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'May Madness' contest ranks 'hottest girls' at Seattle-area high school

May 8, 2013 at 7:45 PM ET

In the movie “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg’s character devises one of the first pre-Facebook online rankings of his college classmates.

“I need the algorithm you use to rank chess players,” he asks his friend. “We’re ranking girls.”

“You mean other students,” his friend asks. “You think this is such a good idea?”

“I need the algorithm.”

This spring, students at Issaquah High School near Seattle, Wash., are bracing for a similar round of ranking. An annual online competition dubbed “May Madness” uses a bracket system to rank the school’s 64 “hottest girls.” Students view photos of the 64 students and vote on them, and the contest culminates in a final tournament.

Needless to say, many parents, teachers and students are not happy about May Madness.

“This is something that every adult here doesn’t feel good about,” Sara Niegowski, executive director of communications for the Issaquah School District, told NBC affiliate KING-TV.

However, since the site is operated anonymously and independently of campus, school administrators have not been able shut it down.

“Every year this comes up,” Niegowski said. “So I think the people who created it are pretty well-versed in laws and strategies ... they know their First Amendment rights. They’re very quiet about who it is and the group behind it.”

The introduction for this year’s contest says: “Ladies and gentleman this glorious month of May is finally upon us once again. It’s time for you, the people, to vote on the most talented girl at Issaquah high school. This is just for fun, so don’t take it so seriously or tell the cops, just go with it. Let’s have a nice clean tournament but don’t be afraid to make it a little dirty. And as the senior bros last year put it best, ‘remember ladies if you didn’t make it this year, try harder next year.’”

Eileen Wipf, a mother whose daughter attends Issaquah High School, said the whole idea of the contest disappoints her.

“It’s sad that in the world we live in today that women have to be categorized that way,” Wipf said.

Andrew Petrisor, a high school senior, said he thinks the hype is overrated.

“It’s really more low-key — nobody knows who votes,” Petrisor said. “Honestly, girls get upset about it, but other people look at it not sexually at all. It’s just a popularity contest.”

Gender expert Susan Shapiro Barash, author of “Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry,” said that is exactly what is damaging about the site.

“It’s all about who wins and who loses and why beauty is always such a predictor of your popularity,” Barash told TODAY. “The Internet ratchets everything up and makes something like this much more egregious and painful.”

Last year’s contest began with the message, “Sluts and Gentlemen, who's excited for the 2012 May Madness Tournament?!? Ladies, you have less than a month to make the final cut so make sure to work on that tan over spring break!! (Remember you can never look too slutty)”

Sophomore Devon Keller acknowledged that the site is “demeaning,” but said she would have mixed feelings if she herself were posted. “I’d like to be on the list, but then if I was I think I would feel judged.”

Niegowski said the school “will do everything it can, but it’s in a really hard position, just like the police are.”

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