Anyone who has ever played life simulation game, The Sims, will understand the appeal of controlling the actions of another – albeit digital – person. The game is a chance for the player to play God – a power that almost everyone abuses. Though, of course, it’s just a game.
But what if you had power over the decisions of people in real life?
Still in its pre-full release stage, NewNew is an app that allows you to do just that. Its founders describe it as, “a human stock market where you buy shares in the lives of real people, in order to control their decisions and watch the outcome”.
This is slightly less creepy than it sounds. NewNew is aimed at those in the creative industry – writers, painters, musicians, fashion designers, bloggers – aka “creators”. The app allows creators to pose a question and a choice of two answers, via video clip, to their followers, who then pay $5 to vote on the result. The fees go to the creator, minus an undisclosed percentage taken by NewNew.
The objective is for creators to connect with their audiences via the app, by asking questions linked to their work, like what should my character do next? Or what colour should I use? And so on.
And, as well as voting, followers can pay a larger sum to ask a creator to do something of their choosing, such as naming a character after them. (The creator can reject these requests, in which case, the follower does not have to pay.)
Seen in this way, the app is a great platform for creative professionals looking to engage with and grow their follower base, whilst also generating some quick cash. And, as NewNew’s founder explains, knowing your vote has resulted in an artist using a particular colour is really exciting for some people.
Even so, NewNew has raised some eyebrows – and for good reason. It is easy to see how the app could be abused: cash-strapped creators agreeing to do increasingly extreme or even dangerous things for money and attention. And how many voters will pay the arbitrary fee just to vote for a horrible option, because it’s funny?
And these are just the obvious pitfalls. After all, it would not be the first time a social platform or app was used for something other than its intended purpose.
Twitter was launched as a micro-blogging platform, allowing users to share SMS-like messages to both friends and the general public. Now, Twitter is the home of cyber abuse. The company’s statistics for January to June 2020 show that it removed potentially offensive content posted by 1.9 million accounts, and suspended 925,700 accounts for violating Twitter rules.
Meanwhile, Facebook – once dubbed the only “social” social media channel – has become embroiled in legal battles over its role in spreading fake news. On Instagram, the introduction of Stories, IGTV, and Reels has seen the platform become a hub of social commerce, generating $20 billion in ad revenue in 2019.
Of course, there is no way to know how NewNew will be used. It has the potential to be an exciting and clever tool for creative professionals to build their profile and monetise the process. Moreover, NewNew’s creators claim they have taken every step to protect their users from abuses. And the slightly creepy straplines – “The Control My Life App” – are probably just a smart way of earning media attention. Certainly, it has worked.
Still, we live in an era of pervasive trolling, catfishing and digital catfights. Left to our own devices, things tend to get out of hand. Indeed, on Twitter, trolling is so much of an issue that the company has had to intervene, creating a new function (still being tested) that prompts users to consider whether their replies are appropriate, resulting in many people revising their comments or abandoning their replies altogether.
The question is, can we be trusted with an app like NewNew without intervention that moderates extreme behaviour? We will have to wait and see.