New app could create avenues for cyberbullying

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

Set to launch in November on iTunes, Peeple is a new application that allows users to rate the people they have met. Much like how a user would rate a business on Yelp, Peeple users will be able to review others on a five-star scale. Moreover, Peeple lets users review other people based on three defined groups: professional, dating and personal. Though the app aims to foster positive social networks, the release of Peeple would still have inevitably damaging implications on self-perception and communication.

Upon the unveiling of its development, Peeple has been the target of numerous amounts of public criticism due to its potential to drive the growing issue of cyberbullying. Cases of depression and even suicide have been known consequences of cyberbullying, and many are concerned that Peeple could be the next platform for this generational epidemic of online hate.  In defense of these concerns, developers Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough have expressed clear stances on how their new rating service is not intended to incite online bullying. “Join the positive revolution” serves as the headline for the Peeple launch website, advertising it as a safe and supportive environment.

Though Cordray and McCullough’s intentions for Peeple seem pure, their hopes for creating a positive environment are clearly delusional. Peeple serves as the ideal setting for cyberbullying, as its primary function is for people to essentially post their judgments of other people on the internet.

Developers Cordray and McCullough have responded to concerns about negative comments and have taken precautions in an attempt to stop online hate. Whereas people were previously given 48 hours to sort out negative reviews before they went public, negative commentary has been banned from the app. An individual being reviewed will be able to censor recommendations before they are aired to the public. However, different people will surely perceive reviews as positive or negative by their individual standards, which puts into question whether developer attempts at banning negative reviews are truly effective.

But despite attempts to safeguard against cyberbullying, privacy still remains a concerning ethical issue that Peeple will have to address. Though necessary precautions have been taken to filter negative and abusive commentary, some people may wish to be omitted from public scrutiny altogether. Just because someone receives positive ratings doesn’t necessarily indicate that he or she wants to be on the app at all. Any kind of interaction would essentially subject someone to being published on Peeple, thus changing the way people would have to approach daily communication.

Peeple’s presence on college campuses like USC would have dramatic implications for the way students communicate and could even exacerbate cyberbullying. The anonymous thought sharing app Yik Yak has already been a platform for cyberbullying and hate among college students. The introduction of Peeple at college campuses could very well follow in Yik Yak’s footsteps — except with Peeple, specified instead of anonymous individuals would be the target of abuse. For some, the recommendation review would be a systematic way to filter out abusive comments, but this still would not remedy the constant feeling of judgment students would face if Peeple established itself in collegiate settings.

With the introduction of Peeple, every interaction with professors and students alike could put an individual on the app’s radar. Self-perception would be viewed in an entirely different way on college campuses, as once casual interactions could determine the outcomes of Peeple reviews. Dynamics of how college students build, view and interact in various relationships will inevitably be altered by the pressure of being rated in a favorable manner.

Currently, Peeple’s release has been pushed back from the original October date to some time in November. Cordray  and McCullough have evidently heard public concerns about Peeple and made necessary changes to the app, such as giving individuals the power to review recommendations about themselves and banning negative commentary. But even with these improvements, Peeple still has a long way to go until it can truly become the positive environment it aspires to be for its users.