Fans of The Social Network know the kind of buzz a Web site that lets students rank classmates based on their photos can cause. The film dramatically shows how, before he created Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg built a picture-comparison Web site that famously received hundreds of visitors within a few hours. Nearly a decade later, a Zuckerberg-inspired Web site at Boston University is generating some major traffic—and controversy—of its own.
Since it went live on December 3, RateBU.com, which lets anyone with a Boston University e-mail address upload and rate pictures of female students, has amassed 4,000 registered users and drawn the ire of student-government leaders and university administrators.
On Monday, the university’s student senate voted unanimously to pass a resolution condemning the site and discouraging students from signing on. The site “encourages a culture of judgment and objectification,” the resolution reads. “RateBU.com contributes to the devaluation of students by allowing judgment based solely on a photo.”
The picture-rating site was started by Justin Doody, a Boston University junior, who wrote the code for the site over a few days last week after watching The Social Network. “I just thought it was a very interesting idea, and figured it would work once again,” he said.
Unlike Mr. Zuckerberg’s Facemash—which took photographs from private Harvard University databases—RateBU.com’s content is entirely user-generated. Users who register for an account can upload images of themselves or their peers. Only students with Boston University e-mail addresses can access the site, and for now only pictures of women can be posted—though Mr. Doody has plans to add men to the site soon.
Student-government officials and the university’s Women’s Resource Center said the Web site was sexist and raised privacy concerns for students whose pictures were taken without their permission—often from their Facebook profiles—and reposted online. “It’s really creepy,” said Arthur Emma, student-body president. “And it’s definitely degrading to women.”
Although Mr. Emma said the governing body does not have the power to force Mr. Doody to shut down the site, he said the senate will deliver its resolution to the administration to see if university officials might take additional action. Kenneth Elmore, the university’s dean of students, said in a statement that the “opportunity to post anonymous content online creates a constant challenge to the environment of civility we work hard to maintain,” but declined to comment on how the university is dealing with RateBU.com, which is hosted on an outside server.
Although Mr. Doody understands why his peers might be upset, he maintains the site is meant to be light-hearted. “It’s not meant to be malicious at all,” he said.
But Mr. Doody, who said he would like to see the site expand beyond Boston University, is not shying away from the controversy. “To be honest, I think it’ll just make the site more popular,” he said.Return to Top