Monday, April 13, 2015


My husband and I — we met when we both worked in the cable TV industry — always notice and comment when there's a movie in particularly frequent rotation on cable channels. Princess Diaries, for example. Or Dirty Dancing. There was a period a couple of years ago when Overboard seemed to be on non-stop, every basic cable station, 24/7.

Right now, Mean Girls seems to be having its moment in the syndicated sun.

Written by Tina Fey, Mean Girls is smart-funny, with dead-on impersonations of horrid high school types. It's also one of the last movies that Lindsay Lohan did before she became a certifiable loon. It's the kind of movie that you can dip in and out of (especially if you, like my teenage daughter and I, have already memorized most of it).

Last night, while I was zapping before dinner, I landed on the scene when Regina George (the queen bee) and the other "Plastics" convince new-girl-home-schooled-in-Africa Cady to vent her feelings about her "pusher" math teacher in the "Burn Book."

"Let it out," they tell her. "Put it in the book."

The Burn Book is essentially a giant scrapbook of mean. Pages are dedicated to vicious gossip, insults and criticism. And, for any of you who haven't seen the movie, when the contents of the Burn Book become public knowledge, all hell breaks lose.

Mean Girls, as astute as it may be, is just a movie. But a new app has a lot of parents, educators and child psychologists concerned. The aptly named Burnbook app lets people search for a community (in most cases, a high school) and then post anonymously. The app promotes itself this way:

"Jokes, fails, wins, sightings, shout outs, revelations, proclamations and confessions — they all happen on Burnbook. Together, we can keep a secret."

But, the completely anonymous nature of the posts (users don't even have to create a username) opens the door to unprecedented cyber bullying. The reviews on iTunes are pretty harsh (although, probably not as harsh as the posts on the app itself):

"This app was created to increase cyberbullying. There's no other reason.The app has become popular at my school and is specifically targeting a small group of people. 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." 

There is a growing backlash against the app. Other students are voicing outrage and in some communities, students and adults are posting only positive comments. There have also been threats made against schools and, to their credit, the Burnbook team has cooperated with the police in those situations.

Burnbook founder and CEO Jonathan Lucas defends his app, as you might expect, in the name of "freedom of speech." He's 23 (23!), so we can safely assume he doesn't have any of his own teenagers to worry about yet.

So I guess it's up to us to hope that our teens understand — and appreciate — the difference between freedom of speech for themselves and compassion for others.
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