Tech Startup Pulls ‘Sexist’ Contest After Negative Coverage

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Remember how Silicon Valley was still trying to shake its reputation as a rumpus room for antisocial geeks and overgrown fratboys?

Today The Verge reported a contest that briefly confirmed all those delicious stereotypes at once because why the hell not?

We had never heard of the startup OnePlus before today, but they apparently make smartphones in addition to planning poorly thought-out “ladies night”-style competitions on their own web forum. The idea behind the competition: ladies (and only ladies) were to draw a picture of the company’s logo on their bodies or a piece of paper and submit the resulting images. The forum’s readers would then “upvote” their favorites and the 50 top “winners” would get…a t-shirt. And a chance to buy the phone in question at full price.

In other words, it was like a public version of Tindr.

The resulting mess read a bit like a particularly awkward reddit thread until the company pulled it thanks to the Verge post.

Some examples:

“Just bought my girlfriend a One so there is no need for her to show off herself here”

“I think that the admins havent realised yet that this forum is a pure sausage fest.”

“With all of the publicity this thread will be generating, it will be worth at least one free phone. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?”

You may be shocked to learn that the thread included more pics of photoshopped porn stars submitted by (we hope) adolescent males than real photos of women who wanted to buy one of these phones.

We thankfully did not have time to scroll through 77 pages worth of entries, but there were a couple of exceptions to that rule in which women posted earnest selfies after drawing logos on their hands or faces.

The Verge post in question, however, apparently drove the OnePlus admin team into disaster mode. They quickly cancelled the contest and removed the thread. Here’s the quickly released statement:

“Women make up half the world, and we want to help them be more involved in tech. We understand that our contest was in bad taste, and have therefore pulled it. All participants will be contacted for prizes.

We apologize and we will course correct for the future. At the same time, we would love to hear your feedback on how we can better get women involved in tech.”

Nice cleanup job. Interestingly, the comments in the apology thread are fairly balanced between “why was everybody upset, stop complaining” and “good work”. One commenter gave a nice summary:

“Its all about perception. Posting a pic of oneself as a female showing support is fine. But as soon as you put the pics up for a vote youve crossed over the line into objectification. That’s what most people found sexist. Because it was.”

Basic guiding principle here: unless your product is a dating app, popularity contests based on appearance are probably not a great idea.