Burnbook app creator points finger at parents

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Burnbook CEO counters arguments that he is responsible for what users post on his app.

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LA MESA, Calif. – The creator of the controversial Burnbook app went on the defense Thursday after critics said his social media app is another harmful platform students use to make threats and hurt others.

Students have used the app to bully others. Others have used the app to make threats against schools.

An eighth grade student is facing criminal charges after using the app to make an online threat that caused heightened security at El Cajon Valley High School Wednesday.

“We wish that they didn’t exist. We wish there was a way to control them, but the world has changed,” Grossmont Union High School District Superintendent Ralf Swenson said.

Burnbook hit the app store in September, but after people began using the app to post cruel messages and nude photos, CEO and founder Jonathan Lucas took it down for a few months.

The app rolled out again earlier this year with new features, including pop-up warning messages about posting ethically and responsibly, as well as messages saying the users could be held responsible for criminal actions.

Apps like Burnbook put more pressure on adults, Swenson said.

“The adults in our schools, the adults in our community…making sure that we’re not allowing our kids to roam around unchaperoned, basically, in a world that is full of potential harm and potential danger to them,” he said.

When it comes to chaperoning users, Lucas is in charge.

He said he will remove posts that are inappropriate if they get enough votes to be removed from other users and hand over IP address information to authorities when needed.

But he is pointing the finger at parents instead of accepting blame when people use the app inappropriately.  The app is rated 17+ in the app store. He said parents should be aware of what their children are doing.

“If you set parental restrictions, it won’t let you download any app that’s rated 17 and older,” Lucas said.

“When someone is holding up a vulgar sign, it’s not the pen’s fault -- it’s not the paper’s fault,” Lucas said. “It is the person holding the sign. They’re parents. It sounds harsh, but they need to know what their kids are doing.”

Superintendent Swenson said Lucas should accept some responsibility. He argued that the young adult will continue making money at the expense of others and so-called anonymous apps like his just make an already hard age harder for students.

“It is tough to be a teenager,” Swenson said. “It was tough a long, long time ago when I was a teenager, but I guess what’s tougher now for our young people is that there are so many people who can invade their life, can interrupt their personal lives by accessing them through the Internet, through social media.”

Lucas said when he created the popular app, he didn’t set out to hurt others.

His sister had been bullied in the past and he didn’t want to make others feel the way she did. Instead, he said the app was all about the free flow of information.

“I wanted to create a place where people could feel safe being anonymous, but not having to worry about being harassed by others,” Lucas said.

Believe it or not, he and Lucas agree on one thing that kids don’t seem to understand: anonymous posts are never really anonymous.

“Privacy is an illusion in the modern era,” Swenson said.

Lucas agreed.

“Your digital footprint will last the rest of your life. It doesn’t go away. You can’t burn it, you can’t throw it in the garbage,” Lucas said.

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