The new technology was built to boost your friends' confidence, but is it just ammo for cyber bullying?

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
October 02, 2015

Have you ever wished your friends would be as honest about your questionable traits as they are about that questionable restaurant? Well handover your phone: Peeple is a new app designed to be "Yelp for people," where you and your friends can rate each other and leave reviews. The catch? So can someone who barely knows you. All you need to rate someone else is their phone number. (Always giving out fake numbers pays off again!)

The app works likes this: You log on, give your bestie props for her amazing toast at your wedding, tell her how gorgeous she looked and what a great friend she's been to you. The app then sends her a text message telling her that you posted a review of her. She reads it and feels all the fuzzies. (That happiness is just one of 12 Ways Your Best Friend Boosts Your Health.)

Well, that's the ideal situation that inventors Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough are selling anyway. "As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity,"Cordray explained. "We want to operate with thoughtfulness."

But people on social media aren't exactly known for love, positivity, and thoughtfulness. For instance, perhaps you dock your friend a star after finding out she got sloppy drunk after you left and ditched you for spin this morning. And then your ex-boyfriend chimes in, saying he hooked up with her and she was only two stars in the sack. Then you give your ex a bad review for being a mouthy jerk and... wait, was there something else you were supposed to spend your Sunday doing? (Learn about The Science Behind Your Social Media Addiction.)

It's easy to see how what Cordray calls an opportunity to "showcase your character" will quickly devolve into a sordid mess-especially since, while the person being reviewed can contest a negative review, they can't remove it nor can they delete their own profile.

"An app that allows others to rate you based only on their personal opinion will only end up causing unnecessary public humiliation," says Alisa Ruby Bash, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Malibu, CA who specializes in technology's impact on relationships. "We already have enough cyber-bullying tools readily available, and enough teens committing suicide over them."

Peeple's inventors have been quick to downplay such allegations, saying, "[The app is necessary because] people do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions. Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?"

Why not? Because, um, friends are not purchases or business. "Unlike Yelp, that tries to incentivize businesses to provide good customer service, Peeple's only incentive is to play off of all of our fragile egos," Bash explains, saying a more apt comparison would be to the highly criticized Hot or Not app (which we are not linking because, gross). "Comparing ourselves to others and seeing who is winning a public popularity contest, which usually results in hurt feelings and jealousy." (How Bad Are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for Mental Health?)

There are some safeguards built in the system: Negative reviews sit in a queue for 48 hours to give users time to work out their differences; sexism, profanity, and health conditions are banned; and you have to be logged into your real Facebook profile in order to rate a person. But Bash says this won't be enough.

"No one is going to use this app if it is one big happy love fest. Who doesn't scroll through Yelp reviews looking for the bad ones, and assume the positive ones are friends or family of the business owner?" she says. " This app is designed for haters. It is a platform to judge each other and to gossip."

Cordray and McCullough counter the criticism that's been voiced by more than just Bash by saying that people are misunderstanding the point of the app, which isn't scheduled to be released until November. They released a statement saying, "We know you are amazing, special, and unique individuals and most likely would never shout that from the rooftops. The people who know you will though...they choose to be around you and in your life and support you even when you don't like yourself." They add that the app can be used to make better decisions by giving you more information about prospective dates, babysitters, or family members thereby allowing you to "protect your biggest assets."

And they have a warning for the haters. In a series of now-deleted Tweets they wrote, "Tech-enabled social stratification is the future. Those who pioneer in this market shall sit at the very top. While you people who can't accept or adapt to this, sorry, but you're determined to be at the bottom of the new caste."

Bash has strong feelings about anything that divides people-especially women-into higher and lower orders. "Frankly, I am quite happy that the U.S. does not have an old or a new caste system. Judging people based on a number just sucks." She adds that in her opinion, rather than taking us forward this type of tech is 10 steps backward. "Didn't their mother ever tell them what to do if they didn't have anything nice to say?"

Unfortunately, the answer to that these days seems to be, "...then say it on the internet."


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