Every few months a new mobile app surfaces on the social landscape that quickly catches on. And, yes, parent—you need to be aware of what the app looks like, how it works, and how your teen may be using or even misusing it.
The latest red flag app that has already been linked to cyberbullying incidents is called Burnbook. Go look for it on your child’s phone. It’s the purple lips app (see app graphic, right) and is quickly catching on as the latest, greatest way to poke fun (and hate) at others via anonymous accounts.
The app is simple. Users can create anonymous accounts on their smart phones, check off their high school (which is listed by name via a geo locator) and proceed to post anything from “jokes, fails, wins, sightings, shout outs, revelations, proclamations, and confessions,” as the app description encourages. The Burnbook community can then decide through votes and comments what posts stay and what will go.
The name behind the app is a spinoff from the teen cult movie Mean Girls in which the popular girl clique “The Plastics” create a big pink book which they call the Burn Book. The book contains a firestorm of rumors, stories, and gossip about all other girls who go to their high school. As part of the storyline, the book is then “accidentally” left in public so that its contents can be discovered and shared.
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.
The Burnbook app releases in the shadow of another controversial, anonymous app Yik Yak that has also been the center of concern as it continues to be linked to cyberbullying incidents and threats of mass violence. However, due to its anonymous nature, many colleges are finding it impossible to track down and prosecute offenders.
There’s no doubt that these apps are used by many teens for purely social non-abusive purposes to simply make plans, share encouragements, or spread innocent or funny posts. However, anonymous apps are magnets for abuse and can quickly dismantle the most innocent online interaction.
Here are a few tips on talking to your teen about Burnbook (and other anonymous apps) in a positive way.
• Ask. In a non-accusing manner, simply ask your teen if she is has heard of or is using the app.
• Explore. If she is using the app (or a similar one such as Yik Yak), ask her to open it and show you how it’s used and how she likes to use it. (Note: You are the student, she is the teacher for a few minutes).
• Understand. Ask her why she likes the app and why she’s chosen to be anonymous. Ask her how others use the app and if she’s ever seen any inappropriate behavior or cruelty on the app.
• Pose key questions: Why do you think people would choose an anonymous app over other apps such as Instagram or Twitter? What do you think the reasons are for not wanting to connect accounts to real names? How do you feel when you see a rumor or a mean piece of gossip about someone else online? How do you think that person would feel if they saw that written about them?
• Teach sensitivity. Remind your child that even when someone posts something they define as funny, another person may be very offended, even devastated by the comment or photo. Stress the lack of context the online world offers. So many times our words and intent are lost in translation and even small comments easily turn into big hurts.
• Share your concerns. Anonymous apps are linked not only to cyberbullying but can infuse an incredible amount of daily drama into already tenuous peer groups. Often when you take some of these apps out of the equation, drama dies down and friendships can develop healthily. The chance of encountering a predator or catfish account on these apps is also a real possibility.
• Stress accountability and empathy. Whenever someone can hide behind the veil of anonymity, there’s a lack of integrity and accountability for any content that is shared. Teach your child to discern who is sharing content, the value of the content, and the emotional repercussions negative or lewd comments can bring to others.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family.
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