Peeple: the anti-Gospel

Update: There has been some debate about how real this app actually is. It seems there is a strong chance it is vapourware and will never reach market anyway. Also, after the backlash, their social media pages went down and contrary to previous statements they have said that negative comments do not post without your permission. If true, that makes it sort of like LinkedIn’s recommendation system, but without being limited to professional purposes. As always during something causing outrage on the Internet, read Snopes. I have maintained my original post here because I still think it makes a valuable point, whether or not all the details about Peeple are (still) true.


 

There’s a new app in the world. It’s called Peeple. Its being described as “Yelp for People.” The purpose of the app is to put numerical ratings on people you know.

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Ok, that was about an hour and a half of stunned silence in confusion that this exists.

Community - MeowMeowBeans

Community had MeowMeowBeans. The real world now has Peeple. That episode ended in a dystopian future of inequality and bullying.

The Rating Instinct

As fallen human beings, we do have a regular tendency to be constantly evaluating the worth of everyone around us. That’s the original sin. We believe who know who is good and who is evil, who can be dismissed and who is worth our time. This manifests in lots of individual ways, like when I catch myself judging a mother on the bus for getting frustrated at her child. It also manifests in lots of systemic ways like institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia where we all buy into the narrative of why one group is superior to another.

This app takes that sinful human instinct, puts numbers on it, and encourages it. If I’m annoyed at my sister for voting differently than me, I can give her a bad rating with a bunch of rhetoric about why she’s a terrible person for daring to think the way she does. That’s far from the worst, though. Suppose somebody goes on a date. The man wants to have sex, the woman doesn’t. She can now be rated as a tease or whatever other label he wants to apply to her. Or suppose she does want to have sex but he doesn’t. She’s now a slut, a temptress, a whore. The reality is simply that they wanted different things, but when there are cultural power differentials involved, the person with less power will always be hurt the most by the rating system. This app formalizes and encourages bullying.

Creator Privilege

The creators really don’t seem to get that. I’ve seen a couple of posts since everyone started talking about it on Twitter. One screenshot shows them asking how to turn off comments on the page because they don’t want unsolicited negative feedback – like what their app encourages everyone else to do. On Twitter, somebody created a false account pretending to be them. Again, they didn’t like that people could spread information about them without their consent, without realizing the irony. In another Twitter exchange, they refused to answer a question about their funding, called the person politely asking a bully, and told another person to fuck off. Again, they don’t seem to realize that what they’re experiencing is exactly what their app encourages.

I think that’s the kind of thing Jesus meant when he said that we would be judged by the same measure we judge others. If we insist on living in a world of playing judge over each other with things like ratings systems, that doesn’t work out well for us either.

When I saw their photos, I had a good idea why they probably legitimately don’t realize what they’re doing. They are two young, white, blondes, well-dressed and wearing a fair bit of makeup (which suggests at least moderate wealth). Those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but it does suggest that they probably haven’t been particularly marginalized in their lives. Maybe they aren’t actually bullies in real life – my mind quickly went to the Plastics of Mean Girls – but at the very least, they clearly either don’t get that a lot of bullying happens against the marginalized on the Internet or, much worse, don’t care and want to monetize that bullying.

Mean Girls - Plastics

The “Plastics” of Mean Girls

Good Intentions

I always try to see good intentions even in really bad ideas like this one. Here’s my best imagining so far of how they thought this could be a good idea. Let’s go back to the dating example. This time, instead of the man respecting the woman’s desire not to have sex and rating her based on being a tease, he goes ahead and rapes her. He can give her a bad review, but she can also give him a bad review. It could be a way of flagging harmful people. In theory, not a terrible idea. Unfortunately in reality, we have to go back to those power dynamics. Most women aren’t believed when they go to tell the police, those people whose job it is to listen to victims and act against the perpetrator. They are often victim-blamed instead, back to labels like being a tease.

Enter the Gospel

The Gospel blows up the whole rating system. Not too long ago I saw a Twitter debate about whether or not we should say we are “worthy” of God’s love. My answer to that is that it is sort of missing the point of the Gospel. The Gospel declares that we are all loved. In one sense I guess you could say that we are all worthy of God’s love by existing – since God loves everyone that exists – but I still read that as capitulating too much to the whole system of judgement. I think it’s a lot better to say that the whole rating system that determines whether somebody is worthy or not is completely thrown out the window.

To be a Christian, to live out of the Gospel, is to say that we see everything like God does, with no rating system. Everybody is infinitely loved.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.