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Peeple: is the people reviewer app a legal nightmare?

Peeple is an app set to hit the UK in November which allows users to assign a one to five star review to people they know, much like you might review a restaurant on Trip Advisor or a product on Peeple is an app set to hit the UK in November which allows users to assign a one to five star review to people they know, much like you might review a restaurant on Trip Advisor or a product on Amazon. There is no 'opt-out' function. If a reviewer has the phone number of the person they want to review, they can simply post a review whether the review subject likes it or not. Putting aside the risk of this causing imminent social meltdown by swarms of incensed reviewees (as fans of both Community and Mean Girls will undoubtedly appreciate) there are some intriguing legal aspects to the app.

Existing social media such as Twitter and Facebook are frequently used as platforms for the publication of defamatory statements by passing judgment on other individuals, so online defamatory publications in this vein are nothing new. However, Peeple's purpose is solely the critique and evaluation of others. Given its specific purpose as a 'people reviewer', it seems auspiciously geared towards the publication of defamatory statements.

Peeple claims that there are two preventative barriers to this. The first is an extensive list of terms and conditions that users must agree to which are intended to prevent defamatory statements. Whilst many users may use the app responsibly, a list of terms and conditions is unlikely to stop users from abusing it if they are so inclined. Both Twitter and Facebook have similar terms and conditions, but as most users will appreciate, vitriolic capital-letter laden abuse on both platforms isn't exactly uncommon.

The second safeguard is a 48 hour 'mediation' period between reviewer and reviewee that is initiated for reviews of two stars or less so that the individuals can 'work it out' and reach a positive review. However, if the mediation fails, the review automatically goes live after 48 hours and is visible to other users, even if that review is plainly defamatory of the reviewed individual.

A defamed individual may find it difficult to take down any defamatory reviews. Although Peeple has made reassuring overtones that abusive users will be kicked off, it is not necessarily obliged to do so and there is no guarantee that it will agree with a reviewee's interpretation of a defamatory review.

Under section 5 of the Defamation Act 2013, a website operator has a complete defence if it can show that it did not post the defamatory statement itself but merely hosts user-generated content. Peeple could rely on this defence in the face of defamation complaints by disgruntled reviewees. Additionally, because Peeple is not incorporated in the UK it is not subject to UK jurisdiction and it may simply choose to ignore defamation claims from UK-based reviewees (which is generally the approach taken by both Facebook and Twitter which both conduct their EMEA operations from Ireland).

Unless you're the litigious type, Scandalous thinks that the obvious solution to this rather Orwellian development in social media is just to be as nice to everyone as possible.

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