A Lulu Missed Connection: How Well Do We Really Know Our Facebook Friends?

on November 27 2013 12:00 PM
Dating Shutterstock
Lulu, an app that lets women anonymously "review" men they know on Facebook, is gaining popularity - and critics. Shutterstock.com

 

Many of us are all too happy to accept a “friend” request on Facebook from someone we don't know well at all. What's the harm in expanding our social network? But single men might want to think twice before connecting, now that there's an app that lets women post anonymous “reviews” of any man among their pool of Facebook friends.

Lulu – dubbed “Yelp for Men” – was founded a year ago by Alexandra Chong, but has recently enjoyed an elevated profile, thanks to largely favorable trend pieces in the New York Times and New York Magazine. But it's also feeling the glare of the spotlight, with no shortage of critics. One of these critics recently launched a Change.org petition demanding that the app be taken down (it has only 343 supporters). The charge made against Lulu in the petition's statement echoes a concern seen and heard elsewhere: That Lulu is fostering a double standard by allowing women to anonymously evaluate men, often on superficial qualities; and that it violates the privacy of men, who cannot control or even see most of the content posted about them – and who may not even be aware they have a Lulu profile. (While Lulu does have a Web-based location, the profiles are not indexed by search engines.)

Unlike Yelp, women cannot enter free-form comments into a review; instead, they choose among set hashtags that indicate certain qualities, ie. #HopelessRomantic, or #LoserFriends. The requirement that a woman have a Facebook connection to a man she reviews on Lulu is presumably in place to control for the possibility of intentional sabotage from a stranger or a stalker. But, as a Facebook friendship does not require a deep level of intimacy, it's possible for a woman to critique a man she may not be in a position to judge.

That's what happened to Adam Devine, a 38-year-old tech entrepreneur in New York who found himself on the receiving end of an unfavorable review, one that he is convinced came from a woman who is barely an acquaintance. But it wasn't a situation where the woman was scorned and out for revenge; rather, he had asked her for coffee after she accepted his friend request on Facebook (the two share mutual friends and she was on his list of “People You May Know). She ignored the invitation. Soon after, the two met in person at a benefit and conversed briefly. When he renewed his coffee invitation, she ignored him again, and he retreated without giving it much further thought.

That is, until a female friend alerted Devine to his profile on Lulu – he had three reviews; two were positive and one was less so (in the negative review, he was given a score of a 6; not a disastrous score, but below the average rating of 7.5). The reviewer selected criteria that implied knowledge of his financial situation and spending habits, and that suggested they had been on at least one date. After Devine became aware that he had a profile, he contacted Lulu to have it successfully removed – an option for any man who finds himself on Lulu, or rather, who finds out about it. Without a female ally looking out for him, he may never know a profile exists.

“What [Lulu ]should do is send a Facebook message to men the moment they're reviewed on the app and either allow them to immediately remove the review,” Devine said. He also feels that the criteria for reviewers to be no more than Facebook connected to the men they critique challenges the app's credibility.

Asked if Lulu had any plans to fine-tune the app to measure the strength of a woman's connection with a man she reviews – for example, do they have a lot of mutual friends, do they interact a lot on Facebook – a spokesperson was nonspecific, saying, “It's something we're always tweaking and improving.”

It may seem trivial to put much stock in what a near stranger says about you, but in this digital age, a man or woman's online identity is their calling card. It's not difficult to imagine that a woman might pass on a man who's been accused of being an #AirGuitarist or #AddictedToMirrors.

Devine insisted that his objection to Lulu had nothing to do with the quality of his reviews. “I’m all for reviewing products and services, because it makes businesses more accountable and attentive,” he said. “But a human being is neither a product nor a service.”

Lulu's philosophy seems to be built on an assumption that the safety and security of women trumps the privacy and image concerns of men they might date. “We created Lulu to be a safe, secure place for women to share on sensitive topics such as relationships,” the spokesperson said. “There's a lot of social science research that shows that these conditions are essential for women to share openly and honestly on sensitive subjects.”

While anonymity can certainly breed openness, it can also breed slander and bullying – look no further than the comment section of a Huffington Post story or a Reddit thread for evidence. Still, I see Lulu as more silly than alarming (especially when you consider the kinds of discussions that can take place on Reddit). Though I might feel differently if I were among Lulu's targets.

Fortunately for the ladies, it doesn't look like that will happen anytime soon. Asked if Lulu has any plans to go co-ed, the spokesperson was firm that it did not. “Privacy and girls-only are two of our core values,” she said.

That's one thing that Lulu and Devine can agree on, though Devine would like to see Lulu gone altogether.

“A co-ed Lulu would cause mutual assured destruction of the sexes,” he said, “and sex.”

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( Note: Photo by Shutterstock.com.)