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A new app will allow us to rate each other online. Peeple, set for release in November, is Yelp for, well, people.
The Peeple tag line is "Character is Destiny." The app seems destined to be the source of numerous libel lawsuits. Anyone who has your cell phone number can create a profile for you and rate you online. And to many of us, that is not at all fine.
Judge of Character
Judging character is not like judging a sandwich. Yet Yelp reviews can make or break a business at this point. And people tend to be much more vicious on the Internet than in person. Bolstered by distance, angry critiques are released with a passion rarely seen in face-to-face exchanges.
Peeple claims it will pre-screen for abusive comments and it has a 48-hour review policy, meant to protect the reviewed. You will receive a text saying you have been rated. But there is not much you can do if you're being hated.
Recipe for Defamation
Although Peeple says it has protections in place, no one can remove a negative rating. Plus, once you are on the site, your profile, although created by another, will not be removed. If that sounds scary to you, Peeple is unconcerned.
"When the people found out that the Earth was round instead of flat and that we revolved around the Sun instead of the Sun revolving around us, naturally people were upset and confused and they pushed back with all that they had," the app's co-founder, Julia Cordray, told the BBC.
Cordray is perhaps flattering herself with the importance of her contribution. But she is also failing to make an important distinction between fact and opinion.
Libel Lawsuits Likely
Defamation is a term that describes statements that harm another's reputation. Spoken statements are slander. Written statements fall under the category of libel.
The specifics of defamation law vary from state to state but generally speaking, the following elements are involved in proving you were defamed.
1. A statement was made
2. The statement was published
3. The statement caused injury
4. The statement was false
5. The statement arose in a non-privileged context (that is, not at a trial or deposition, for example).
Given that Peeple is explicitly designed to publish statements and that ratings are for professional acquaintances as well as personal, it seems highly likely that a false, negative rating could cause injury. Perhaps a future employer will read a former employer's rating and pass you up for a job, never knowing what truly motivated the rating.
It is often claimed that people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear online. And the character rating app bars use of profanity, degrading comments, abuse, sexual and legal references, racism, and hateful content.
The question then is who will judge? Do we trust the people at Peeple to determine what is okay to say when they created the creepiest social media app yet?