My colleague Nathan Swehla recently mentioned to me an app called “Peeple.” The app allows people to review “ordinary people” in three categories: personal, professional and dating. The stated goal of the app is to highlight the best in people and allow others to make new friends and business connections.
Not everyone is convinced. The app certainly poses a risk of abuse. I don’t know if you’ve looked online any time recently, but not everyone on social media is interested in accentuating the positive. And offering up a platform to “review” people seems like an opportunity for abuse.
And that begs the question whether the app will pose any new legal issues in terms of defamation or privacy invasion. And the answer I think is “no.” The app allows for the publication of potentially actionable comments. But there are already plenty of platforms where people can make actionable comments. Any interactive social media site offers the opportunity for users to get themselves sued. I mean, there’s even a term for it – “Twibel” – i.e. libel on Twitter. So Peeple really doesn’t change the landscape. And we know that people can use existing platforms to post embarrassing, intimate photos and videos of people – we call that “revenge porn.” So once again, the existing online platforms allow for invasion of privacy too.
And the fact that Peeple invites users to share their opinions about other people doesn’t mean that the users are guaranteed off the hook for their comments. While true opinions are not actionable in a defamation proceeding, that doesn’t mean a Peeple user could avoid liability merely by starting a review off with the words “In my opinion . . . .” If the Peeple review contains verifiable facts, their inclusion in a “review” won’t shield them. So if someone were to take to Peeple and write something like “Jack Greiner’s blog is dull, soulless and virtually unreadable” I’d be hurt, but I wouldn’t have a claim. That harsh assessment is true opinion -- I can’t prove it’s false. Unfortunately.
But if my new Peeple friend said in the review “it’s obvious that Greiner relies on plagiarism in his posts” that would be a different matter. I don’t plagiarize and I could prove that. So saying I do, even in the context of a review, is stating a verifiable fact. I’d be able to sue over that. And probably win.
And if a Peeple reviewer, in the course of a review, includes private, intimate information about the review’s subject there is no protection offered by the fact that the disclosure was in the context of a review. Invasion of privacy is invasion of privacy.
So Peeple may strike some folks as kind of creepy, but it’s not really revolutionary. And it won’t create any particularly new law. The communication methods may change, but the fundamentals remain the same.