We’ve all done it: One minute you stumble across the Facebook page of that cutie from your Brit Lit class and the next you’re halfway through his photos and judging the dress of his junior prom date. It’s a little too easy to get too knowledgeable about someone by analyzing what they post on their Facebook page. But what if, underneath that awkward prom picture, there was a review of him from his date, or his cousin, or his high school sweetheart? What if that review rated his sense of humor, manners, ambitions, and (of course) looks? Would exploring that transport you from the realm of benign information gathering to full-frontal creeping?
According to Lulu, an app available for certain smartphones, the answer to the latter is no. The app, which allows female Facebook users to rate and view ratings of men in their network, is described by its creators as a “private network for girls to share insights on love and life.” The app was conceptualized and developed as a tool for anonymously rating the men in one’s life.
Once a woman has downloaded the app, which she can only do once she logs in with a valid Facebook account that has “female” listed as her gender, she has access to Lulu profiles of her male Facebook friends and other men in any network of which she is a part. These profiles include the subject’s full name, profile picture from Facebook, relationship status, a rating out of ten and a series of qualities in “hashtag” form that other users have applied to describe him. To rate someone, a user selects “Review Him” on his profile and is asked a series of multiple-choice questions, which are then quantified and averaged to give a numerical rating. Additionally, one can choose to apply provided hashtags to individuals, including the good (#SmellsAmazeballs, #WritesLoveSongs), the bad (#ForgotHisWallet, #NoEdge), and the ugly (#CantTakeAHint, #QuestionableSearchHistory).
Juicy as it may sound at first mention, there are some serious flaws that must be reckoned with regarding Lulu—especially in the context of the community we have here at Lawrence.
There is the problem of using information from Facebook without the knowledge of the subjects.
Junior Ben Schaenzer, a Residence Life Advisor in Sage, found out about Lulu via a freshman resident who uses the app. “Apparently I was on there, and I had been rated,” Schaenzer said.
Beyond flattery or offense, Schaenzer was confused and “creeped out” that “all my information was there, and if no one had shown me I would never have known.” Issues with whether or not Facebook adequately protects its users’ information have long been a point of contention regarding the site, and it seems that the fine print many of us willfully ignore involves waiving the right to prevent your information from being used by third parties.
One of the more obvious issues is the gender exclusivity and heteronormative assumptions of the app. If a guy tries to log on with his Facebook account, he is taken to an alternative page called LuluDude. From there, if he chooses to invite 25 Facebook friends to use Lulu, he can gain access to his own profile to see his rating.
Regarding gender, sophomore Tracy Johnson, the president of Downer Feminist Council, pointed out that, in the most basic sense, “people think it’s less creepy because it’s girls rating guys.”
Senior Helen Noble commented that if it were exclusively men rating women, “that would not go down well on this campus.” Schaenzer chimed in, “I think it would be just as creepy if men were rating women instead, [but]… it’d be less creepy if everyone was part of it.”
All interviewed parties agreed that the exclusive and secretive nature of the app added to their discomfort with it. Regarding the double-standard that Noble recognized, Johnson reflected on some of the factors that have led our society to generally be more accepting of objectification of men: “It seems less predatory, in a way…. We [as a society] minimize [the objectification of men] because historically, objectification has not been a device used to oppress the male gender.”
Beyond the broader implications, we must consider how quantifying one another can potentially affect the social community of our university. “We already know enough social history [about students] at this school,” says Noble, adding that it is common to know almost everyone at Lawrence by face if not by name.
On seeing friends of hers rated, Johnson noted, “It was really weird, to, like, see someone reduced to a number…. I don’t think [the rating] says anything about [the person being rated].” Regarding his own average score of 9.4, Schaenzer said, “It is kind of flattering to know that someone feels that way about me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a little freaked out by it.” Noble empathizes with men who have been scored, saying, “If I put myself in their shoes, even if I had a high rating, I would still hate the idea of being rated.”
The app’s informational website, a canvas of hot pink and black littered with glamorous pictures of beautiful young women in peals of laughter, cites Lulu as a tool to “empower girls to make smarter decisions.” In theory, it’s not difficult to support that broader mission; the means Lulu employs, however, verge on published gossip, a Millennial incarnation of a phone number in a bathroom stall. We must consider the ethical implications of institutionalizing and cashing-in on the basic human desire to know more and share opinions—especially given the potential pain this particular method may inflict upon others. As for that cutie in your class, you could always talk to him and figure out how you feel from there. But if that’s too daunting, let’s stick to low-risk Facebook stalking.