They were calling it a "Yelp for people." The as-yet unreleased app, "Peeple," was going to be a means for you and I to rate the individuals in our lives. All you would need is the person's mobile phone number – and there was supposed to be no way for the individual in question to opt out. It's bad enough that if you own a public business these viral-video days, you could see the ratings for your business plummet as people with an ax to grind leave false feedback. Peeple was announced not long ago for November release and promised to bring this harassment and negativity to each of us as individuals. The sticking point, of course, is that where the Web is concerned, certain laws protect Internet sites from liability for third party content. They will almost always hide behind that liability when you complain to any blog, hosting company, or review site that personally defamatory and libelous material has been posted about you there.
The possibility for rampant libel on such a site should make any reasonable person slightly queasy, as we've all had friends who became enemies, lovers who became exes and other contentious personal relationships. Given the entirely subjective nature of placing a one-to-five star review on an entire human being, there would be no way to vet these ratings objectively. Supposedly, Peeple was going to permit some kind of dispute or appeal process for reviews, but if you've ever tried to get a negative review removed from a commercial website (or if you've left one yourself in a moment of anger), you know this isn't easy. To rate (and defame) your enemies on Peeple you would need to be 21, have a Facebook account and use your own name – but it seems doubtful Peeple would be instituting much in the way of validation for this data. Fake names are used frequently on Facebook already.
Authors, merchants, eBay users and anyone else who buys or sells things online already know how troublesome a false or unfair negative review can be. It's not unusual to see eBay sellers jumping through hoops out of fear that a single negative rating, no matter how unjustified, could mar their otherwise perfect score of 100 percent positive reviews. If you own a restaurant and your business makes the news (such as a certain pizza shop whose owner said the shop might not, at least in theory, cater a same-sex wedding), it won't take long for your Yelp rating to take a dive. Why, I myself once left an angry Yelp rating for a business whose owner was rude to a family member of mine. We all do it, and we've all done it. But a site like "Peeple" raises the stakes, endangering your reputation and your livelihood in an unprecedented way. Still, as new and horrifying as Peeple stands to be, many among us are already dealing with the phenomenon that is online ranking.
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I will use myself as an example. As a writer (I've authored more than 20 commercial novels for a publisher in Canada, for example), I interact with a great many other authors, both independent and otherwise. On social media, the world in which authors travel is one replete with self-promotion. We have come to expect this about each other. The typical indie author's Twitter account, for example, is a parade of tweets pushing his own work and those of his fellow authors. We help each other out when we can, but for the most part, we're all just hawking our own wares. If you follow any authors on Twitter (and the same could be said for, say, aspiring musicians and artists as well), you've seen the tweets announcing their latest piece, their latest book, their latest promotion and so on. I am as guilty of these promotional posts on social media as any other author.
Stepping into this web of interlocking egos and business interests, however, is always dangerous. All you have to do to offend someone in this world, which has more than its fair share of insecure lunatics and mommy-never-hugged-me-enough basket cases, or fail to be adequately supportive or affirming.
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One day, while reading through my Twitter feed, I saw a blog post from an indie author of whom I'd never heard before. I followed the link and read the article, which was about the mistakes many independent authors make in trying to promote themselves and their work. It was a reasonably good article, but when I "retweeted" it, I included a mildly snarky comment. Little did I know that the author in question was an insecure psychopath who would take that single comment as a declaration of war. In the space of a week he wrote not one, but two lengthy blog posts devoted to how much he hates me – and at least one of his devoted readers opined, on Facebook, that perhaps I should be murdered. Amateur authors react this way because they're conditioned to see the most insignificant feedback as something that threatens their livelihood and reputations. By all means, let's apply this type of hair-trigger viciousness to all individuals everywhere, without their consent, through an app that rates them as human beings.
Peeple was apparently hit with a denial-of-service attack that brought it down earlier this week; its website is up as of this writing, while its Facebook and Twitter accounts have been closed or deleted. The company's management insists that Peeple is a "positive only" app that seeks to "bring positivity and kindness to the world." Julia Cordray, Peeple CEO, now claims the site will be "100 percent opt-in" rather than involuntary. We'll see.
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Cordray also sniffed something about how Peeple refuses to be "shamed into submission." I might point out that subjecting the public to unsolicited negative personal reviews would seem to be doing just that. If there is a positive outcome to the whole Peeple controversy, though, it is that the overwhelming majority of us seem to despise the concept.
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