Another company has fallen victim to their own PR disaster–and to be quite honest, it probably could have been easily prevented. Yesterday, Charles Arthur, The Guardian’s technology editor, posted a pretty lengthy and detailed Storify post that most definitely raised some eyebrows. The culprit of this debacle were the two founders of a up-and-coming startup called Geeklist.
If you’re not aware of Geeklist, it’s being described as an “achievement-based social street cred builder for ‘bad-ass developers’”. Just last year, it received $600,000 in angel funding to enable developers to create their own profiles and give them a place to tout their developer supremacy. Sounds promising, right? Well, any great feelings one may have had about the startup soon faded away when a Twitter spat emerged and changed everything.
It all started out with Shanley Kane, a product person with Basho Technologies, making a harmless post on Twitter where she comments, albeit somewhat indirectly, about what she and many others perceive to be a degrading video against women. According to Mr. Arthur, it’s “a classic piece of ‘objectification’: attractive girl wearing sloganned t-shirt and…knickers.” So Ms. Kane furthers her query to the founders of Geeklist because it is believed that since the girl in the video is wearing a Geeklist t-shirt (with knickers embroidered with their logo), they must know something about this or be in a position of power to do something to remedy the situation. And in her exchange, she simply asks why an ad with a woman dancing in her underwear was done by Geeklist, to which Christian Sanz, one of the founders, replied that it was an old ad, but that “we need an updated version that shows less skin! “. Immediately afterwards, Ms. Kane thinks that it’s grossly sexist and that they should (please) take it down and that it’s “fucking gross”. And this is where things all went downhill…
Instead of taking the high road, Mr. Sanz decided to question the aggressive attitude that Ms. Kane had, not accept responsibility for this inappropriate video that was in question. Yes, that’s right, one of the founders of the company decided to attack the complainer instead of the complaint itself. And if you think that someone would step in to stop the madness, you’d probably need to rethink that. After several “interactive” engagements on Twitter, more people started to jump in and eventually it was revealed that Geeklist did not make the video in question nor was it on a Geeklist-affiliated video channel of any sort. Rather, it turns out it was created by an entrepreneur at Design Like Woah who is a big fan of their work. But that apparently didn’t stop the exchange between Mr. Sanz and Ms. Kane. Eventually even the other Geeklist co-founder, Reuben Katz, decided to chime in, along with others and it just didn’t look pretty at all. When it was all said and done, harsh words against Ms. Kane’s company (which she clearly denoted several times that her tweets were not representative of her company) and that the Geeklist founders would never hire her or interview her for a job ever again (seems Mr. Katz had had a prior meeting with Ms. Katz a few years ago).
I won’t recite everything that happened in this Twitter war of words (you can read the whole thing on the Storify page here), but the results here was that the Geeklist founders simply saw their brand credibility and their professional value just plummet as a result of this exchange. The two spent the next 24 hours (and probably more) being on Twitter apologizing and accepting blame for their missteps and began an effort to try and reclaim their former glory. It seems that Mr. Katz even met with Ms. Kane in person to resolve this dispute further and invited others to attend to chime in with their response. Geeklist probably could have averted disaster had they simply decided to acknowledge the problem and exert pressure to try and resolve it peacefully and offline, but instead they chose to attack the messenger and accuse them of random things without actually solving the problem. In a sense, the two founders felt it prudent to continuously yell at Ms. Kane to try and have her back-off, but when you do that on social media, especially on Twitter, what you’re going to encounter is much more resistance…and in a time, especially now, when more and more sexist attacks are being combated, it might not be a good idea to think it so easy of a thing to quash. Just read the latest post by CNET contributor Ben Parr where he mentions the hot-topic issue about women in tech. I won’t debate that issue here, but what Mr. Parr does is bring to light three major events over the past few days that have brought this into question: Sqoot’s Boston API Jam event, now Geeklist’s Twitter heated exchange, and BusinessWeek’s expose on the term “brogrammer”.
As penance, Geeklist is working hard to rebuild trust, especially in light of people posting on Twitter saying that they’re deleting their Geeklist profile and moving elsewhere. But in an effort to help solve the problem of women in tech, the founders are forming a committee to combat sexism and promote women in tech. No word yet on whether this is gaining traction, but it seems to be a genuine start at dealing with this issue.
Just for your info, here’s a “behind the scenes” video of the Geeklist video in question:
Photo Credit: Steve the Hitcher