THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Website lets BU women be rated; many object

By Matt Rocheleau and Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondents / December 8, 2010

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A new website allowing Boston University students to rate the attractiveness of female classmates has sparked an outcry on campus, including a public condemnation from the school’s student union.

RateBU.com allows users with a BU e-mail address to create an account and upload photos of BU women to be voted on by other users. The creator of the site was inspired by the founders of Facebook, and the site suggests users upload pictures from Facebook for rating.

When users go to a voting page, they are prompted to click one of two photos that appear side by side, seemingly at random, to indicate which of the two BU females is “hotter.’’ Results of that voting process apparently determine a top 25 ranking list.

“So far 731,139 votes cast on 388 girls!’’ the rating site’s homepage declared yesterday afternoon.

The website’s founder, sophomore Justin Doody, 20, said a rating section on male BU students is in the works.

The women pictured on the site are identified by first name. Users who upload photos are asked to enter the subject’s first and last names and their graduating year. The site says the last names will never be displayed publicly, but are required for verification purposes.

Doody, an engineering student and Maryland native, said last night that he understands the criticism.

“I expected it to be controversial going into it,’’ Doody said. “But I think a lot of people at the school realize it’s not intended to be taken seriously. . . . It was not created maliciously at all.’’

Doody said he has been getting some personal attacks and understands why, but feels people who are concerned with the issues the site raises should instead focus on what’s driving the site’s popularity. “It would be more relevant to discuss the culture that embraces this,’’ Doody said. “If no one wanted this site, it wouldn’t exist.’’

Students expressed dismay at the idea of students being ranked by peers based on their looks.

Nicole Rojas, a junior, said she discovered the site Sunday night. She was so disgusted she founded a Facebook group critical of the site.

“It’s completely demeaning,’’ Rojas said. “No one should be the subject of that kind of judgment.’’

Not only is the site degrading to women, Rojas said, but it also raises serious privacy concerns because, she said, many of the photos are taken from Facebook and posted on RateBU.com without the subjects’ knowledge.

“It’s definitely a breach of privacy,’’ she said. “A lot of girls don’t know how they got on there.’’

A statement from the school’s student union posted on “The Quad,’’ an online campus magazine, said the site “encourages a culture of judgment and objectification’’ and described it as “an offensive website that does not accurately represent the views of the student body or the culture that the student body strives to create.’’

Meghan Faulkner, a senior and a board member of the Boston University Women’s Resource Center, a student-run women’s organization, said the lack of any privacy control was very troubling.

“Our biggest concern is that a lot of people are on the site without their knowledge,’’ Faulkner said. “There’s a feeling like they have no control over it, and there is no way to verify if someone wanted their picture on this site or not.’’

Doody’s site counters with an excerpt from Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities: “When you publish content or information using the ‘everyone’ setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).’’

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment last night.

Despite Facebook’s policies, Doody said he understands the privacy concerns, but he also said that the legality of such a website is in a gray area right now. He is hoping legal specialists will weigh in on the issue.

“I’m very interested to see what they have to say,’’ Doody said. “I’m certainly concerned, at least a little bit. If it turns out to be illegal, I’ll have to take it down.’’

A statement from BU’s dean of students, Kenneth Elmore, said the university is not affiliated with the site and that “individuals with concerns regarding the website’s content should address those concerns with the site’s creator.’’

The statement continued: “All students are expected to abide by the Code of Student Responsibilities. The university will not comment on internal disciplinary matters. The opportunity to post anonymous content online creates a constant challenge to the environment of civility we work hard to maintain. We encourage all of our students to respect each other and act responsibly.’’

Doody said the inspiration for the site came from the recently released movie, “The Social Network,’’ about the founding of Facebook at Harvard University. The movie depicts a similar concept called “FaceMash’’ that the founders of Facebook had created before starting what would become the world’s most popular social networking website.

RateBU.com, which is advertisement-free so far, has about 5,000 registered users and garnered 20,000 hits between Friday’s launch through midnight Monday, Doody said.

Rocheleau can be reached at mjrochele@gmail.com; Bishop at sbishop@globe.com.