Zach Boven, author of this post, is a recent graduate of the Business Honors Program at the McCombs School of Business. He wrote this blog post as part of an assignment for a business law and business ethics class. It was the best of a good lot.
A female friend of mine at Washington State University recently sent me a text message stating, “Someone gave you a ______ on Lulu.” After getting a little more clarification, it seemed that my name and Facebook profile picture were attached to ratings on attributes such as appearance, manners, and humor on a scale from one to ten. Also included were descriptions of my best and worst qualities through hashtags that are meant to come off as both informative and playful. This information had made it to the Internet and was available to any number of women without my knowledge. The creator, Alexandra Chong, describes the mobile application as “the first database of men, built by women, for women.” While this sounds potentially beneficial to females who would like to know more about a guy through anonymous reviews, it raises ethical concerns by being nonconsensual and not providing notification to the other party. While sharing facts of one’s personal relationship with others may not go as far as being an invasion of privacy intentional tort (public disclosure of offensive private facts), should people be encouraged to publicly criticize and sexualize others in an advice/warning capacity when the other party has no immediate say in the matter?
On Lulu, females create “reviews” of males with which they are friends of Facebook and award points by answering questions from a variety of options. The rating system is restricted to females by using Facebook gender, but males are allowed to create their own version of a profile through LuluDude. This separate site allows males to view their rating and see how they compare to others, while adding additional information to potentially offset that bad review a female may have left them. If a guy does not like what he sees, there is the option to request the removal of their public page. That is, however, only if the guy knows the application and public information exists.
The questions provide several options that describe the male being rated. Regarding ambition, one question states, “In 10 years he’ll be wearing…” and provides options ranging from “dumpster-finds” to “whatever the f*** he wants.” The hashtags range from descriptions of dating and social behavior (#OpensDoors, #AlwaysPays) to more objectifying and bedroom-related references (#NotADick, #SexualPanther, #BigFeet). These often-crude answers are supposed to be insightful to other females interested in the truth regarding another guy.
The prevalence of such rating applications has grown in complexity and popularity. Tinder uses Facebook and current location to propose potential matches based on mutual friends and interests (page likes on Facebook). If both parties express interest in each other from the basic yes/no option, the two are able to establish communication via a chat feature. Using technology and social media to bring people together may be shallow, but it follows the increased reliance on such forms of communication for regular interaction. Applications such as Lulu, on the other hand, use the anonymity of social ratings applications to encourage individuals to reveal their personal opinions regarding others in a public forum that could have larger consequences regarding their reputation. My friend’s opinion of me could have been affected by the information provided by another person, without knowing the true intentions behind the original review.
While individuals have the right to express their opinions and share it with others, that does not make it necessary nor ethically right. Internet activity is permanent and easily accessible, so public shaming on the Internet comes with long-term consequences despite their often-lighthearted intentions. In the same way women would likely not want men to publically objectify them or submit intimate photos to the internet (which raises legal issues of privacy), using a rating site to engage in similar behavior seems unethical and inappropriate. These rating sites have the potential for honest and helpful information in the same way you may ask your friend for advice before going out with someone new; however, the public nature of their postings and the lack of consent by the other party question the ethicality of their current use.