A wave of horror greeted the notion of an app which allows people to be ‘rated’. Dotty Winters isn’t surprised and remains unspun by the founder’s explanation.
When I was in primary school I read a book in which a group of plucky young heroines had a sleepover during which they played a game. The game involved each of them writing down something that they liked about each person there, and something that they wanted that person to know. The results of this game were so spectacularly bonding and positive in the book that I suggested the game at the very next sleepover I attended.
Fifteen minutes later, eight 10-year-old girls were in tears with major fractures to their delicate pre-teen self-esteem. We’ve barely spoken since.
Older and wiser, I’d like to think we all now know that the following things are not actual compliments:
“pretty even though she’s a bit fat”
“not as bad as Lisa makes out”
“almost as much fun as her sister”
I thought we were going to have some form of insightful and positive journey of discovery, a self-help retreat for the Sweet Valley High generation. Instead we had a massive and devastating row.
“People are remarkably bad at positivity, and incredibly skilled at dressing up an insult as a compliment.”
With the benefit of hindsight, this turn of events could be seen a mile off, which is probably why the world reacted with horror when the concept of the controversial Peeple app was announced.
The proposed app (due to launch some time soon) allows users to ‘rate’ people they’ve met or know. In a world where we are familiar with Yelp and TripAdvisor it feels deeply problematic to create a comparable system which rates people based on other people’s view of them. Its founder Julia Cordray even described the application as “Yelp for people”, although she has since admitted that this was a mistake.
Unwise choice of words or not, it’s tricky to see how this offering sets itself apart from being exactly that.
When news of the app was floated, the response from the public and the blogosphere was immediate and horrified. Social media accounts for the app have been taken down, and at the time of writing the website for the app is also inactive. There have even been rumours that the whole Peeple debacle has been a hoax – although there’s been no big reveal thus far and the aim of any prank is unclear.
Despite the backlash, Cordray has written a blog confirming the launch is still going ahead while attempting to justify its existence. She has also said some changes have been made to incorporate the global wave of feedback the app has received.
People will now have to opt in to be rated, users can approve comments and respond to them (so negative comments won’t now appear unless you select them) and all users will be encouraged to be positive.
Cordray has claimed her aim in developing this service is to start a “positivity revolution”. I remain unconvinced. We’ve seen from other online platforms (including Hot or Not, Ask.fm and mainstream social media like Facebook) that the pressure to be on a platform can be huge, especially for younger people.
So while in theory it may be optional to be on the site, in reality If this took off, there would be people whose presence on the site had been fuelled by peer pressure.
“I distinctly remember being joyfully greeted by a frenemy on a night out with a loud: ‘Oh my god – I LOVE your dress; I’d never be brave enough to wear anything that required me to breathe in THAT much.’”
Likewise, guarantees that negative comments won’t be displayed feel a little hollow in an age where things can be screenshot captured and where apps like Snapchat, which promised content wouldn’t be stored or visible, were quickly subject to work-around systems.
The idea of encouraging people to be positive also seems naïve. People are remarkably bad at positivity, and incredibly skilled at dressing up an insult as a compliment.
I recently had a deeply frustrating conversation with a colleague who could not see that “Have you done something new with your hair?” was a more pleasant question than “WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO YOUR HEAD?” I also distinctly remember being joyfully greeted by a frenemy on a night out with a loud: “Oh my god – I LOVE your dress; I’d never be brave enough to wear anything that required me to breathe in THAT much.”
I love the idea of starting a positivity revolution, but I’m sure that this app isn’t going to achieve that. Besides, we don’t need an app to do it. Why not:
• Smile at people you meet
• Tell the people you appreciate that you appreciate them
• Be generous with your compliments
• Or simply find your own way to spread a tiny bit of joy.
It seems obvious we don’t need a new way to undermine, bully or criticise people online. If you want a platform to bully people then we already have a surfeit of those; if you want a place to be positive about people then you can already do that on social media, or by phone, or in the pub.
If you want a bland way to rate people’s skills or attributes without any additional information, we already have LinkedIn. Any of these platforms have the potential to be at the heart of a positivity revolution but experience shows that once inhabited by actual humans, all of them fall short.
If we take the founder at her word, then the best we can say is that she is misguided. She is making the same mistake as 10-year-old me, but while the results will likely be no less dramatic, they will have the potential to sweep up a much larger number of fragile egos.1976 Views
Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.