Behind The Controversy At RateBU

By Gabe Stein • December 5, 2010 at 11:59 pm

“If people are going to use it, might as well make it.”

Those are the words of College of Engineering Sophomore Justin Doody, who until today was the anonymous founder of, a new website that has swept through BU’s campus and gained over 1,160 users since being launched on Friday afternoon.

The story of how Doody got the idea for RateBU and how the Quad found him all comes back to Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. About a month ago, Doody and some friends saw The Social Network, a film about how Zuckerberg created Facebook, the now-ubiquitous social networking site that dominates the online lives of most college students. In the film, before he programs Facebook the young New Jersyan creates Facemash, a site that allows Harvard students to rate girls against each other. When Doody saw the concept on the silver screen, he decided to bring a similar idea to BU:

“Me and some friends just saw it [Facemash] and were like, ‘wow, we could make this’,” said Doody. “We knew the concept wasn’t unique at all, but it was still a lot of fun. Everyone I talked to about it was just like, ‘yeah, you should do that.'”

In the film, Zuckerberg gets in trouble because he hacks into private servers to grab photos of the girls. Doody came up with an ironic workaround that he hopes will keep him out of trouble: ask users to upload photos. From Facebook.

“Everything on this site is user generated, I’m not adding any of these girls. I let the users do that, and then I just approve it or whatever,” he said. “So I mean, all the photos on the site come from Facebook.”

Kara Korab, who graciously agreed to let us post this, on RateBU.

Kara Korab, who graciously agreed to let us post this, on RateBU.

The prospect of strangers being able to upload photos onto a website so that people can judge them has some of the site’s “early adopters” on edge. Kara Korab (CGS ’14), a Quad photographer whose friends found her on the site Sunday morning, said she thought being in the site’s top girls would be hard to handle. “I can’t imagine how people in top 15 people feel. I don’t know how I’d feel up there. I feel like they’re really exposed.”

“I would have liked to have been notified that I was put on this website,” said Adriana Alcivar (CGS ’13), who was one of the top five women on the website as of Sunday night. “Whoever wanted to do it just did it.”

Casey Prusher (CAS ’13), a Quad copy editor whose photo was found on the site during our investigation was similarly upset. “Whether or not it’s legal, it feels like someone took my information. I’m unwillingly being looked at and possibly being defamed or disparaged on a site I don’t condone,” she said.

Doody did not seem as concerned.

“I didn’t maliciously try to do this,” he said. “I think people are going to do this no matter what. I just created something that’s a little more public and visible as opposed to just like, gossiping at lunch or whatever.” Doody also noted that many of the girls on the site had uploaded photos of themselves, and that more than half of the site’s users at the time of publication were female.

However, Doody was initially unwilling to be subject to the same visibility he subjected his site’s girls to. As of Sunday, Doody had chosen to remain anonymous. The founder did not post his name on the website, used an anonymous contact form on the site, and entered in fake WHOIS data when he registered the domain, which is of questionable legality itself, especially if the use of the domain is determined to be illegal.

On the site’s “Legality” page, Doody quotes Facebook’s terms of service to justify the legality of uploading girls’ photos onto his site:

For now though here is an excerpt from facebooks terms:

“4. 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).”

Also don’t forget that this is a user generated website. This sites concept comes from the site FaceMash featured in The Social Network Movie. The problems FaceMash ran into included breach of security, because Zuckerburg hacked into confidential servers, which isn’t a factor here. He also faced violation of individual privacy rights because the pictures came from a private source. The source of photos on this site somewhat ironically is facebook which clearly states that once you post pictures and other material online you are giving up some of your rights.

How right he was.

Click to see the full post.

In an even more ironic twist, the Quad was able to ascertain the founder’s identity within an hour of first discovering the site through, you guessed it, Facebook. We found a post, accessible to anyone in the BU Facebook network, that Doody made on a friend’s wall. In the post, he asks his friend to check out the RateBU site. Another one of his friends asks if the site is public, and recommends a marketing tactic: posting references to the site on

From there, the Quad got in contact with Doody, again using Facebook, who admitted to founding the site and consented to being interviewed, acknowledging that his name was going to get out eventually.

So we asked why, if that were the case, he chose to launch the site anonymously at all. His answer: “I just wanted to see how reception was before people knew that it was me. That’s really it. I think most people would do it anonymously, if they were making it.”

That reception has been mixed. Doody claims to have received only 10 negative emails from his over 1,000 users. The Quad had no trouble finding women who were upset, despite the text at the top of the website that tells girls “please don’t take the site too seriously or as an insult in any way.”

Alcivar said that when she first saw the site, she was not yet on it, but thought right away, “I hope my picture doesn’t come on this site. I don’t really want to be on this site.” When her photo did appear, Alcivar admitted to being surprised. “It didn’t even cross my mind that I would be on it,” she said. “And I didn’t want to be on it.”

She said the site sends a bad message about BU. “It’s like, all of the girls at BU are just kind of like a piece of ass and not really taken seriously. I think that’s what this site is kind of embodying. It is degrading. We’re at BU, it’s a really good school, but like, BU is known for, apparently, attractive girls.” She added, “I just wish my photo wasn’t on there.”

Prusher also thought the site reflected poorly on the school. “I think BU’s a better school than that. I think it’s like, it’s just an ugly mark on our student body.”

Prusher and Alcivar are considering asking for their photos to be taken down, and both Prusher and Korab hope the site will eventually die out.

Doody, on the other hand, is already looking ahead. “BU is sort of the test one, to see how it goes, and if I do face any major problems. But I have thought about definitely expanding,” he said.

Is the next Mark Zuckerberg going to come from BU? Doody admitted to admiring the Facebook founder, scruples and all.

“He came up with this idea, and Facebook of course, so yeah,” Doody said. “I think everyone would like to be the world’s youngest billionaire.”

How do you feel about

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  1. Tom

    Good idea posting an article about it. Great publicity for the site Gabriel.

  2. Kevin W

    It could be worse. At least the website doesn’t do a “Not Top 10″ or something, humiliating those who’re on the other end of the voting block. I’d say CollegeACB’s the bigger problem for facilitating negative conversation.

    By the way, the concept’s been around long before Facemash.WouldYouHitThis has been around since 2000 or so.

  3. I’m pretty sure “Sydney White” the movie did it first. Just saying. :) #goodtimeswithAmandaBynes

  4. Michael

    I think you guys have missed that the number of girls voting and uploading at ratebu is overwhelmingly more than guys.

    • You’re right, I promised Justin I’d mention that. It’s been updated.

    • Susannah

      So…? Because some women feed into their own objectification (I mean, who wouldn’t, when you’re constantly told that physical attractiveness is the quickest and most reassuring form of validation for a woman) that somehow means it’s not still degrading to them specifically or to all women generally? I don’t know why I’m bothering to reply to you because your analysis is so embarassingly shallow, but you’re just so awful. Ugh.

  5. Michael

    fail. Everyone’s read it all ready and has it in their minds that men just like to stare at and rank women.
    Women: it is you prolong these stereotypes and try to conform to these standards you have imagined that you must meet.

    • Dee

      Excuse me Michael, but who are you to know? Unless I’m mistaken you have no idea what it is like to be a woman.

      Also, in terms of “privacy settings” protecting a girl from getting on the site, isn’t it possible that one of her ‘friends’ on facebook goes into her profile and takes a picture? The assumption is not that merely strangers will be doing this, it could be an acquaintance or someone who secretly doesn’t like the person

    • Scott

      I prepared a longer and gentler response, but I forgot to enter my e-mail address, so I lost it. That said, please read some feminist theory. There’s so much wrong in your second sentence that I can only believe it comes from ignorance, not malice. Even if your opinion doesn’t change, you’ll at least be better equipped to express it.

  6. friend of BU

    To all the haters in the world. Justin Doody is a Genius. Point Blank this is the work of an ambitious, and creative student, using his talent to contribute to the college culture. Facebook received as much controversy and actually still is. I am a friend of Doody, and I think he is a cool easy going guy. He never means harm. Women are still being respected, so let’s cut all the theoretical rubbish about objectifying women. This should merely be seen as an opinion poll. Just like we have our opinion of celebrities, we are doing the same for our college campus. At least he is doing something productive and viral with his brain. It is better than what I say for most students.

    • Jesse L.

      I agree. Nothing wrong with seeing an opportunity for creativity and going with it.
      And for the people who see it as objectifying, you may also see porn as objectifying, so you know what you do? You don’t look at it.

    • BUstudent

      I agree with you that it’s a great accomplishment to create a website that has gained such a large following in such a short amount of time. However, as a female BU student I’m a little uncomfortable with the fact that anyone could upload a picture of me to the site without me knowing about it. Maybe Doody could add a setting that only allows people to upload pictures of themselves from their own facebook accounts?

      Also, what happens if this site pops up to potential employers for these women? A BU student being considered for a position might happen to be interviewed by a BU alumnus. Said alumnus could log onto this site and happen to see the girl’s photo. It might ruin her prospects of getting the position.

      I know some might argue that the girl shouldn’t have put her photo on the site in the first place, but a) the girl might not even know that she’s on the site and b) the photo of her could come from anywhere. On the ‘Add Student’ page, the instructions “suggest” uploading pictures from girls’ facebooks. There is no strict rule saying where the picture can come from. Bitter guys might upload a potentially life-ruining picture of their ex-girlfriends from their hard drives, or catty girls might use the site to embarrass other girls they dislike.

      Whatever the case, Doody should reconsider the regulations for where a picture for his site comes from.

      • John S.

        The problem lies no where with RateBu. If the girl’s don’t want their photos public they should change their privacy settings on facebook.
        And your point about future employers is moot. There is no way to search for an employee and find them on it the names are encrypted.

      • It is a private site and employers would not criticize someone for simply having a picture on a site with hundreds of others.

        Furthermore all images are reviewed before being added to prevent anything bad being added. A lot of girls are maliciously choosing other girls worst photos from facebook and adding them which i am denying.

      • Scott

        “It is a private site and employers would not criticize someone for simply having a picture on a site with hundreds of others.”

        That employers shouldn’t criticize someone for this, I think everyone would agree. It’s harder to believe that they wouldn’t do so.

    • Babz

      You seriously think that Doody is a genius?? If you do then it’s sad to say you even go to BU. Many people in history have been geniuses yet they use their talent to better society not to make a childish website of rating their classmates. It’s crazy to see how someone could create such a site yet not feel any remorse or anything. If Doody really think he’s gonna be a quick millionaire out of this already done website I’m sad to say his fantasy world won’t last, because in the real world you actually have to work hard for want you want, not live your life using your talents to put others down. This site is as pathetic as its creator, as you would say I’m not hating at all. Any computer science major can make a site like this, hey guess what? its already been done!!! Doody is no genius people, he’s a smart kid taking his talents down a bad path that’s not going to end well unless he changes his ways. The best thing he can do for himself and for everyone would be to take down the site.

    • In response to the comment from “friend of BU” stating “To all the haters in the world. Justin Doody is a Genius. Point Blank this is the work of an ambitious, and creative student, using his talent to contribute to the college culture.”

      Creative? Really? Bullshit. Doody saw something in a movie that had been created before, as an early precursor to Facebook, and he copied it. That speaks well to his code-writing abilities certainly, but not to his creativity. Anyone asking the question “will BU produce the next Mark Zuckerberg?” I’d respond – well, maybe, but it’s not Justin Doody. Read more of my thoughts here:

  7. Anonymous

    Wtf is wrong with you? Do you know how much drama this is going to cause? Girls aren’t commodities to be rated like products on ebay. This is disgusting. Get a life.

  8. Another BUstudent

    Great investigative story !

  9. BUstudent

    In the priavy section of facebook it says: “Your name, Profile picture, gender and networks are visible to everyone.”

    A girl’s profile picture can be seen whether she wants to or not. Plus, these pictures can be uploaded from anywhere, not just facebook! A person who was taking pictures at a random party might accidentally have shot a picture of a random girl. They could upload that photo to this site just to ‘add more girls to the site’.

    The point I am trying to make is that girls can’t control whether or not they are on the site or not, and that is a problem.

  10. go doody go

    I agree with John S.
    if a girl is upset with having her photo copied and pasted to ratebu, maybe she should turn on some privacy settings on facebook. whether you like it or not, the internet is a very public place. its not like the photo on your drivers license that you carry around in your pocket and nobody sees. in the act of posting photos on facebook you are openly (and hopefully knowingly) making them available to the public, unless you set your privacy settings.

    to those of you how are vehemently opposed to ratebu, you should know that the more you discuss and argue about it, the more attention you are giving it. as they say, no publicity is bad publicity.
    i would guess that from this article alone ratebu will have a significant increase in new members.

    i applaud doody. although the idea wasnt entirely original, the fact that he flew in under the radar, stayed within the law, and has created a website that will likely go viral is very praiseworthy.

    • Scott

      “To those of you who are vehemently opposed to RateBU, you should know that the more you discuss and argue about it, the more attention you are giving it. As they say, no publicity is bad publicity.”

      BUstudent, in the post above you, refutes the idea that adjusting her Facebook settings is all a girl has to do if she doesn’t want to end up on RateBU, which is your first response to critics. I quoted your second.

      Now, if we were all writing about this on our blogs, or if, on Facebook, we all were linking directly to the site as opposed to this story, I might agree with you, as we would be publicizing the site and not the controversy about it. But we’re writing here on this thread, and you’re responding to what’s here, not what’s elsewhere.

      As such, when you tell people not to voice their criticisms, however unreasonable or reasonable they may be, you sound at best disingenuous, and at worst you sound like you have no argument.

  11. bufemale

    if you’re going to entitle something “rate your classsmates” how about you include males as well? evidently someone is too scared of their own ratings.

    • Scott

      This is really the main thing that makes me uncomfortable with the site. Having never seen Doody, I can’t assign that motivation to it, but would it really be so bad to be able to rate guys, too? Especially when the main audience, according to Justin himself, is girls?

    • Looking into adding this, just been overwhelmed. I mentioned it on the first page once you login.

      • Scott

        Good to hear, Justin. Looking it over, though, I didn’t write what I meant when I wrote that the main thing that bothered me was the inequality. What bothers me is that people’s pictures can be uploaded against their will.

        I’d be willing to believe, if I heard the right argument, that it’s impossible for a site to be so secure that such a thing can’t happen. Unfortunately, no one seems to be making that argument.

  12. jesse

    you know, i sympathize with having pictures of yourself on a website that you don’t condone, i really do, but i’m sorry to say that this is this price we all pay for using facebook. anything and everything you upload to facebook becomes public property of the whole world, you lose all legal rights over owning any of it. pictures of me have been uploaded against my will. it doesn’t matter. if you don’t want pictures of yourself to be public property, don’t put them on facebook. we can all live without smearing our faces all over the internet. i haven’t been to this rateBU sight yet but I’ll check it out soon. I hope it’s not too degrading, but if it is, well, there’s not much any of us can do about it.

    stay strong girls,


  13. Scott

    Doesn’t The Social Network portray Zuckerberg as a bitter misogynist? And isn’t Facemash part of that portrayal? Who would see Facemash in that movie and think “You know, that’s a good idea”?

  14. mb

    the only thing i can really think to say about this and how much discussion it’s receiving is: ratebu is dumb