"Yelp for people" -- Bad idea or worst idea ever?

A new app promises to let you review people -- what could go wrong?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 1, 2015 2:49PM (EDT)


I'm sorry, monkey paw; when I wished that real life was more like an episode of "Community," I should have been more specific. In humanity's cruelest, worst idea since pineapple on pizza, a pair of app developers have come up with an app they promise "allows us to better choose who we hire, do business with, date, become our neighbors, roommates, landlords/tenants, and teach our children." The developers themselves say it's like "If Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tinder had a baby." And I for one welcome our new dystopian nightmare baby. I'm so sure this isn't a fast track to suicides and bullying and lawsuits.

The project, called Peeple but sadly devoid of any actual Peeps, first garnered attention last month in Canada. Writing on co-founder and CEO Julia Cordray and co-founder Nicole McCullough, Metro reporter Brodie Thomas explained that Peeple will let users use the familiar one to five-star system to "rate anyone professionally, personally or romantically." The way the system is supposed to work is that "Positive comments will be posted to an individual’s account immediately. Negative comments will be sent to the subject without going public. The two people will then have 48 hours to settle the dispute. If no compromise is reached, the negative comment will then go public and the subject can respond." So if I understand correctly, if someone felt like smack talking me, it would suddenly be my job to "settle" the issue before he or she goes public. And as the Washington Post explained Wednesday, "You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose." Cordray says simply, "I want character to be our new form of currency."

Peeple's founders assure that the app won't be used for abuse — they note that in order to review someone, users must be over 21 and on Facebook, must post under their real names, and have the cell phone number of the person being reviewed. They add that if you're not registered for the site, negative reviews won't be contested or posted, and insist they'll ban "profanity, sexism and mention of private health conditions." And late Wednesday, after a storm of horrified reactions on social media to the "terrifying" app, the developers updated their Facebook page to say, "We hear you loud and clear. 1. You want the option to opt in or opt out. 2. You don't want the ability for users to start your profiles even if you would only get positive reviews if they did (Our app does not allow negative reviews for unclaimed profiles)." They currently claim that "We have 1000s of @peepleforpeople signing up to Beta test in November." And on a spectacularly self-aggrandizing update on their site, they have posted "An Ode to Courage" in which they explain, "Innovators are often put down because people are scared and they don’t understand.... We are bold innovators and sending big waves into motion and we will not apologize for that because we love you enough to give you this gift." It's interesting when someone doesn't understand the implied horror in that statement. The site features an imagined review page for a smiling gentleman named Steve Rogers. Steve gets 3.5 stars and that's a solid B, so good on you, pal. It has also, curiously, removed a video called "Peeple Watching Webisode 6 – Let The Drama Begin."

Of course, the notion of rating humans was not invited by Peeple. Sites like Rate My Professors let students dish on their instructors, while the controversial Lulu lets women rate the men they've dated. When it launched in 2013, the Daily Beast observed Lulu seemed to designed to "ruin dating." But the notion of a general ratings system for people is somewhat unique, and, as HuffPo's Chris Owen suggests, a "societal nadir." 

It's clear — even to those who are grown, functioning adults who can laugh off the concept of something that will never, ever have any impact on their lives because neither they nor anyone they respect would ever touch it — that the option of down voting our fellow humans is a massively mean and stupid idea. But what McCullough and Cordray, even as they are inviting everyone "to explore this online village of love and abundance for all," fail to grasp is the option of up voting people is deeply messed up too. On one of their videos, they ask, "How great would it be as a salesperson or as a world traveler, to just go in the app and find out all the really great people with similar interests nearby you?… You could literally go in the app, click on 'nearby' and it'll know if anybody great is at the bar that you're at and you could actually check them out before you go approach them. Wouldn't that be cool?" I guess if you like creeping on strangers, maybe?

Consider if you will the debacle that is so much of the American public school system. Assigning individual human beings value in the form of numbers and letters is a demonstrably poor way of understanding who they are and what they are capable of. And it's really hard to imagine that any adult who'd do that to other adults is going to be a good judge of character. Look, I am judgmental as my chosen profession and even I get that you don't pull that crap on the real people in your life — even the people of whom you think highly. You would have to be a world-class narcissist to find any merit in something like that. Because validation doesn't come in the form of an app. Because people aren't nail salons. And living in "love and abundance" can't be quantified with a number between one and five.

How Nervous Should You Be About the New 'Yelp for People'?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Aol_on Julia Cordray Nicole Mccullough Peeple