“Yelp for people”—what could possibly go wrong?

That’s the self-described premise (later regrettably so) by the creators of “Peeple,” the latest app at the forefront of online buzz.

At the end of September co-founders Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough announced the impending launch of their new human-rating application, Peeple. Through the tool users assign one- to five-star grades and post reviews about absolutely anyone they know, whether personally, professionally or romantically.

Initially sold as “integrity features,” those posting must be at least 21 years old, have an “established” Facebook account, pen under their real name and somehow assert they actually know the person. Positive reviews immediately publish, where negative reviews are funneled into a private inbox for 48-hour screening, considering adversities like profanity, sexism and noting private health conditions are not allowed.

Names, however, won’t be deleted once entered into the system (via reviewers providing the reviewee’s cell phone number) unless they violate the terms of service, and best of all—opting out is not an option.

So with respect to privacy shot and all scrutiny realms unleashed, Peeple’s pitch sent the Internet into fury.

Outraged by an app equating people to objects, many publics think providing a platform to so openly rate anyone for any reason has far more detrimental repercussions than its developers acknowledge. In a society where deceit and excessive judgment already so rampantly run, audiences have expressed concern that Peeple doesn’t consider its potential entanglement with dangerous domestic violence/stalking situations. Many agree its nature is horrendously invasive and would heighten collective self-consciousness as well as cyber bullying opportunities.

An online petition for Apple and Google to not support the app has almost 8,000 signatures, and several parody sites like “Sheeple” and “Meet People” have since sparked to further highlight the public’s stance.

As if the situation didn’t have enough going against it—plot twist—one day Peeple’s website suddenly vanished, which lead to a plight of further PR problems.

Visitors to the formerly fleshed-out site were at first met with an error message, but now a more simplified page is live and emphasizes an ambiguous October 12 date. The app’s official Facebook and Twitter pages were additionally taken down October 4, leading many to question its true intent all along.

The error message – via Daily Mail
The initial error message – via Daily Mail
The currently live site – via forthepeeple.com
The currently live site – via forthepeeple.com

Coupled with a catastrophic repertoire of poor social media management Cordray and McCullough generated amidst the fallout, it’s largely suspected the sites were removed in response to such massive criticism; however, some have taken to more sleuthful approaches.

Investigative website Snopes found it additionally fishy how lacking of Web presences the two co-founders were prior to the app announcement, along with its prospectively fast-tracked timeline of development. Ed Zitron, founder of a consumer tech startup-focused PR firm EZPR, noted the unusual personal emphasis of Cordray in using her name as a hashtag surrounding an upcoming CNBC appearance.

One of many suspicious Facebook comments founders made on personal as well as the app’s official page –via Daily Mail
One of many suspicious Facebook comments founders made on personal as well as the app’s official page –via Daily Mail

That said, these oddities raise fair questions of Peeple’s purpose: Will the app launch in November as planned, or could a more intricate plot be at hand?

Its founding mothers are perpetuating their PR narrative in the meantime.

Originally saying it was geared to be a social truth-charting tool, Cordray and McCullough are now trying to spin the tables into a more literally positive light. Completely reframing its premise, they now attest the “misunderstood” app is all about positivity.

Using LinkedIn to publically mount her defense, Cordray published a blog entitled “I Became a Trending Topic for the Wrong Reasons. Here’s Why We Need Peeple, the Positivity App I’m Building,” on the same day Peeple’s social media accounts were removed.

Besides the mouthful of a title, Cordray used the post to backtrack a lot of key criticism. Noting the death threats and insulting comments received after an interview with The Washington Post, she now claims the “POSTIVE ONLY APP” is a “100% opt-in system.” All comments will require approval from those they address and the previously discussed 48-hour waiting period for negative reviews is apparently no more.

From the beginning she declared they wouldn’t be “shamed into submission,” so Julia…how’s that working for you?

Cordray appeared on The Dr. Phil Show this Friday, which, through her now-deleted YouTube series documenting the app’s progress, she positioned as a dramatic break in silence to help publics “get the truth.”

via The Dr. Phil Show
via The Dr. Phil Show

Rehashing her same defense, she explained the significant changes they’ve made post-backlash, but claimed there are “a lot of exciting new features” they supposedly can’t wait to release.

The episode’s second half explored the story of 20-year-old Tracey, a social media star who “thrives on negative attention,” and 22-year-old Anitha who’s concerned about Tracey’s obviously troubled though virtually flaunted life choices. The imperative contrast illustrates what problems an app like Peeple could attract.

The case goes to show juggling flip-flopped frames on fire will only leave you burned. Whether representing products, brands, people or companies, it’s critical for professionals (PR and beyond) to keep their carefully crafted stances straight from the start.

When putting your own as well as a client’s credibility on the line, engaging glaringly flighty practices is one of the quickest means to demise. Based on this developing turn of events, perhaps it seems the app’s architects aren’t quite as open to spontaneous feedback as they’d like to lead.

Fancy footwork or flaky farce? Guess we’ll find out come the fateful November launch.

(Featured image via Daily Mail and ckler.com)