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Apology from Geeklist (gklst.tumblr.com)
46 points by thinkzig on March 22, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

I could care less about Geeklist but from a purely analytical perspective: this is so "how not to write an apology" that someone ought to take it apart and do an annotated version of it as a lesson to the community. It literally starts out in its first sentence by undermining itself.

Incidentally, publicly threatening the job of someone who criticizes you (as a tit-for-tat for them "threatening your brand") is one of those slip-ups for which no apology is going to stem the tide of drama. I'm sure this will all be forgotten in a week, but until then: Geeklist is the villain and just needs to roll with it. As long as they're in this PR hole, maybe they should tie someone to a train track and make some demands.

It literally starts out in its first sentence by undermining itself.

It's first sentence is "Hi everyone." Is that the sentence you feel undermines itself?

It's second sentence is "We never meant to offend any person and are very sorry as we clearly have."

In that sentence they acknowledge that they have offended people and take responsibility for that, and unequivocally apologize for that.

The usual undermining apology sentence is more of the form,

"We never meant to offend any person and we are very sorry if you felt offended."

In that form, the authors are not taking responsibility for their actions, and not apologizing for their actions. They are blaming you that you feel offended.

I don't see that at all as to what Geeklist did here.

Then again, while I understand why the original viewer was offended by the video, and I agree it's a stupid video that shows the woman in her underwear, I would not call this one video fucking disgusting, nor would I attribute one video, made by one speficic woman for one specific company associated with "IT" as representative of IT, or CS or startups or entrepreneurship or geeks or men as so many people here at HN and elsewhere have done.

It was one stupid video and one stupid promotion in a world of stupid videos and stupid promotions many made by men, many made by women, and many made by men and women.

In the pantheon of fucking disgusting problems that IT or CS or startups or entrepreneurship or geeks or men or humanity or this country or the world faces, this video by one specific woman for one specific company is not present. It's out beyond Alpha Centauri.

If you would, I appreciate your elucidating why you feel this apology was so poorly done, instead of just branding it as bad and letting others fill in their thoughts why.

They are editing this in place. We may be discussing two different apologies. (It's fine if they're tuning the apology up, a good thing even, so I'm not interested in tracking down the earlier one).

That said: "We never meant to... and we are sorry" is an apology antipattern.

Your instinct is that there's social value in signaling that you aren't (sexist/a plagiarizer/a serial laundry-on-floor dumper††/what-have-you). Your instinct is often right. However: apologize first. Your #1 priority in an apology is not to explain yourself and it's not (as many people on HN seem to think) to wear a hair shirt. Your priority is to communicate that you understand the concern and that you believe it's valid.

A quick list of issues I have with this apology (as an example of the form, not as a moral issue):

* It doesn't know what it's trying to do, and so comes across as evasive.

* It fails to establish that the author understands the validity of the concern.

* It spends its crucial first several sentences talking about the concerns of the apologizer (WE never meant to, WE are about the inclusion of every geek)

* It introduces the totally irrelevant point of the gender of the producer of the video (repeatedly) in a manner that makes it easy to read an objection out of the apology ("a woman made this, so why are you complaining?")†

* In startlingly bad form, it introduces the totally irrelevant point that the complainer applied for a job but did not end up working (subtextually, for at least a large number of readers: the complainer was turned down for a job)

* It tries to mitigate the concern by saying other women will speak on their behalf, which is also simply not relevant.

* It at one point blames the complainer ("we were taken off guard by her continued comments after we...")

* It actually brags about the apologizer ("I’ve built my career over 15 years working to make this world a better place for women, mothers, and children") --- in other words, this is an apology that both wants to serve as a +10 amulet of apologies against Twitter concerns and a marketing document.

These aren't moral issues. They're strategic and tactical failures.

The marketing goal of an apology is #1 to communicate your understanding of the validity of the concern and (very optionally) #2 to communicate as a feature/benefit message the steps you're taking to make it never happen again.

The business goals of an apology are #1 to put the issue to rest, #2 to put the issue to rest, #3 to put the issue to rest... #1984983 to put the issue to rest, and #1984984 (very optionally) to learn and grow from the experience.

It is, for whatever it's worth, a little annoying to feel obligated to write this much about this issue on an HN thread nobody is really reading (this is I think buried on the second page already). I'd appreciate it if you didn't assume I was required to respond at essay-length to every concern you might have with a comment. These are message board comments; unless you think I was directly wrong, maybe let some lack of depth go, every once in awhile?

Way to handle this issue, if it's really important that the issue be handled in your apology: apologize to the video designer and say you hope no part of this reflects badly on her, &c.

†† Wanna get good at apologizing? Be married for 13 years.

It's the threatening of her job that made this unforgivable for me - I can understand someone, at night, reacting overly defensively about their startup. It's something hugely important to them and they identify with it strongly, so they react without thinking too much instead of walking away from the keyboard like they should've.

But their reaction-without-thinking is so telling here that I'm kinda glad they did it. Their first reaction when threatened is to look for the strongest way to lash out and hurt the other person - in this case by threatening their job, by repeatedly trying to drag their employer into the fight (even after Basho did the decent thing and said 'not our concern').

How could you trust a company founded by someone who has an instinctive reaction like that?

> that someone ought to take it apart and do an annotated version of it as a lesson to the community.

I'm sure this isn't what you had in mind, but I couldn't help myself. I'm not claiming this is what they were actually thinking, but it's how an upset, uncharitable reader might take it, which is who you'd want to address in an apology.

>Hi everyone. We never meant to offend any person and are very sorry as we clearly have.

Read: If you felt offended, there is something wrong with you, not us.

> Geeklist is all about inclusion of every geek. Male and Female alike. We hope you’ll forgive the company and founders and use this as an opportunity to hire more women, support women in tech and their great achievements and promote a healthy work environment for all.

Read: Diversity boilerplate goes here.

> We did not create the video at question. It was created out of love for Geeklist by a great Woman entrepreneur at Design Like Woah for us.

Read: Some of our best friends are women.

> She makes shirts and made awesome ones for us. She also goes way out of her way to help us ship to our men and women alike globally who love our brand.

Read: "Ship to our men and women alike"? Sorry, that awkward phrase was a result of our last minute copy-paste effort to make our language more gender neutral.

> She is fighting to grow in a male dominant sector and marketing to her client. Please support her and buy her shirts. http://www.designlikewhoa.com/

Read: If you don't support the video she made for us, you are anti-female-empowerment. Flipped the script on you, didn't I?

> [ Correction: Just spoke to Gemma, her videographer owns it and she is trying to contact him (thanks so much Gemma)]

Read: Oops, disregard everything I just said.

> As for our handling of the twittersphere. We could have handled it better. I know Shanley personally, have skyped and emailed her many times and interviewed her for a job at Geeklist. She is an awesome candidate that as a startup I was very sad the timing was not right to work together.

Read: We turned down Shanley for a job because she's an incompetent, crazy bitch. Ignore everything bad she says about us--it's just sour grapes.

> She is an awesome candidate that as a startup I was very sad the timing was not right to work together.

Read: Did I mention she is crazy and you shouldn't listen to her? Bullet dodged.

> Of our 5 person team 2 are women and I am certain they can speak on our behalf as respectful gentlemen in the workplace who create a welcome environment for all.

Read: We are so gentlemanly we come to work wearing top hats and monocles.

> I also own a business with my wife where we have over 350+ women employees.

Read: I have a wife. Someone who has a wife cannot be sexist or gender-biased. QED, motherfucker.

> I’ve built my career over 15 years working to make this world a better place for women, mothers, and children.

Read: I am Mother Theresa. My personal conduct is above reproach.

> In my wildest dreams we would never wish to offend any woman [or anyone].

Read: No-one likes PR shitstorms.

> The initial request made sense and we were discussing finding Gemma to take it down, when we got taken off guard a bit by her continued comments.

Read: The bitch kept mouthing off to me, which hurt my fragile male ego.

> We handled those poorly. We apologize as well if our handling of the tweets offended anyone.

Read: To reiterate: if you were offended, you are a thin-skinned whiny weakling.

> In exchange, please direct this media attention to Gemma’s company and support her company by buying her shirts.

Read: Did I mention she's a woman?

> A women entrepreneur in the valley who used our logo and the fact we wanted shirts to help promote her business to her clients too. Tech geeks.


> We are sorry.

Read: Fuck you.

For comparison's sake, look how Coda Hale handles this problem:


140 characters. Note the advanced trick he employs of explaining himself while simultaneously owning the problem. The fundamental technique there: demonstrate (somehow) that you understand the concern and that the concern is valid.

(Your annotation is more cynical than mine would be; the interesting discussion though as far as I'm concerned is "the mechanics of how to apologize effectively in an open letter").

Exactly. We fucked up. We are sorry. We have taken down the video. It won't happen again. Done. That's all you need to say. Anything more and you're just making it worse.

Actually it seems that the article was changed before you read it. One line in particular was "We never meant to offend any woman and are very sorry as we clearly have" instead of "person." Someone went through and corrected most of the language to be gender-neutral but the original was actually an interesting read in itself.

You COULDN'T case less.

Grammar and spelling flames are usually content free posts, and so you may find your post attracting downvotes. (Not from me.)

I understand that people hate the phrase "could care less".

I could care less is acceptable[1] US usage. It's been around for a surprising amount of time. "Couldn't care less" is from about 1946; "Could care less" is from 1960s.




[1] It is baffling and it's not something I would ever write. While I try (and often fail, with terrible punctuation) try be correct with my English I am very tolerant of what other people write. Especially on a site where many people are not speaking English as a first language.

>I could care less is acceptable[1] US usage.

Not true. It's incorrect and therefore not acceptable.

I guess this is how it should be done yes?

Be humble, always give apologies no matter how offensive the messenger/complainer/customer?

Unfortunately, not every one has this skill and I hope some will realize that at some point you cannot give in.

Geeklist is the villain for giving in and letting it slide downhill (it is always a PR disaster after it hits the fan) but Kane was first to throw the rock. You don't win the argument by showing how angry you can be, you win it by being the most civilized and logical about it. This isn't a "Lighten Up" situation, this is a mind your tone and I can understand the serious nature of the issue without it.

If you think there was no reason for her to publicly complain about that video, or that calling it "fucking disgusting" was so out-of-bounds that her behavior was comparable to threatening her job, then there's really nothing about this situation for you or I to discuss productively.

Either way, my point wasn't so much the specifics of this situation as how jaw-droppingly ineffective that particular apology was. You don't even have to know what they're apologizing for to see it.

Well if you believe, it is not possible to resolve something(not specifically this issue)/anything/at all without calling it "fucking disgusting" such that each/and every situation with getting customer support from a company (must) turn into a PR shit show for public study and discussion about how bad the company handled it, further giving bad examples to others that it is okay to throw tantrums/offensive statements to get support, from companies recycling the vicious cycle, then yes you are by all means right, there's really nothing about this situation for you or I to discuss productively.

Other than that the apology wasn't well played out. That's a given.

I have never asked anyone to apologize to me for using the word "fuck" and I am not interested in a debate about how serious a concern the words "fucking disgusting" are.

You're sounding a bit like "you hysterical women" "mind your tone." While I'm all for civil discourse, I certainly don't blame anyone for getting emotional or angry. And, both sides got emotional, by the way. Nobody was being calm and rational, which you could blame on Twitter.

"We never meant to offend any woman and are very sorry as we clearly have." and "In my wildest dreams we would never wish to offend any woman."

This is pretty frustrating, although I certainly accept that it's probably unintentional. I was offended by their behavior, and I'm not a woman.

I also don't appreciate the defensive "but I have tons of black friends" rhetoric. I don't care that they don't self-identify as sexist, and that their friends don't think they're sexist. I want to know that the really, deeply understand the problem and the subsequent feedback, and what is going to change moving forward. They're going to ask the producer to remove the video, but are they going to stop threatening people on twitter?

Hm, I wonder if this will be deleted as well? The two submissions of the Storify article were:



I'm a little concerned/confused as to why. If the apology is HN-appropriate content then I'm a little surprised that the reason for the apology isn't.

Well, if that isn't a bunch of BS, then I don't know what is. I'm guessing a flag army took care of them, but there's no way to know from here.

Yes- if it was a flag army removing the content then that itself says something concerning about the Hacker News community.


I was a bit on the fence until the submission to a post (http://blog.untogether.co.uk/post/19740556298/why-are-posts-...) asking about the deletions was also deleted.

Clearly there is no conversation allowed on HN about this bullshit controversy or about HN's removal of these submissions.

The second one bothers me a whole lot more, although both of them are not what I want happening on HN.

Agreed. And even if they do delete the apology too, I would appreciate an explanation.

Any attention from powers that be coming about this? Still struggling to understand why anyone would bother sweeping something relatively mild like this under the rug.

No, I posted an entry myself (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3741395) asking why the items were being flagged. It got flagged itself- should have seen that one coming...

I'm wondering if there is any information out there about how many flags it takes to delete an HN entry. If it's small enough, it's entirely possible for a group of people to coordinate and remove content that damages them from the site. Concerning.

They still seem to be missing the point. The worst part wasn't the video, which is a forgivable offense.

The fact that the founders openly threatened the woman who was complaining and their contract with her company as a means of shutting her up is egregious, and their only reference to that behavior in their apology is this:

    We could have handled it better.

"Never Ruin an Apology With an Excuse!"

The best advice I ever read... from a readers digest about 15 years ago.

Wonderful comment!

Against my better judgement, I figured out what this whole thing was about in the first place: http://storify.com/charlesarthur/oh-hai-sexism

tl;dr version - We didn't mean to offend women. We love women. We even know some women and sleep with them and stuff. (We aren't those kind of geeks who can't talk to girls.)

I am still surprised that a company like geeklist runs into such a trap[1]. Shouldn't they be knowing better? I mean, social networks are what they build, they should know the effect.

The whole internet was abuzz for a week about implied sexism and bad handling of women. But yet, they run into just the same hole. It doesn't even require to discuss the validity of the argument to see the problems in their handling: someone with high twitter reach complained about a questionable thing that they could easily drag in the trash bin (with a few phone calls). Was it even worth to pick that fight?

[1] Just to be clear: its a trap layed by themselves.

The lesson here is that defending a brand does not always mean getting defensive. Brand owners have to look at what is being attacked and decide how close it is to the core of the business. A t-shirt fashion shoot video is not the core of the Geeklist business model, so once it became a brand liability it needed to be cast off.

An example of a brand attack that DID call for a head-on approach was the iPhone 4 antenna issue. Those complaints directly attacked a core feature of one of Apple's core products. Apple needed to go on defense because they could not just cast off the iPhone 4 hardware design without very serious financial damage.

Brand owners also need to keep the personal and professional separate when their brand is under attack. Brands are created by a series of decisions. It is one or more of those decisions that are under attack, not the people who made them. In this case the issue was the decision to associate the Geeklist brand with this type of video. Decide whether or not that decision needs defending--don't mistake it for a personal attack.

"Cast off what is useless" --Bruce Lee

So....is this an apology or a design like whoa marketing scheme??

I expected at least a reference to them taking down one of their repos[1] to hide further criticism, but found none.

[1] https://github.com/geeklist/jennifer

from the screenshot ( http://imgur.com/a/cfblx#7 ) it looks like it was github.com/codahale who has written a couple posts on male privilege:

http://codahale.com/foss-and-male-privilege/ http://codahale.com/ruby-and-male-privilege/

What was it?

It was a repo of bug reports to geeklist. Someone opened an issue regarding the video

See http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3740970

Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference ~ M. Twain.

I for one am at a loss here.

Wow, this scream-sexism-at-everything police is becoming very annoying. I do not believe that the video is offensive at all.

I do think the Geeklist founders came across as petty in their constant back and forth with the lady. But to be clear, that has nothing to do with the video being offensive. It isn't.

I have to say, your annoyance likely (assuming you're a man) from a fairly privileged place. You can afford to be "annoyed" by other people voicing concerns, because this issue doesn't affect your professional life everyday.

If you want to learn more about why the video itself offends some people: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_objectification

Sorry, your link did not help me learn more about why there is such a huge uproar in this specific case beyond "meh, someone's always offended by everything."

Also, I'd say the said video is a very weak example of sexual objectification and in the grand scheme of things, it actually hurts the cause.

I think you might be overreacting. There isn't a "huge uproar." I think I and most of the other commenters I've seen are pretty calm. You can be offended and say so without being out of control or irrationally angry. I don't think that the two men in this case are evil or something. But they are emblematic of a culture that many here have a problem with.

You seemed incredulous that people are offended by the video. I pointed you to the link not because it would make mention of this specific case, but because it explicated the concept of sexual objectification and its place in feminist thinking. It's a fine example, if not an extreme one. She's being flirty in a sexy outfit because she expects that will sell shirts and bring attention to the Geeklist brand. She is trying to relate to viewers as an object of sexual desire, and to transfer that desire onto the brand. It happens all the time because, at least in our culture, it works.

I can state the same about you: you seem incredulous that people are not offended by the video. The appearance of the women in the video on their free will is proof enough.

Not at all. I haven't said that anyone should be offended. I understand why someone might not be offended. But there is a difference between not being personally offended and posting multiple comments around these threads to the effect that you find those of us who are offended annoying.

The broader point is that there is reason for some (ie. feminists, or those who care about sexism within startup culture) to be offended. Voicing that opinion shouldn't be met with threats and complaints. And they shouldn't be marginalized as "sexism police" or "screaming" or whatever else just because they state their opinions.

But there is a difference between not being personally offended and posting multiple comments around these threads to the effect that you find those of us who are offended annoying... And they shouldn't be marginalized as "sexism police" or "screaming"

Likewise, I understand this might offend some people. But there is a difference between being offended and attacking those not offended.

And those not offended or even involved with the video shouldn't be marginalized as "sexist" and or accused of objectifying women.

What you're saying in no way applies to any of my comments.

You can't be marginalized if you're the majority.

Offensive is in the eye of the beholder. Plenty of people agree that it is offensive.

I guess they didn't check this post on HN just yesterday? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3733825

Can someone do a TLDR on the video?

Or better, a link to the video itself?

it was here http://vimeo.com/27758336

tldw: a cute girl in panties and a tshirt with geeklist logo.

I hope they issued a personal one to @shanley as well. Their argumentation was way worse than the video.

Ignoring the issue/apology, I find it incredibly off-putting that the designer who got up in arms about a racy video promoting Geeklist promotes t-shirts with a pantless woman on her home, FAQ, and Pricing pages: http://www.designlikewhoa.com/

Focusing on the issue, I would say we are no better off now than before the Twitter flame-war. A personal appeal and open discussion probably would have helped, though.

And oh - her site gets a lot of attention now. That's cool.

You're missing a lot of information here. Design Like Whoa is the person who made the racy video in question. The woman who got pointed out the sexism on Twitter is Shanely Kane, who works as a developer for Basho and has nothing to do with Design Like Whoa's website.

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