Unvarnished: Cyber-bullying Grows Up

Welcome to Unvarnished, Punk.

Think of Yelp in a ski mask meeting LinkedIn in a dark alley.

The result of this violent encounter is now a social network called Unvarnished.  Libel.com must have been taken.  Unvarnished will soon be causing lots of problems for everyone.  And I mean everyone.  Right now it is in beta and invite only, but that will change as the site moves from a soft launch to being ready for prime time.

Here’s the lowdown.  This new social network is where people – even anonymous people – can rate and review other people.  In other words, Unvarnished will begin treating us all like… brands.  Products to be reviewed.  Think of LinkedIn endorsements – only with Unvarnished you don’t control the content or tone and, well, the people reviewing you might not be doing so as an endorsement.  It’s more like Yelp reviews except reviewers aren’t discussing restaurants and dry cleaners – but other people.

It looks like cyber-bullying just found a home for adults.

Here’s how Unvarnished works.  We’ll use poor, pitiful me as an example.  Anyone can go to Unvarnished and open up a profile about me.  Now if I’m proactive (or just simply terrified), I can go to Unvarnished and claim the profile as my own, but unlike Facebook or LinkedIn (or just about any other social network) I won”t be able to control or moderate the content.

That means the bad reviews remain with the good ones (now we’re all potential victims of those dreaded anonymous Internet trolls).

The really bad news is that you won’t be able to opt out.  Even if you don’t want to participate and ask the company to remove your profile, Unvarnished won’t do it (because let’s face it.  Who really would want to be on Unvarnished?).  That’s not to say Unvarnished isn’t concerned about privacy – at least the privacy of the reviewers.

From Unvarnished’s Community Guidelines:

“To empower a honest, candid conversation about professional reputation, Unvarnished obscures the identity of reviewers. We are committed to protecting your right to express yourself honestly by maintaining the privacy of which people you have reviewed. Only you will ever know who you have reviewed.”

The victims – I’m sorry, I mean those being reviewed – don’t get the same privacy considerations.

The Valleywag – the Silicon Valley gossip blog – called Unvarnished “the completely evil social network” and a “digital extortion racket.”  Think about that for a moment – Valleywag calling another gossip site completely evil.

I agree with TechCrunch’s assessment of Unvarnished (although to be fair, I haven’t tried it yet):

“Theoretically, a community of professionals has more scruples and ethics than a group of 17-year-olds (maybe), but my guess is that many will be seduced by the dark powers of the internet (the power to hammer an adversary under the guise of anonymity). [Unvarnished CEO] Kazanjy says all those negative opinions/rumors are already out there, lurking in blog posts and comments. His site, Kazanjy says, merely condenses, organizes, and helps you refute those claims. I disagree, I think it encourages defamation by ensuring a forum. If you guarantee a microphone, there’s an extra incentive for a malicious co-worker to go out of their way to post a rumor— because they know it will directly affect your reputation.”

It remains to be seen whether Unvarnished succeeds.

What do you think of the concept of Unvarnished?  Will you join?  Will you monitor to make sure you aren’t being talked about?  Is this a good thing or a really bad thing?

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