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Peeple, Self Presentation and Redefining “Weak Ties”

Peeple is an app that’s been in the news recently. It’s an app that would let people rate other people, publicly. There has been quite a bit of outrage about it on the internet, because of what it stands for, and the potential of disastrous things happening to people and their reputations. Let’s peel back some of the layers and try to see the implications of this concept.

What is Peeple

Peeple as I mentioned before is an app that would let you post reviews and rate other people that you know. You can post about others, and others can post about you. Just about anyone that knows you, your neighbor, colleague, etc. could simply give you a rating and write a review about you, like you would on Yelp.

You cannot opt out of this, meaning that if someone decides to post a review about you, it will be on the system. On the other hand, you would get 48 hours to contest any review that you have received.

And the internet responded

There has been considerable backlash on the internet over this app idea. (Not to mention they stole the branding of another legitimate business.) When it comes to presentation of self, nobody wants other people to control it. Our self image is something we are very conscious of, and we take immense care to maintain a particular public image. This image changes based on the context, or group of people as well. There are a lot of dynamics involved in social communication.

Presentation of Self in the age of Social Media

These days, most of us have profiles on numerous social networking websites. We use them to connect and communicate with other people, but that is a secondary purpose. The primary reason for these profiles to exist is to “claim your name”, to project an image of oneself on the web, via posts, communications, messages and so on. We connect with other people, and affiliate with groups and other such entities as a statement of intent. On a surface level, it is a communication platform. But beyond that, it is a means of generating and projecting a certain image of yourself on to others.

To this end, we are often careful of what we post, what we “like”, what we share, and with whom. We delete or modify posts in order to keep a certain image intact. We carefully curate our profiles, to varying degree. Some people take this more seriously than others, of course. But at some level, this curation of social profiles takes place.

Weak ties and Networking

Another purpose of social media is to create and maintain “Weak Ties” – as the name suggests, these are acquaintances, friends, etc. that are not “close friends” or family, etc. but are affiliated to you, often via other people. Friends of friends, acquaintances, people you’ve met at social events and so on, that you may not really know a lot about, but have heard of or met a few times. The “friend” metaphor on Facebook lost it’s significance a while ago, in this regard. We “friend” so many people on Facebook at times, that it is generally more like an extended network of people. Even LinkedIn is a connection based social network, which directly uses such metaphors as first second and third connections.

The significance of weak ties is that they are often very useful when it comes to gaining professional opportunities, or being a part of social and cultural events. Even more so than strong ties. The more people you know, the easier it is for you to “get things done”, so to speak. That’s why there are so many networking events and meetups where people meet new people and get acquainted with people for professional or personal reasons.

Peeple as a threat to Weak Ties and Self Presentation

Of course, the concept of a People rating app has obvious negative connotations. Most importantly, people that do not like you would be free to post negative reviews about you. People who are in competition to you might use it as a means to slander. Personal attacks could gain an even more potent dimension.

As I mentioned before, people spend a lot of time maintaining and worrying about their self image. The Peeple app would mean losing control over this deeply personal component of social engagement. There would be some that like the idea of things being thrown into chaos, and the added layer of tension that the proliferation of such apps would bring into society.

In the professional world, this may not seem to have a direct impact, however it may come up in employee and candidate background checks.

Creating new “weak ties” could thus become very difficult for people if there are certain ideological or preferential differences between people that would not have mattered if not disclosed. If your “character” defined by a star rating becomes public knowledge, it could lead to losing out on networking opportunities.

Peeple as an opportunity

As all of us have learned how to make social media work for us when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world, in time, people could also find ways to leverage apps like this for their own benefit. Tacit agreements between people regarding reviews is one way. Using these apps to heap praise onto prospective employers or other groups to influence their decisions could also be possible. This app could also be, therefore, assimilated into the pool of ways in which you project your own self image. Today we curate social profiles to create a self image, maybe in a future where these apps exist, we would have to curate these profiles through other people. People who know how to influence others directly or indirectly could use tacit agreements or discussions to mitigate the negative effects of any “bad reviews”. For example, if someone posts a bad review about you, you could ask someone to counter it by posting a good review, or posting a counter-review on the other profile. Perhaps, a reply to the negative review with some context, and leaving the viewer of the profile to make conclusions.

This is the side that the co-founders of the company would want us to see- a means of getting feedback from people you know, so that you can improve upon it and be the “best person you can be”. I personally don’t buy it, because it’s a pathetically simplistic solution to a complex topic of social interactions, which is inherently nuanced and contextual in nature.

Of course, this could get very messy very fast. This does have a “he-said-she-said” feel to it, kind of like some kind of high-school drama. If apps like Peeple do get into the collective mind-space of society, there would have to be tacit agreements as I mentioned before, not to use such applications. People could decide not to use this app, or to disregard any reviews left on them.

The idea of the Peeple app is inherently invasive. It could lead to proliferation of gender biases, race biases, and so on. It could lead to creation of inequality – an “elite” class and a “lower” class separated by their star ratings. It goes against the very fabric of modern civilization – the fact that there are certain unspoken rules, often called the social contract. A part of me really hopes people don’t fall for this obviously terrible idea of reducing a person to a number value, but another part of me is really intrigued to see how society would adapt and react to this if it were ever to see the light of day.

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