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Frozen & Spiderman Meet Burnbook & Burn Note

In 2013, the movie Frozen was released to the joy of children and perhaps the chagrin of many adults. While I’m the first to applaud the production of more family-friendly movies — this one seemed to eclipse all other Disney flicks with its mass merchandizing and now iconic song, Let It Go. That particular refrain has been played, sung and karaoke’d   in the back of every mini-van throughout North America.

While I sheepishly admit I have watched the movie with my grandkids, the plot and endless list of animated characters still escape me. In fact, have you ever simply read a description of the plot?  It’s tortuous — but perhaps defines what so many young girls experience with self-doubt, self-loathing and fears of becoming something for which they’re not prepared.

Now what does Frozen have to do with social media? Well, everything. Social media for teens is all about inner-reflection and trying to fit in. It’s about linking to cultural cliques, fads and memes. It only differs from past generations in that it follows teens 7×24. It never ends because few parents create boundaries for its use. Moreover, few adults are aware of the power that it often has over their children.

In several recent presentations I have met parents that have shared their disappointment in what they have found on their children’s’ smart phones. Often it is text messages or photos that shock and disappointed them. They can’t believe the language that their children use and the subject of their conversations.

Sadly, this is a realization that many parents have. Our sweet, beautiful children will at times disappoint us. They’ll push the envelop of acceptable behavior online just as we perhaps pushed the envelop during our teen years. The difference is that there is generally no record of our foul language,  embarrassing exploits or conversations. That’s the point of this blog. Today there are consequences for our youthful errors in judgment. Some consequences are legal — others societal. Teens don’t discover these consequences until it’s too late.

To address these concerns, creative programmers have developed apps that try to mimic real life conversations, i.e., “You say it or snap it — and it disappears leaving only a memory of the conversation or the image.” There are several apps which we’ve discussed in the past that attempt to provide ephemeral  communication between parties. SnapChat is perhaps the most successful of the bunch — rumored to now be worth north of $20 billion due to its enormous user base. As we have seen, those disappearing images don’t always disappear and consequences prevail.

However, recently, two apps have received press for their use in a few schools around the country. BurnBook and Burn Note.

BURNBOOK:

BurnBook is an app that allows users to create anonymous accounts on their devices in direct relationship to their high school. The names of most schools are listed via a geo locator. Once an account is created, users can post anything… and I mean anything.

Through “votes”, The Burnbook community decide what posts stay and which ones will succumb to the group’s opinion.

The name of the app is borrowed from the Tina Fey movie, Mean Girls. You’ll recall the popular girls that created a book which they referred to as the Burn Book. Much like the movie, the Burnbook app often contains gossip, put-downs and other commentary meant to destroy the reputation or feelings of others. As an app, the content can become public, making the situation dire for those who are the focus of the attacks.

As with similar apps such as Yik Yak and Whisper, anonymous apps create an atmosphere ripe for abuse and can quickly deteriorate from there. If you allow your child to use this app, we highly recommend you monitor daily their activity… which hopefully you’re doing regardless.

BURN NOTE:

Burn Note is a text-oriented messaging app that allow users to send messages privately. However, bullying, stalking and inappropriate conversations can take place without leaving a trace of evidence.

In and of itself, Burn Note is a good app. Its simple, free and fast. It provides simple, secure digital messages which can only be read once by the intended recipient. It’s unique in that it can be sent via email, text message, or other digital means.  Moreover, the recipient doesn’t  need to have a Burn Note account. The service provides a cover page where the message can be read. It is then permanently destroyed.

When your friend receives and clicks the link, they’ll only have 3 minutes to read your message.

However, the user can destroy it immediately once the message is read. If the message is NOT read within 72 hours it is automatically destroyed.

To prevent glancing eyes over your shoulder, the entire message can’t be seen at once. You must run your finger over the screen to reveal each word. That “spotlight effect” reduces the chance that someone is doing a screen grab of the words. However, it is still possible to use another phone to record video of the screen as you’re doing the reveal.

Frankly, if you need to share sensitive information, Burn Note seems to be a rather safe means of communication.

According to the developers, all Burn Note communications are handled through an SSL encrypted channel. That’s a fancy way of saying it can’t be read by a third party while it’s being transmitted from point to point. That’s a good thing.

WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY

But to quote yet another animated character —  “With great power comes great responsibility.”  So is true with apps such as Burnbook and Burn Note. Although the words of Burn Note users disappear, they are nonetheless not forgotten. To that end, it’s important for parents to teach their children that words do matter — regardless of whether they leave a trail of evidence behind.

In the case of Burnbook, users are anonymous — but teens must also know that they are responsible for their words and actions. Moreover, no one is truly anonymous when it comes to apps and the web. Just ask those that tormented Curt Schilling’s daughter if they were anonymous.

Should you be concerned if your child is using these apps? That depends. First of all you should be the only one that has the password to Google Play or the iTunes App store to download any app. You need to control what apps are being used on any device. If it’s already on their device, you likely are not in control.

However, remember, its not the app you need to be concerned with as much as the use of the app. If you’re talking with you child and setting expectations, chances are your child will use the app appropriately. However, one might ask, “Why does my child need an app whose text disappears or is anonymous?” My suggestion is that your decision will be based on the maturity level of your child rather than just age.

At times, well intentioned media outlets play the role of Chicken Little with the release of every new app. Burn Note and Burnbook are the most recent apps that have caught the attention of the media. Regardless, “the sky is NOT falling.” Although I won’t go as far as to say Let It Go, don’t be overly alarmed by their existence.

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