For the past week I have been receiving enthusiastic group emails talking about a new social network. At first, I didn't pay too much attention, but after seeing that this was truly the trending topic of the week in female circles, I decided to download it to understand what it is. Lulu is an app designed exclusively for women to anonymously review men on their characteristics such as looks, manners and spending habits.
A female Facebook user downloads Lulu on her mobile which automatically connects it to her Facebook account, retrieving the data of all her male friends. Next thing you see, is the Facebook profile picture and name of your male friends with past ratings they have received from other women. This is where it gets complicated. People can create a Lulu rating for any male friend on their list without them knowing about it, and unless the person had some social media know-how, he would have no idea that a Lulu profile existed on him.
Luluvise is the company that created the app, and it was launched in December 2011 by CEO Alexandra Chong. Chong has a law degree from the London School of Economics and was formerly the Global Head of Marketing and PR for Upstream, one of the world's largest mobile marketing companies. There is no doubt that Chong has an entrepreneurial vein.
During the test stage, Chong honed in on the social media's target and recruited sorority girls on US campuses for the launch. She encouraged the girls to use the app in return for a chance to win an internship at Luluvise. The app's linguistic and visual design is visibly influenced by US sorority culture. Shortly after the test, Chong was able to get funding from the likes of Yuri Miller (one of the first investors of Facebook) and the co-founders of Jawbone.
Perhaps even more worrisome than the fake feminism is the extremely questionable privacy issues of the app. The app is non-consensual, which means that if you have a friend on the network your data is automatically retrieved through their Facebook account. In order to avoid this, you would have to change your Facebook app settings to a very conservative one, a complicated task that the majority of users don't know how to do. In addition to collecting your data, which means everything you have on Facebook that is not under a tight privacy setting, Lulu also reserves the right to share certain portions of your data with third parties. In other words, Lulu at some point can sell your data, including your Lulu rating and hashtags, to third parties.
It seems that Chong and her colleagues were able to synthesise all of modern Western society's problems into an app and market it as female empowerment. Lulu encompasses all of the negativities of the hashtag generation; oversimplification, vulgarisation, lack of empathy and the collapse of privacy.
Today, in order to cut through the clutter, we are discouraged from being sophisticated with our words and encouraged to think up catchy marketing phrases. The "hashtag generation" is not only simplistic, it is also cruel. We have lost our empathy behind the armours of our computer screens. We are too uneasy in person and way too comfortable on the internet. This is the generation where bullying and outing people is encouraged in the name of transparency.
The effects of perhaps what we could call one of today's biggest problems with teens, namely cyber bullying, are all too well-documented. We have seen reports of young people committing suicide after being bullied on Facebook or having compromising photos leaked on the internet. Finally, what does it say about society when we start seeing apps that monetise these cruel principles, the same ones that drive victims into depression and suicide? Perhaps it is time to question that which passes as acceptable social behaviour both online and offline.
line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Zeynep Zileli Rabanea is a writer and analyst focused on culture, media and communications, currently based in Sao Paulo.