Last week Lebanon High School went into lockdown following a threat posted on the social media app Burnbook.
In the wake of the threat, a petition is circulating locally calling to shut down the app. As of press time, the petition (which argues, among other points, that the app doesn't follow its own guidelines) had gathered nearly 500 signatures.
At the Express, we've received a number of messages asking us to support the petition. However, we are reluctant to do so, and here's part of the reason why: The app, which allows people to post messages anonymously, didn't cause the problem. Behind the anonymity is a student or students who for whatever reason thought they could get away with making threats.
Burnbook is an app named after the movie Mean Girls where characters in that movie write negative comments in an anonymous journal. The Burnbook app allows users to post comment online anonymously.
If the group calling for the ban is successful in getting it removed, it won’t matter: Threats could happen again using a different anonymous app. There already several other apps that allow anonymous comments such as Whisper, Secret, and Yik Yak. There isn’t a petition for shutting down those apps because they’re not under a microscope right now.
On the Burnbook website, the terms of service are prominently displayed; they're not hidden deep in the disclaimer text. One of the rules clearly stated in the terms of service is that Burnbook may not be used for illegal activities; the very next rule says the app is not supposed to be used to bully, threaten or harass anyone.
Of course those terms of service didn’t, and won’t stop, students or anyone else from making those harassing comments, and perhaps the service does need to better monitor comments that violate its terms of service; however, we’re concerned how much monitoring people in charge of an app can do.
And it seems likely that if the monitoring becomes draconian, users would simply start using a different app, one in which comments aren't carefully monitored.
Also, the app isn’t truly anonymous as it tracks a user’s IP address, and requires users to register their phone number; this is how police are investigating the threats made to the high school.
Fortunately, the threats were unfounded and school was able to carry on as best as normal.
Principal Brad Shreve sent a letter asking parents to discuss the “ramifications of social media” with their children. While it may be a necessary conversation for some parents to have with their children, we’re willing to bet most students know that posting anonymous threats online isn’t acceptable behavior.
It’s unfortunate the incidents happened, and we understand the levity of the situation, but banning the app won’t fix the problem. Don’t blame the app for the actions of a misguided individual.
Do we have a perfect solution for this? No: There's never been a perfect solution to stopping threats. But educating students about the proper use of social media (not to mention the presence of a police officer in the high school as the school's resource officer) likely will make a much bigger difference in the long run than a knee-jerk, and likely ineffective, effort to shut down the app.