Over the weekend at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt SF event, hackathon app “Titshare” made such waves over its tasteless innuendos and objectification of women that the blog staff had to apologize. Other apps outside of the event, such as Lulu, have been making plenty of waves on their own. Raising $6.35M million in venture funding, Lulu is a mobile app exclusively for women to rate men, whether they’re ex-boyfriends, past hookups, or so called Facebook friends. How long before the first tragic headline hits the front page of TechCrunch caused by apps like Lulu, that perpetuate gender or sexual stereotypes?
Engendered stereotype apps are nothing new, from Mark Zuckerberg’s face rating dorm room app to public rating site Hot or Not. This Mean Girls style of rating of other individuals is a short-term proven viral catch. As the startup community fights to be more gender inclusive, Lulu continues the cycle of overreaching online harassment. Sites such as Formspring have faced intense criticism after several individuals committed suicide from cyberbullying.
Lulu brands itself as “dating intelligence research” by asking woman to classify individuals with pre-categorized hashtags such as “#Mama’sBoy,” “#GoneByMorning,” or “#DoesHeEvenGoHere?” Women can choose to be kind towards their fellow man, but only on a sex-driven level with genital based tags such as “#Giving,” “#SexMoves,” “Experienced,” or “SexualPanther.” Most men are being rated on Lulu without their knowledge and most certainly without their consent. Perhaps Alexandra Chong, CEO and Founder of Lulu, and resident of London, UK, doesn’t recall the numerous suicides of her fellow countrymen from formally popular social networking site Bebo.
In a world of blurred lines, a recent study found that 68 percent of adolescent boys admitted to having been bullied online. Lulu age restricts signups to 17+ years, but as a male you are automatically opted-in. The only method to remove yourself from Lulu is to signup with Facebook, go to settings, and then click to remove yourself. No confirmation or indication is given after you choose to remove yourself or if your data has been actually deleted or only hidden. The immediate dismay of joining to delete your Lulu profile is that before you can reach that step, your female Facebook friends are push-notified that you joined Lulu. A more appropriate opt-out method would be to submit your Facebook username URL or Facebook ID without having to sign up to remove your profile.
Lulu is easy to game and is not as securely anonymous or free from potential male revenge as some believe. Linked exclusively to Facebook logins, you can change your gender from male to female to browse profiles, see which of your Facebook friends have Lulu installed, Facebook Graph search “Friends who use Lulu”, along with hearing the eventual leaks of your personal Lulu rankings.
James Franco recently called his experience from his Comedy Central Roast a “Genius Unscathed” and the jokes from his comedian friends the “mindless incoherent trashings of talentless abnormalities.” Lulu may soon find itself outside the boundary of friendly entertainment as well as the policies of Facebook itself, which flags apps as inappropriate for condoning “hate speech or personal attack.” While I personally, and most other men, can brush off fads, there will be continued unheard stories of the ramifications of Lulu’s damaging impact, beyond getting laid or not. For others, where Lulu is not just brush-off humor, we can pray that we may avoid any future headline stories for GoneTooSoon.
No matter your age, gender, race, or sexual orientation, if you feel victimized by online personal attacks, please seek advice guidance on coping with cyberbullying here and please tell a friend, someone loves you.