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Peeple - The Social Judgement App That's Stirring Up a Rage Tornado

The Guardian
You can rate just about anything online, from restaurants to jogging routes to your own bowel movements (for the love of god, don't look into that, I did so you don't have to). The latest chapter in this story is an app called 'Peeple', and as the name suggests, it involves rating the people you meet. With the app downloaded, you can publish written reviews of people with a star rating, Yelp style. Why exactly you would want to do such a heinous thing is likely down to a combination of narcissism and underlying psychopathy.

The Mary Sue
If the concept sounds eerily familiar, it's probably because both It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community have featured episodes involving very similar, fictional apps, and to say it didn't end well is a stark understatement, in either case.  The really unsettling thing about this app is that if someone did rate you, you would have no idea and even if you do find out and demand to have it removed, the reviewer will have no obligation to do so. All they need to enter you into their system is your phone number and to confirm that they have either a personal, professional or romantic connection to you (although there's no way of proving the validity of that). That's just the person who puts you on the network though, once you're on the grid, anyone who has the app can review you. I just felt my soul turn very, very cold.


The service is weighted toward positive reviews, in that they go live immediately whilst negative ones are queued for 48 hours to allow the lambasted party a chance to contest them, but complaints seemingly only apply if the person giving you a negative rating doesn't know you. The scope for abuse, bullying, exclusion and all the other nastiest parts of social interaction is gargantuan.

Near as I can figure, the app wasn't developed with any kind of malicious intent, just short-sightedness. The developers claim they made it so that you could check if your neighbours were nice and trustworthy enough to, say, babysit and other such things. It's an understandable, if flawed premise, but they clearly didn't take one key principle into account - people suck. If you hand out a means to rate anyone you know or meet, people are going to abuse it, simply because they can. That's the twisted world we live in, sadly.


Spend any length of time on any online forum or comments section and you'll see just how malicious some people become when they can hide behind a screen, and that's without handing them a means to actually attack people, which is what Peeple has the potential to be. As you might have guessed by this point, the public response to this app has been almost universally negative. Despite the best efforts of the developers to assure people that they've built the app so that abuse is difficult to dole out (you have to post under your real name and prejudiced, profane or otherwise abusive language is not allowed), many are asking for the app to be blocked from distribution once it actually comes out.

That's still a ways off, the beta is being released in November, during which the developers will likely be working overtime to outfit it with more features to stop people from misusing it, but trolls always find a way. That's not the only adversity they're weathering at the moment, as it turns out there's another Peeple, a UK-based start-up that's essentially a peep-hole for your phone, enabling you to see who's at your door before going down to open it. I can't see any problem with that, but a lot of the criticism for the app is mistakenly being directed at this innocent little gadget. They're understandably annoyed about all this.


It's hard to have too much sympathy for them though, really. Regardless of original motivation, the concept of giving people a rating is pretty appalling. Even if you gave someone a 4 star rating instead of 5, you're inviting a veritable avalanche of social anxiety. The app is restricted to people over the age of 21, but sadly people don't just grow out of judgemental, bullying behaviour, and in fact in some cases it actually gets worse with age. Even during the 48 hour grace period before negative reviews go live, it's not a simple 'complaint, removal request, removal' process, you have to 'work it out' with the other person, and presumably if that doesn't happen, the review still goes live. This has crossed the border from short-sighted to down right sinister.

One of my favourite quotes about online culture, spoken by Mark Zuckerberg's irate ex-girlfriend in The Social Network asserts that 'The internet isn't written in pencil, it's written in ink'. This applies pretty hard here, we've all said things in the heat of an angry moment that we didn't mean, but imagine angrily jumping onto your phone in order to slap one of your closest friends with a damning 0 star rating brimming with swearing and references to private issues. You might change your mind tomorrow, but that will always be there in some way or another like a deep, psychological scar, right out in the open for the world to see. Nobody needs that.


The entire concept of public reviewing brings out the absolute worst in people, go onto any Trip Advisor, Amazon or Yelp page, find the negative reviews and see just how unreasonably nasty people can become when they're granted this power. Turn it against people, and suddenly you've crossed a border into something not only insipid, but legitimately dangerous. There's a theory floating around that the whole thing might actually be hoax, part of some grander social experiment, prank or awareness project. I'm not sure how much water this theory holds, but none of what anyone has been saying is invalidated if that turns out to be the case. The one good thing to come out of this is that it's turning the lens towards the way social interaction happens online, and how much is wrong with it.


Online culture thrives on insecurity anyway, but this just highlights how poisonous rating systems really have become with the aid of the internet. Rating systems make sense for certain things - car safety, chilli peppers, hurricanes, maps, but they are applied to so many things in this day and age that they have no right to be. Even the notion of a comment getting a rating makes absolutely no sense when you really think about it. Perhaps, just an outside maybe, this will be the tipping point which helps society release how backwards online culture has become. We can hope.




Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Peeple - The Social Judgement App That's Stirring Up a Rage Tornado Reviewed by Callum Davies on Friday, October 02, 2015 Rating: 5

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