Scott Hanselman

Why You Should Never Argue in 140 Characters or Less - Geeklist

March 22, 2012 Comment on this post [39] Posted in Blogging | Musings
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There is a fascinating "storify" (a list of tweets with commentary that make up a story of what happened on Twitter) by Charles Arthur about an uncomfortable back and forth on Twitter between Shanley Kane, an engineer at Basho, and Christian Sanz and Reuben Katz, the founders of

UPDATE: Here is a link to's apology.

The nutshell is that Shanley came upon this ridiculous video (photos here) of a girl in her underwear dancing around with a Geeklist T-Shirt. According to the Geeklist site, it is an "achievement-based social portfolio builder" for developers. Programming is an intellectual pursuit and any kind of "-ism" is totally inappropriate. In this case, immature sexism is a huge turn off. It's been a week of sexism in technology on the Internets.

But this post is less about that, as we can all agree that girls dancing in their underwear is a poor way to promote programming. I want to talk about Twitter, your Customers, your Brand, and Bile.

Shanley tweeted to the founders of Geeklist a totally reasonable question.

At this point, Geeklist should have recognized what Shanley was really saying. This was a chance for them to re-notice the video in context and be reminded it should probably not exist. Instead, they replied with a non-answer answer with no recognition of the underlying question.

OK, a little dense, but here's where it goes south. Shanley, who is clearly and rightfully upset, asks that they take it down but she drops an F-bomb. Fine, she's pissed, not the point.

Boom. Stop there. You've got a customer who is upset, rightfully so, about an -ism, also a hot button. She's reaching out to you to validate her frustration AND most importantly handle your business. Every time a person reaches out to you on Twitter, it's a chance for you to put your best foot forward. This is the first impression. Get it right. You have only 140 characters.

At this point there's no turning back. It doesn't matter at this point that the video in question was made by a friend of Geeklist. It doesn't matter that Geeklist is/was a good product. What matters is that the founders were thoughtless in their response on Twitter.

Twitter is not chat, it's not IRC. And even it it was, the thing that I see companies forget over and over and over again is this. Companies need to know: You're on the Internet. Things that you say here matter and will be archived forever and repeated.

Shanley then nails it with this tweet:

This is Geeklist's last opportunity to fix this. They should watch their tone, fall on their swords and handle their business. Surprisingly (or not) they go on for two dozen more tweets. It's really hard to read. Good on Shanley for not backing down. Note Charles Arthur's commentary:

[Shanley] Kane complained about a video. [Geeklist's Christian] Sanz took offence because of how he was addressed, rather than treating it as a legitimate complaint about content. Now both he and his co-founder are subtly signaling that they will make life difficult for her and her company

Stop here. Note. You will never win an argument on Twitter. You think arguments on the Internet are hard? Counting the characters until someone invokes Hitler? Pardon me while I quote myself, via Twitter.

Acknowledge your mistakes, be kind, stay positive, respond with respect and thoughtfulness. You are in public  and you are teaching people how to treat you. You likely cannot win an argument on online, and you can never win one on Twitter.

This story is a great example about how not to manage your brand on Twitter. Of course, in this case they were also totally wrong, but trying to argue their point in 140 characters just dug the hole deeper.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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March 22, 2012 19:28
You'd think, by now, tech companies would have learned the phrase: "You are right, we were wrong, we're sorry and it won't happen again." That's only a little over half a tweet.
March 22, 2012 19:30
Dude, YES.
March 22, 2012 19:31
Well explained, sir. Well done!

This blog post is legitimate to be a case for the BA students and yet another reminder of the fact that showing woman flesh is the cheapest advertisement act in this old planet.
March 22, 2012 19:39
While I agree that you shouldn't argue over Twitter (or Facebook or most anything other than face to face) and while I agree that Geeklist should have handled this better, I also see that Shanley didn't handle this very well either.

I also must point out that it seems in today's world that so many people are just itching to get offended by one of the -ism's. I meet more and more people (and hear them on TV, Radio, Internet, etc.) that become angry about something at the drop of a hat.

At this point, I would be remiss to point out that this is a perfect place for capitalism (oops...wonder if someone will get mad at that -ism) to work. If a site (or a place of business, service, etc.) offends you, then don't patronize them any more. Dropping your business with them usually works better than making profanity-laced demands that will simply escalate the argument. If enough people are offended by it and stop doing business with them, the problem will be worked out, either by the business fixing the problem or going out of business. Either way, the problem is fixed.

Might they ignore the fact that you are no longer their customer? Yes, they might. However, they can't ignore a loss of a lot of business. People vote with their feet and their pocketbooks. It works every time.

I say all that to say this: There are more productive ways to handle this sort of problem than with constant and immediate outrage.

As a matter of fact, any problem can be handled better by something other than constant and immediate outrage.

March 22, 2012 19:52
I do agree that Shanley's F-bomb didn't help, but the Geeklist guys could have handled that wish grace and the story would have stopped there. Her swearing was coming from a place of anger of course.
March 22, 2012 19:59
Of course, and that is my point. Getting angry usually doesn't help...instead it usually hurts. A logical, well-thought-out course of action is generally preferable to acts of anger.

We all get to make choices about out actions. We decide for ourselves when to be angry and when to handle a situation in a more constructive manner.

In other words, the old saying is true...two wrongs don't make a right.

The world would be a much better place if people would think about things before reacting out of anger. I know, at this point, I sound like a pacifist, but that is far from true. I believe that sometimes harsh reactions are necessary...I just don't think that this was one of those times, or the correct venue.

I think, sometimes, that the Vulcans had it right. ;)
March 22, 2012 20:02
You have 140 multiplied by n characters, no? (cont)
March 22, 2012 20:07
Yeah, a narrow-band medium like Twitter isn't a good candidate for conducting conversations on highly charged topics, and I actually think that that's just as true of the original complaint as much as the ill-judged replies from the Geeklist founders. Although the video seems to have been taken down the photos from the shoot are still on their facebook page, which says to me that they still really don't get what the actual problem is. I think by focusing on the video specifically the broader problem hasn't been acknowledged i.e. allowing hotpants and thongs with your logo on is inevitably going to lead to depictions of women that you probably don't want your brand associated with.
March 22, 2012 20:37
Thank you for sharing this. We're both sad and have learned much from this.
March 22, 2012 20:40
Thank you Reuben. I'll add your link to the top of the post.
March 22, 2012 20:53
Oh my goodness that was painful to read.

You could have also titled this post "Why you shouldn't act like a hyper sensitive 7 year old".

I don't know what Geeklist is, but after reading that embarrassing exchange, I'm in no way interested in finding out.
March 22, 2012 20:54
Did it occur to anyone that both sides were wrong? I'm sorry but the second you use the F word, you can't expect the other person to remain nice to you. It should have just ended with a silence right after the F word. Christian got all the negative attention because he tried in vain to argue with a person that clearly did not want a dialog.
March 22, 2012 21:01
Anna - I agree, and I wouldn't have approached them with that much anger, but I still believe it's on the company to take the high road in these cases.
March 22, 2012 21:05
I can only hope that's management reads your blog. In my opinion, their ads are by far the worst when it comes objectification of women (or if not the worst, the most popular).
March 22, 2012 22:10

While I appreciate the article and everyone's sentiments; it sure feels like a lot of people are piling on a very small company. Or maybe fell onto them from a high horse.

Perhaps, I'm a little jaded, but isn't the objectification of women pretty much the foundation of a large majority of advertising? I dunno. These guys didn't invent it. And while I totally agree with "Programming is an intellectual pursuit and any kind of "-ism" is totally inappropriate." 100%, I think you are going to see that line blur more and more as programming grows in popularity. If you dream of a future where kids program their grandparents applications for their birthdays then it will not always be just an intellectual pursuit; its just a new way for people to communicate. And people will always find a way to integrate sex into any form of communication.

It's a little crazy, and I totally understandable she reached out in this context, but this whole story just feels like a tale about a twitter fight. And there are plenty of those go around.

March 22, 2012 23:21
While I can be kind of sexist in person and among friends, I really despise sexism when it comes to business, ads, etc. GoDaddy annoys me to no end and I've always wondered how a serious company can do any business with them. (does GoDaddy even sound like a name for a company?!)

In that case though, I find Shanley's approach terrible. It's even damaging for the whole 'sexism' discussion, because trying to be rational and seeing this beauty queen's attitude on the other side invokes feelings of "I'm not gonna deal with this (a bunch of sexist words)'s bullshit". They could have handled it more gracefully, but she also kept pushing as if deliberately trying to annoy them.

Also, Charles Arthur's comments are biased. The title of the story is "OH HAI SEXISM" which is well, childish and I didn't exactly expect an objective view on the events.

While the "women in technology" discussion is not baseless, this is not the only sector where the male to female ratio isn't 1:1, I think the amount of White Knights in our sector is more than usual which can be detrimental to any sensible discussion on the problem at hand.

In the end, I'm not defending the video/pics. The video is protected now, but I saw the pics and... they are tasteless at best.

More final words - I work as a dev in a company where the ratio IS about 1:1 and in my team there are actually more females than males, so it is possible this is a more sensitive issue in other places.
March 23, 2012 3:53
Video is awesome. I am signing up for geeklist right now. Every market goes after what sells, sex. They know their audience. Overly sensitive geek bloggers should shut it.
March 23, 2012 4:25
While Twitter isn't the correct medium, a personal soapbox with moderated comments is different.
March 23, 2012 8:49
Nah, I am signing up for geeklist because now they experienced their first nontechnical problem and their response, although... now I read the whole deal and wow... I mean if this life was a rpg I would be a person who totally not spent any points in the social skills but not even I could fall this far.

Although Mr. Reuben says Mr. Sanz handled this coolly I'd disagree... whole thing smells of anger heavily on's part. And the escalation rate? Seriously guys?! If you, they, are reading this commentary, they should click on the link which lists the events in a nice to follow order and read all of them if they were a stranger. Shanley's f-word wasn't a stellar piece of diplomacy I have to admit but does not justify the thermonuclear war waged in twitter.

I mean I initially thought, "oh, these things happen. technical guys are not good at pr and they made an apology so all is fine..." and registered for the beta but now I regret this decision, honestly. Sure, they did not contract the video to happen; sure, they did not have any - I don't know this is the word but - jurisdiction over it but they do have control over their twitter accounts. Saying "You are right, we were wrong, although this is not a video we made. we're sorry and it won't happen again." (as TheProkrammer stated with an addition from me) does not kill anybody and shows you in a better light than waging war.

No matter what you personally think, you have to act cool in situations like this. If you have locked yourself in a defensive mental state, you are not thinking. You have engaged your primal "fight-or-flee" instincts and that does not generate any productive results.

Sorry for my english by the way, not my native language so if I made any blunders... apologies.
March 23, 2012 10:48
Love this, apparently there's a lot of douches working in software dev over the pond. After reading therealkatie's blog post I realized how lucky I am having female co-workers that never felt like she has.

This whole sexism seems to have gone too far, replace the girl with Christian Sanz, think anyone would call it sexist then and start attacking Geeklist? Doubt that.
March 23, 2012 14:23
I haven't watched the video but saw a pic somewhere and read the storify. Looks like the GoDaddy nonsense and I don't get how this is supposed to be promoting anything.

This kind of childish conversation happens everywhere and I am glad social media is bringing these to the top so people can learn from others mistakes. In this case, both sides dealt with it in an immature manner.

Then I click on the apology link and read this: "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"

Keep that in mind when look at this site:

Think about it. You'll learn a lot about yourself.
March 23, 2012 15:02
"out of love" sure, yeah. that's why geeklist was listed as a customer on the example page, probably...

March 23, 2012 15:19
I haven't seen the video or the pictures as they are both gone/blocked at this point. However, I don't think that matters given my feelings about this.

If a company said, "Sorry, we'll take it down" every time someone complained that they were offended by content on the internet there would be no content on the internet.

Someone will always be offended by something. Don't like what's on TV? Change the channel. It's the button on the remote with the up/down arrows. Don't like what you see on the internet? There's a close button on the browser (hint: it's the little X in the top-right corner (on Windows anyway)). Expecting someone to remove their content because you don't like it or don't agree with it is just asinine and displays a level of self-importance that just ticks me off.

Just to be clear. Shanley (who I have never heard of before now) has every right to be offended and/or upset by the video. She crossed the line when she told to take it down. I also have a hard time taking the whole, "I'm offended by sexism" too seriously from someone who self-describes herself as "beauty queen" on her Twitter page.
March 23, 2012 15:37
This is total bs... geeklist is loving the attention... to be honest, i am not really offended by the video but I am more offended by their response and angry about the fact that they are actually gaining more customers from all this "bad" PR...

Tip to startups: invent a scandal and be completely apologetic after... people will forgive you.
March 23, 2012 16:09
Probably the point where @csanz wrote "@shanley @rekatz ? why the agressive tone" it should have moved to a DM, or even personal contact. By putting it out there into the public the incentive to "win" the argument increased exponentially ... especially since the consequence of losing is being viewed as sexist. I imagine that much of Geeklist's response was a knee jerk response to being viewed as sexist. When one is accused of being sexist/racist/bigoted/homophobic most people have a hard time stepping back from the argument and just conceding because they feel like they must defend their character. Character attacks, whether intentional, unintentional, or just misconstrued as being such seldom end well.
March 23, 2012 18:12
So if I read the apology correctly (and phrasing it to fit in a single tweet and with a reusable placeholder so the same defense can be recycled for other offendees), it amounted to: "We have a ton of _____ friends. It wasn't us. It was this woman we know. Go give her 'the business'."
March 23, 2012 18:32
Ugh. First (at least in my RSS feed lineup) its Haack accusing us of being afraid because we don't try to force unwilling women into IT, now we're getting a lesson on sexism in advertisement.

This particular example of a twitter argument is particularly aggravating. Tired of the passive-aggressive move of claiming "victimhood", then using this as a weapon to bludgeon anyone within arms reach. "You did something that I can take offense to, and I don't like you, so I'm going to use this as an opportunity to try and destroy you, while claiming to be victimized and coming out looking like a hero." Please.

Can we cut this shit out? In all aspects of life, not just this particular situation? Seriously. Its getting ridiculous.
March 23, 2012 19:33
Yes, everything you said in this post is technically correct. But why man, why does this need to be an issue. It's Twitter, just let it be. Nothing useful came out of any of this, including this very comment.

Happy Friday :)
March 23, 2012 20:09
It's not sexism, that is taking it too far. There are plenty of examples where men are objectified. Sexism would suggest that a woman is being treated differently (in a negative way) than a man based completely on sex. This is not happening here without stretching the story. Distasteful to some, yeah, but entertainment to many more. The only mistake this company made was responding to the girl in the first place, better of ignoring her.

Don't like it, move on.
March 23, 2012 20:12
Best blog post title ever. :) But I digress...

I didn't read this as a "lesson on sexism"... while Scott does make his views on the underlying issue at hand here known, his main point seems to be that when a company finds itself embroiled in a hot-button controversy, statements that come off as defensive and justifying are the WORST ones that it can possibly make if the intent is to defuse the issue. And that saying "Sorry- we will rectify the issue" should not be seen as capitulation, but rather the smart and savvy way to respond if your aim is to strengthen your brand.

I hope that these points don't get lost in the "-isms" in this post because I think they are good ones. And timely.
March 23, 2012 20:40
Thank you. Your article iullustrates well, a rapidly increasing phenomenon as the online world continues to speed up, and with a maturity of character that is depserately needed in our online communities these days. Other programmers look up to you when they read your blog, and posts like this go a long way in leading whether you intend to or not.

To some point I agree with other commenters about the overall sensitivities in modern communication, but I think it's fair to say (with a little dry satire to lighten the mood) "the Chinaman is not the issue here, Donnie." We all believe in free speech and that it is important we honestly express our feelings and opinions, but the manner in which we do so - hopefully with acknowlegement and respect for others - is more important. For businesses especially, this should be a swift no-brainer.

When a person drops the F-bomb, makes fun of our mothers, or how we still use VBScript tools, we can still react with grace and humility.

If it's alright, I wanted to share a quote. Its words may read exclusive of the female gender, but only because the context is from a father's letter to a son. Its message applies to all of us:

"[One] does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others."

I have fail at this time and time again, but I continue to try.

...especially once I fully realized digital permanence... that lame highschool poetry eternally minted on a magnetic disk somewhere, that I'll never find and smash.

Thanks again, Scott.
March 23, 2012 20:51
@Kirstin Juhl

I completely agree. Even if we toss -isms out the ring and agree to avoid (my admittedly) preachy ethics commentary... it is still, in a self-focused business's best interest, to ensure that apology "not be seen as capitulation, but rather the smart and savvy way to respond..." Well said.
March 23, 2012 21:34
"When a person drops the F-bomb, makes fun of our mothers, or how we still use VBScript tools, we can still react with grace and humility."

THIS. If the reaction had been properly managed during the initial exchange, at *worst* the company would have endured is removing a video they themselves realized was on the bubble as far as taste, and had a cranky tweet they dealt with.

Instead they Barbra Streisand Effected all over themselves and turned it into a drama show for the Internet to marvel over.

When was the last time a company gained market-share by publicly lambasting a critic: even one that made an error in tone? Threatening her *job* though? An inexcusable childish temper tantrum that undermines so much potential goodwill.

March 23, 2012 22:44
this Shanley Kane person is just another idiot on the internet. if i upload a video, i won't take my video down just because she doesn't like my video. she's the usual american idiot, thinks she's the center of the world. grow up, ppl.
March 24, 2012 18:01
I wonder if there would be an uproar if somebody asked them to take the video down because the guy in it might fall into a 'geek' stereotype that some people hold.

Or switch-up some of the stereotypes. Geek girl with guy in his underwear? Two Hollywood looking actors that don't fit any stereotype of those those who follow 'intellectual pursuits'? How exactly could they 'cleanse' the video so as not to offend anybodies real or perceived 'isms' they've encountered in their life? Kittens maybe.

To Scott's point, the story here has nothing to do with any 'ism' whatsoever. It's just bad execution of PR; both for the Twitter argument and, in my opinion, the lame video in the first place.
March 26, 2012 16:36
Your tweet really drives the point home. It's really hard to correctly extract tone, intent, and context from a limited text-based medium. From a previous employer who constantly accused me of being sarcastic in emails, I came up with this rule:
If you are looking sarcasm, you will always find it.

Something similar applied here. Geeklist assumed it was an attack instead of an upset (potential) customer. While it could have been an attack, it's far and away safer to treat the "attacker" as an upset customer and win them back.
March 29, 2012 12:38
while i do agree with the actual point of the post in that it's a bad idea to represent your business by publicly aruging over something emotionally charge. it's even worse in the medium chosen, as you correctly point out. i will add that it's even more so the case when you are dealing with an unreasonable person, which i believe to be the case in this instance, which brings me to where i disagree.

calling this sexism is what is really offensive here. sexism refers to treating someone unfairly on the basis of their gender - as in firing or refusing to hire or coercing sexual favors under threat of consequences.

i will admit something. i like sex. i like sexuality. things that appeal to my sexuality appeal to me. an ad with sexual suggestion is intended to appeal to a target audience to which those things appeal. advertising in such a form does not make one a sexist. getting fired up and attacking someone and hurling insults and f-bombs and demanding that others behave exactly as you say they should because you don't like their ad is unreasonable and by far the greater of the evils in this case.

if you don't like the ad and/or the response to the criticism, don't use the business. get over yourself and your view that everybody in the world should think exactly like you and cave to your demands that they do so. not everybody thinks sexuality is "f***ing gross".

my view is that sexuality is a part of life and if a business wants to use it in their ads to appeal to an audience (it appeals to me), they should be free to do so. many think it's inappropriate to use sexuality in ads. if you think so and it bothers you enough, don't do business with those who use it. let the market decide if it's appropriate.
April 03, 2012 7:54
Their mistake was giving attention to someone who was looking for attention.

It doesn't matter if she found it offensive or not, you don't go to a company and start yelling (and cursing). Police would show up within 5minutes and arrest you.

Would have been a lot friendlier to send the company a private message explaining it's offensive and to ask for removal and an apology. If the company agrees, all is handled very clean. If the company still disagrees, then go gather your army of white knights to lay wrath upon them.

Nobody won. She humiliated herself and in the end nobody cared about the video. Geeklist made a fool of themselves in the way they discussed it.
June 26, 2012 9:08
i think this quote from

sums it up best

"it's kind of like when a husband and wife get into an argument, and she calls the cops and hits herself in the face before they arrive and they take the husband to jail."

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.