnbook user Samantha told ABC News, “For this app in particular, the fact that people are anonymous, the majority of the time they have been negative.” Meanwhile, Tatum, 17, told ABC News, “Somebody said, ‘Tatum should get cancer like his mother and die. I was very hurt somebody would say that to me.”

Having rules against bullying in the terms of service is one thing, but it’s the follow-through that actually matters. Talk to your teens about the apps they’re using, and the importance of reporting cyberbullying when it happens. According to a study, 90% of teens who have seen cyberbullying say they’ve ignored it—that’s way too many!

Check out the “Apps of Hate?” story from the March issue of Choices, and share it with your teens! The story explores whether app creators are turning a blind-eye to cyberbullying, and why they’re drawn to these kinds of apps.