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Hacker News Meetup Cologne Hostile Takeover (meetup.com)
31 points by bitboxer on Nov 7, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

Co-organizer here (Francis). We're dealing with it. In the meantime we would like to ask everyone to refrain from public attacks on this Meredith character who took over the group. Of course the Hacker News Meetup is still on & we'll announce a new date through non-meetup.com channels soon!

We're trying to get this message out while we resolve this, please help us spread it!


As you may know, today the Hacker News Cologne Meetup.com group got hijacked. That doesn't mean it's not business as usual, though: The next meetup is scheduled for 1900 hrs CET @ Solution Space on Nov 28th and we have a new exciting special guest from the US on Skype and a YCombinator alum who will be joining us IRL to share from his experiences with us.

We're resolving the meetup.com hijacking farce in a civilized manner, so it would be cool if:

1) We all refrain from personal attacks on the hijacker

2) We all help spread this message far & wide. We personally can’t reach everyone directly, but hey, this is the intarwebs and you know better than us how to get the word out to the right people.

We will discuss and decide on an alternative to Meetup.com during our next IRL meetup.

Cheers, The Crew (Francis, Vidar & Maik … the original HN Meetup Cologne Organizers)

Okay, the link is now dead. A women called Meredith did a hostile takeover of the hacker news cologne meetup group and renamed it. She removed Vidar, the main organizer from the Admin list and now has full controll of the meetup group.

This is outrages that it is even possible to do this.

Is this an issue with Meetup.com or did someone willingly give her admin? /concerned meetup organizer

Vidar hat problems with the payment of the group and was in discussion with meetup to fix this. While a group is in an "unpaid" state everyone can step in and pay the fee to get full admin rights to the group. After getting full admin rights, that Women removed Vidar, renamed the group and removed the discussion form and mailing list.

This is really bad that this can happen.

Is that really true? If you start a meetup.com group and fail to pay a bill, anyone can take it over?

Yes, it's true.

From the http://www.meetup.com/terms/

3.3 Meetup Group Fees;

[...](3) Meetup Groups. Organizers who allow their Basic Group Fee Subscription to lapse are subject to removal as the Organizer of the Meetup Group that they lead, and their Meetup Group may be terminated or transferred to another Organizer. [...]

Yeah, it's happened before too. In fact, I think all the members of the group get an email asking if they'd like to pay and take over. At least they used to.

I've also been told that it's tricky to remove a group, which means if you want to disband it, you have to manually remove all your members one by one unless you want to potentially subject them to a spammy takeover like has happened here. Removing members from your groups is also a pretty painfully slow process.

I got this very email about a month or two ago and was pretty startled that they'd just up and let anyone take over instead of having the admin determine a plan for the group if he leaves or doesn't keep his payments up when he creates the group. It was totally out of the blue and there wasn't even an opportunity for him to send out one final message or let people know what was going on.

Given the way the site looks and functions, I'm surprised there isn't a more popular alternative. If anyone knows of any, I'd love to hear about it.

So I just got back from talking to the Meetup.com people. Doesn't seem like there will be a policy change.

That's really unfortunate. Thanks for the response, though!

We'll keep you posted what the community decides on using instead in our next meetup.

Can you point to an example of this happening before?

(edit to answer my own question:) I found this & yes that seems scary as hell:

"Neglect to pay the Org dues for greater than 14 days, in which case the group becomes available and anyone can take it over"


Now the group is called Cologne Startups. And you can report the "Meredith" account for abuse here:


This is so strange as that woman is not even in or from Cologne, but located in NYC, which makes it kinda hard for her to organize a meeting in Germany. No idea what benefits such a take over could have for her.

She seems to imply she'll be going back, or something. From her profile (http://www.meetup.com/Cologne-Startup-Pitch-Night/members/68...):

  Hello! I am excited to get to know everyone at our events
  as one of the networking groups in Germany focused on 
  building startups by focusing on improving pitches and 
  finding co-founders. Living in USA, loved living in 
  Germany, looking to travel.

Well not a good starting point for networking in Cologne.

It doesn't look dead for me: it's now called "Startup Pitch Night".

It's a very sleazy way of getting meetup members. I bet her other "groups" were also formed this way. Sounds like Meredith Monroe is selling some kind of scammy product to startup companies.

In a way, it's also brilliant -- hack your way into acquiring targeted audiences without the audience knowing they signed up for something slightly different. But yeah, I would probably put Meredith Monroe into the same bucket of people who acquired my email from various sources and is now trying to sell me viagra pills.

The link was to a public post on that group that described the situation. That post was removed as was the complete discussion and mailing list

Oh, I see!

Yes, the group name was changed from "Hacker News Cologne Meetup" by the new unsolicited "organizer".

And it has now been renamed again to "Cologne Startups".

Hi, Vidar, the original co-organizer here. We're on top of the situation and will be announcing the next Hacker News Meetup Cologne tomorrow. In the meantime, it would be cool if everybody refrains from personal attacks on Meredith. It seems she's a real person. Let's keep it nice and clean.

It seems there was a concerted effort to take over the meetup.com group where the hijacker joined with two profiles in two steps with a clear intent of a hostile takeover.

First they joined with one (profile X) to listen in, then a second (profile Y) with the same name when the group was about to expire. Then profile Y "stepped up" to take over the group and delegated org status to profile X too.

They then later removed profile X completely, leaving only Y (all the time profile X and Y identically named, identically looking) as the organizer.

The timing of the events as observed seem to support this thesis.

(Update). Doing some testing, we also found it quite easy to find expiring meetup.com groups in public, e.g. https://www.google.com/search?q=%22This+Meetup+no+longer+has...

It would be cool if everybody who posted the URL to the previous Hacker News Cologne meetup.com group on their blogs or profiles would update it to http://hncgn.org and help reach out to everybody informing them of the change. Thanks!

I just want to caution folks that whoever did this using this "Meredith" account is not necessarily (and most likely is not) Meredith, the person. It's much more likely that a hacked account would be used to do something malicious like this.

This "Meredith" also runs these meetup groups as well:




She's also a member of multiple meetup groups in NYC, so my guess is that she's likely a real person who lives in NYC, but just happens to want to be an admin for other meetup groups in random cities.

This was found by simply doing a reverse image search of her profile picture on google images.

She also the organizer of Startup Pitch Night, which explains her meetup affiliations. Her full LinkedIn profile can be found here:


(the profile used the same profile photo found on meetup.com)

Yes, I saw that but it does not help me understand why someone would want to do something like this. That being said, the best approach right now is to consider the Meetup.com null & void for the purpose of "Hacker News Cologne Meetup". We'll discuss alternatives IRL during the next meetup. (see post above)

I think it's fairly obvious why someone would do this? Suppose you want to create an event that happens to have a similar audience as those who might attend a Hacker News meetup. Now you can create a marketing message to those people without spending any effort in recruiting members. It's easier to do a hostile takeover than trying to create a meetup event from scratch.

In a way, it's like buying a very targeted email list.

However, I'm sure there will probably be a backlash in this case, and I doubt Meredith would show up at any of these events because she'll probably get stoned to death there.

Exactly what I was thinking & what got me worried: why do this if your intentions are honest? I hope this is just a terrible case of bad judgement. We may be pirates, but we gave up stoning a while ago. May I suggest a good discussion over a glass of Koelsch instead? I know who'll be buying!

I hope we can all refrain from personally attacking this person. Let's keep it nice and clean. No need to escalate.

I'm curious if anyone on here is familiar with an xxx@cyvi.be email address. cyvi.be redirects to bitly. Is this a sign of something more malicious or part of known abuse tactics? Like ghurlman I'm getting a feeling that this is not innocent at all ...

Update: Meetup.com support finally got back to me and is now working to restore the group, fully or in part depending on the damage done. Before we rush to conclusions, please consider that no decision has been made to continuing using meetup.com as the community platform. That's up to you to decide at the next meetup. As Apple says, "We like to have options". ;)

I hope they remove that Meredith Character completely from Meetup.com and change the policies to prevent hostile group takeovers in the future.

We are also in touch with the dev people at meetup.com voicing our concerns about the ease of automated group scavenging. ;)

For HNCGN people stumbling on this thread, I've posted an official announcement of the next and 11th Hacker News Meetup Cologne http://stopmebeforeiblogagain.com/hacker-news-cologne-meetup...

The backstory is that I, Vidar Andersen, the original initiator of the Cologne meetup - initially make a mistake.

I made a mistake in not updating my payment details before my credit card expired earlier this year. Meetup.com then automatically stepped me down as an organizer and mailed the group that I had stepped down as an organizer. IMO that's a pretty lame way of doing business, but hey, it's their business and not mine. Apparently it works for them.

Then I tried to update my payment details with new credit card details to no avail. It just wasn't possible to make meetup.com accept any new credit card for me anymore. I was only getting error messages. I then contacted Meetup.com and notified them about the situation.

At that same time, I asked co-organizer Francis to and add a credit card to automatically take over as organizer for me and reinstate my organizer status. Said. Done. Problem solved, right? Not so fast.

In the meantime, meetup.com got back to me and revoked Francis' status and gave the organizer status back to me with a kind offer of an extended new grace period as organizer to sort the payment issue out. Meanwhile, I was still unable to update my payment details and add any new credit card credentials without getting error messages and I notified Meetup.com of this. I have still yet to hear back from them on that.

It's worth noting that had meetup.com just left it as it were with Francis' payment details as the organizer, we wouldn't have been in this predicament in the first place.

Yesterday when the group had yet to expire and I had yet to hear back from meetup.com on my latest issue report, the Hacker News Cologne Meetup group was taken over by an unknown individual. Or in meetup.com's parlance, someone "stepped up to be the organizer" of the group.

I immediately reached out to this person informing them of the payment issue situation, thanking them for stepping up but informing them that it was neither needed or wanted, offering to resolve the ownership issue amicably and in private as soon as possible. I never heard back.

In stead I woke up to what now seems to be a blatant attempt to aggressively acquire customers for their event(s). The name, logo and purpose of the group had been changed to something completely different.

Then mass mailings started to arrive from the person who had taken over our group accusing, us the real organizers, of lying and trying to change the group [back to the original state]. Needless to say, we do not agree.

As I scrambled to counter the accusations and inform the group's members, we the original organizers were getting our organizer status removed from this individual. We were also barred from mailing to the group without censorship and approval by the same individual. Needless to say, those messages did not come through to the group. Then I posted the same messages to the group's message boards, just to find the hijacker removing the boards altogether. In a matter of minutes we were effectively shut out, unable to communicate with the community over meetup.com.

So that's where we're at right now. We the original Hacker News Cologne Meetup organizers are completely out of control of our own community platform on meetup.com. We've filed a complaint with meetup.com to resolve the situation and it is still pending a reply. And yes, we do appreciate the sweet irony of a hacker group hacked as we move on.

We apologize for the intermission and it's now back to business as usual: We'll meet up again on schedule with two awesome new speakers lined up for you at SolutionSpace, November 28th 1900 CET.

This time we are relying on you instead of meetup.com to get the word out. You know what to do.

I was removed from the group, too.

Let's get everybody to leave the meetup.com group.

That Women deactivated the feature to see who is a member of that group. We can't contact all of them, only the people we know. Manually.

First thing I did was to save the members list. :) I've already reached out to 99% percent of the members but we still need everybody's help getting the word out: http://hncgn.org

And it's gone. http://www.meetup.com/Hacker-News-Cologne/ == "The Meetup Group you're looking for doesn't exist."

Have you been contacted by meetup.com till now? Why don't they react on this shit?

meetup.com has a 36h reply policy and to their credit, they did get back to us well within that trime frame now and we're now working to have the group restored.

This just in. The name of the hijacked group is now "Hacker News - Deleting - Documented extreme libel by members" and the "Meredith" character has removed their profile image.

Keep calm and carry on.

And we're back in control at the original meetup.com group.

Guys, thanks for your support and thanks to the guys at meetup.com com for handing the group back to the community.

This submission got a sudden drop in ranking. http://hnrankings.info/4754269/

I noticed. What do you think caused the drop?

One reason could be someone with downvoting rights downvoted this to oblivion.

I don't see why someone would use their admin privileges to downvote this thread, though. Maybe just the effect of falling off the front page? We had no intentions of making this public ourselves (as to avoid feeding the troll) and we're just trying to get our perspective of the situation across now that the cat is out of the bag here.

This has happened with other submissions that first had significant (democratic) support by the HN community, then someone/something came along and gave its strong undemocratic majestic downvote.

Now I got kicked out of the group as well.

Were there any further messages or mails sent from the new "organizer"?

No, just a generic "You were removed from this group" Meetup message.

And now I was removed too. Yay.

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