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Good News for Trolls

Thunderfoot Team

The internet offers endless opportunities to bring out the worst in people. A proposed app called Peeple is creating the “Yelp for people” — a forum to rate and be rated. Is there any way this could be good news, or is it a troll’s dream come true?

Don’t think there are enough opportunities for internet trolls to anonymously criticize you? Well, you’re in luck — the app Peeple has finally arrived, and it simply can’t wait to rain on everyone’s parade.

The app’s premise is quite simple: users can use the platform to rate other people — friends, coworkers, romantic partners, even complete strangers — on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and leave a personalized, written review. If you’ve ever visited an online comment section, a shiver probably just ran down your spine.

When Peeple was announced last month, we can only assume that the cyber-bully community was celebrating a Christmas that had come early. But for the rest of us, the reaction wasn’t so joyful.

In fact, the blowback was so severe that, according to the BBC, Peeple’s website, Facebook account, and Twitter page have all mysteriously disappeared — now, the app’s future is unclear. This whole ordeal begs a simple, but important question: how could anyone have ever thought this was a good idea?

The Pitch for Peeple

Apparently, the original intention of co-founders Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough when they set out to build Peeple was to create a social media platform for positivity. In a video played on Last Week Tonight, Cordray explains, “We want to… prove to you that the world is predominantly good, filled with people that absolutely love you and want to lift you up.” Last Week host John Oliver responds, “Have you ever been on the internet?”

Publicity materials for Peeple, such as their “Peeple Watching” web series, are littered with implausibly optimistic statements. Cordray’s genuine belief in the appeal of her project is so naive it could almost be endearing — that is, if it weren’t for her condescending attitude toward her critics:

To the surprise of no one, Cordray and McCullough’s app was met with an immediate explosion of outrage and disbelief from all directions. Journalists and social media users were quick to outline the various problems with the idea. And boy, were there a lot of them:

First, there’s the fact that rating human beings in the same way that you’d rate a restaurant or hotel involves is pretty objectifying, whether or not you stop to think about it. Then there’s the disturbing thought of all those hand-rubbing, hate-pedaling, 4Chan-dwelling trolls making the app into a veritable flophouse for all manner of cruel activity.

Any vestige of hope for internet campaigns with a “positive message” should have been eradicated after Coca-Cola’s struggle with trolls earlier this year, as Silicon Republic details .

And as if this terrible idea couldn’t get any worse, the original conception made it impossible for users to actually opt out: anyone could create a profile for you using your cell phone number, and all of the world’s top trolls would be able shame you in an exceptionally public way.

After the overwhelmingly negative response, Cordray took to LinkedIn to respond with some changes. For one thing, subjecting yourself to Peeple’s wrath will now be 100% optional. But Cordray still defends the original idea, and remains adamant that Peeple will be released at the end of November.

Same Story, Different Names

Peeple’s website eloquently asserts: “We are a concept that has never been done before in a digital space.” But in an article on Fortune, Joseph Reagle thoroughly debunks this claim, citing a wide array of people-rating websites, both past and present.

PersonRatings, Unvarnished, KarmaFile, Lulu, Klout, Kred, PeerIndex, Radian6 — any of these names ring a bell? Some failed, some adapted, and some survived. But something that we can undoubtedly all agree upon is the fact that none of them has made the world a better place.

What Does the Future Hold for Peeple?

Even with all the good intentions in the world, it’s likely that these kinds of peer-to-peer rating services will all turn to the dark side at one point or another — they’re too easily corruptible for haters to resist.

On the other hand, if Peeple does succeed in keeping everything positive, it’ll hardly be groundbreaking. On LinkedIn, Cordray suggests that the re-envisioned Peeple will be a site to leave positive comments for friends who opt in. Incidentally, as the Washington Post notes, this is, “rather like LinkedIn’s endorsement system” — only more vague, and lacking the purpose of professional networking.

If Peeple is actually launched in the coming months, it’s unlikely that people will be chomping at the bit to sign up for the service — I, for one, will do everything I can to avoid one more source of honest feedback.