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Startup Founder Plays Tech Press Like a Fiddle 135

theodp writes "Steinar Skipsnes came up with a unique way to get more women into tech. Make them up. Posing as 'Sarah Hanson,' a 19-year-old woman who claimed to have auctioned off 10% of her future income in return for $125,000 to fund her Senior Living Map startup, Skipsnes pitched the story via email to generate press coverage. It worked — VentureBeat, HuffPo, Yahoo!, AOL, GeekWire, and others took the bait. But after doubts were aired about the story, Skipsnes fessed up to concocting the too-good-to-be-true hoax about the female teen entrepreneur to appeal to the interests of the tech press. 'I started to think "what if I took the elements of what the press loves and created a story?"' Skipsnes explained. "So I did.'"
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Startup Founder Plays Tech Press Like a Fiddle

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  • Fraud? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRealMindChild ( 743925 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @09:38AM (#43545477) Homepage Journal
    Isn't this fraud (... deception intended to result in financial or personal gain)?
    • It is if he harms anyone...
      • And in this case, who would be harmed? Would you feel emotionally traumatized because you were tricked into having hope for a white male you would never have given a second thought to otherwise?
        • Did you need me to define who, or harm? five point test []
          I am not really sure how the white male thing applies, unless you are just quasi-racist like so many today are. So I'm just gonna leave that one alone.
          • With all else being equal, if there are specific laws that ensure that someone who IS NOT a white male is given preference, then the white male is not the one proven to have demonstrated racism.
    • Re:Fraud? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Feyshtey ( 1523799 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @01:37PM (#43547719)
      Is it no less fraudulent for a white male to name a minority, or a female (or both) as 51% owner of his business that she has limited experience and no financial investment in, so that he is more able to secure priority status in government contracts? And yet this is not just a standard practice, it is almost a necessity for a white male who is win bids for those contracts.
      • Is it no less fraudulent for a white male to name a minority, or a female (or both) as 51% owner of his business that she has limited experience and no financial investment in, so that he is more able to secure priority status in government contracts? And yet this is not just a standard practice, it is almost a necessity for a white male who is win bids for those contracts.

        Someone with mod points, please give this post a boost!!

        This person knows of what they speak.

        It isn't with just large contracts eithe

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just more proof that been shown again and again that if a story fits the media's narriative template that they will not fact check a story.

    • Re:Template (Score:5, Insightful)

      by saveferrousoxide ( 2566033 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @09:50AM (#43545573)

      if a story fits the media's narriative template that they will not fact check a story

      unfortunately, that's not restricted to the media. It's just human nature to be less skeptical of something that fits your worldview. We would like to hold all journalists to a higher standard and would like them to scrutinize every story with the same level of skepticism, but alas, only a select few hold to that ideal and even fewer of those have enough clout to sway the corporation behind the news.

      • I don't trust journalism for good reasons. I wish I didn't have to but they are making it hard for me not to remain skeptical.
        • Journalism? WTF are you talking about? This is the tech press. It's a glorified xerox machine for company PR releases.

          • Well, every niche that has article writers is that, unfortunately. Gaming press is even corrupt to the point they are being told to give good reviews to the games.
      • There are people who are skeptical of things, regardless of whether they fit their world view or not. We call them "scientists."

    • Re:Template (Score:5, Informative)

      by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <`gameboyrmh' `at' `'> on Thursday April 25, 2013 @10:41AM (#43546035) Journal

      I keep thinking about James O'Keefe's fake video that led to the shutdown of ACORN. It's amazing how powerful this simple hoax was, it produced the intended result quickly and precisely. No fact-checking was done by anyone until well after the dust settled. Understanding the workings behind this hoax could allow individuals to wield incredible, world-changing power with nothing but common electronic gadgets and free time.

      The important elements I've picked out so far are:

      1. It confirmed people's fears or prejudices rather than presenting something shocking

      2. It used a simple misdirection to present a false context instead of any camera trickery or hoaxed content. This helped make the video more believable.

      3. Its path to the mainstream news was well-streamlined: It was media-friendly and fact-checker-unfriendly. It was sensational and people could watch and share it much faster than anyone could have called bullshit on it. Once it went viral on the web it only took one news channel with low standards to air it, and then the other mainstream news channels were practically forced to air it to stay relevant.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by khallow ( 566160 )

        I keep thinking about James O'Keefe's fake video

        O'Keefe engaged in highly deceptive behavior in a number of ways, apparently, including presenting the video in a false light. But "fake"? The fundamental accusation of the video, that ACORN low level officials were willing to expedite minor crimes, still appears correct though I doubt it would hold up in a court of law due to O'Keefe's shenanigans.

        I think ACORN's quick end in bankruptcy is an indication of how corrupt and unstable the organization was.

        • Re:Template (Score:4, Informative)

          by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <`gameboyrmh' `at' `'> on Thursday April 25, 2013 @11:45AM (#43546665) Journal

          Nothing remotely unethical was caught in the video. The segments that apparently show the responses to the questions O'Keefe and the woman with him posed while dressed as a pimp & ho, were actually a mix of responses they received in formal wear and joking responses they received from an employee who called the police for them immediately after they left.

          I know it's a comedy site but here's an overview of the hoax with good citations at #4:


          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            Ok. So you allege it's a complete hoax. Then where's the slander lawsuits? From what I've googled, O'Keefe has been sued for illegal videotaping not slander (he lost in California and another case is underway in Maryland). As far as I know, no court has established that his video was materially misleading and he hasn't admitted such.

            And that's pretty odd. After all, he destroyed a fairly large non profit and harmed the reputation of a number of people. Several parties have shown they are willing to sue,
            • All of your answers are here:

              Ohh and you are still dead flipping wrong. He lied, he edited the video, and no attorney generals found any evidence of any wrong doing on Acorns part.In fact from what I read, at least one of them suggested that he may be liable for damages
              A few choice quotes for you:

              On March 1, 2010, the District Attorney's office for Brooklyn determined that the videos were "heavily edited" to give a misleading impression,[7] and concluded that there was no criminal wrongdoing by the ACORN Brooklyn staff filmed in the videos.[8] A law enforcement source said, "They edited the tape to meet their agenda."[9][107]

              The California Attorney General granted immunity to O'Keefe and Giles in exchange for their raw videos shot at three California ACORN offices. Its comparison of the raw videos with the released versions found that the published videos had been heavily edited to misrepresent the workers and the situations so as to suggest criminal intent and activity.[10][11][12][13] The California report was followed by one by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which reported there was no evidence that ACORN workers had misused government funds or participated in the criminal activities represented in the videos.[14][15] But, ACORN was effectively destroyed by then.[16]

              Look he even had to settle out of court in at least one instance.

              On March 5, 2013, O'Keefe agreed to pay the fired employee, Juan Carlos Vera, $100,000. O'Keefe acknowledged in the settlement that at the time he published his video he was unaware that Vera had, in fact, notified the police about the incident. Further, the settlement contains the following apology: "O'Keefe regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family."[21]

              You are wrong sir. Dead wrong.

        • Re:Template (Score:5, Informative)

          by Wookact ( 2804191 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @12:45PM (#43547237)
          I think you only heard one side of the story. You neglect the fact that those answers were spliced together, from different days, and dressed differently. You also neglect that on at least one occasion Acorn called the police after those two left.

          You should not have been modded up. You are incorrect.
    • by njnnja ( 2833511 )

      a.k.a "Too good to check"

    • Look at the "press" involved: VentureBeat, HuffPo, Yahoo!, AOL, GeekWire. These aren't reporters. They're press release curators, with a little commentary around the edges.

  • 10% of her after-tax income for 10 years?

    So if her startup takes most of the first ten years to get off the ground, or even longer, something that's actually entirely feasible, given the average success rate of new businesses, then the investor has just lost a whole crapload of money..

    Basically, the investor has taken a gamble that her startup is going to take off within the first 3 or 4 years. It's possible, certainly, but by no means something should be speculated as particularly likely.

    Kudos to h

    • Could you not be bothered to read the story?
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )

        The problem, as I remarked in this [] followup post to someone who asked if I had even read the summary was that I *did* read the article (or at least one of the ones linked to), unfortunately, I did so, and immediately commented upon it before I had even fully read and comprehended the points that the summary was actually making.

        I could chalk it up to having just woken up at the time, but then I wouldn't be admitting responsibility for doing so. It was my bad, and I realize I probably deserve gratuitous le

    • Re:Wow.... (Score:5, Funny)

      by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @09:54AM (#43545607)
      Reading is hard. Let's go shopping!
  • Was I the only one thinking of mascara, some red lipstick, a 40's hairdo...
  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @09:59AM (#43545659)

    Investers: "Oooh! Pretty girl! Shut up and take my money!"

    Sheesh. How could people this dumb have so much disposable income?

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @10:00AM (#43545671) Homepage

    Why did I do this? I want to grow and build a business more than anyone can understand. When you want something bad enough, youâ(TM)re forced to create a path or quit. Am I proud of this path? In hindsight, I would have preferred promoting the site differently, but it is what it is at this point. My last startup up was destroyed by Craigslist.

    forced to create a path or quit? perhaps, but what you did was intentionally lie to investors about your personal identity. Its something the SEC and to an equal extent the FBI tend to frown upon (try doing it at a bank sometime.) The attorneys you'll likely deal with with wont care about how much you wanted to grow a business or create a path, or what your fucking hindsight was. They will have cause to insist on a legal fact-finding period, during which every "business" youve ever been a part of will be torn open and shaken out onto the floor. the wording of every email and correspondance they can find will be used to build a case against you in an effort to reclaim far greater amounts of money than the original investment which was made in your company. Legal inquiries into your personal finances, criminal history, travel, residency, and credit standing will be made, against which you will have very little standing to protest. Once your willful intent to defraud investors is proven, you'll not find the resources to start up so much as a tupperware party.

    • by mjr167 ( 2477430 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @10:59AM (#43546203)

      And yet if he liked to cross dress in his free time and instead was claiming to be transgendered or something, everyone would be clapping and cooing about how wonderful he is for pretending to be a woman...

      I'm actually having trouble differentiating this from 'marketing'? Companies create spokespeople and fictional stories about themselves all the time. Unless he is not planning on actually paying his investors, should it matter if you are going into business with a real 19 year old girl or a middle aged man using the face of a 19 year old girl? The non-existent girl could not have signed any contracts or anything, so I find it hard to believe that real investors didn't know who they were dealing with.

    • My last startup up was destroyed by Craigslist.

      What, the guy was charging for want ads?

    • If you're trying to bring ethics into this, allow me to ask this; Is it ethical to grant greater potential for business success to someone based on their sex? How about their physical appearence? How about their skintone? Age? Religion? Are these criteria not specifically outlined in law as protected against discrimination?

      Legally it should not matter at all that this person was a white male, or a young woman, or a purple plaid martian. If you're offended at the deception then you are essentially admitti
  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @10:00AM (#43545673)

    So, his name is Steinar Nintendo64?

  • This pretty much debunked the myth that being a woman in tech is difficult and that is kjust because women opt to do other things that we don't see them around. And that the whole issue is around only for a few individuals special interests.

    What i really want to see is someone pull that coverage by being a 50-60 yr old male white developer. The only group that really is absent in tech despite trying.

  • by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @10:31AM (#43545981)

    This country has no journalists left. All we have now are highly-paid stenographers.

    I'm having a very "get off my lawn!" moment right now, but I remember a time when journalism had standards and articles were researched.


    • by samkass ( 174571 )

      Stenographers make more than journalists, on average. You get what you pay for. Now go read some more free internet news with adblocker enabled...

    • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @11:00AM (#43546219) Homepage Journal

      I prefer to call those particular events "Pepperidge Farms" moments.

      Remember a time when newscasters actually told you shit that matters, after they verified the information and made sure their facts were straight? Pepperidge Farms remembers...

    • No, you're right. The mainstream is just copying press releases from other outlets. Its rediculous. And CBS is wondering why CBS News is not getting those ratings of old... its not the CBS News of old. Just the other day I read the New York Post back peddling on some tech article. Whatever.
      • I'm on the Japanese porn star diet: I only eat paper. But I can eat all the paper I want.

        Japanese porn stars eat paper? I'd google, but I'm at the office right now.

  • It would be a real coup if he managed to get his stupid site linked to on the front page of slashdot.

    Ah, yes, there it is.

  • If he will lie about something as silly as that, who in their right mind will trust him in business? He sold his integrity for a ridiculously low price and doesn't even understand why that matters.
  • Making up a single fake woman is still small potatoes compared to Mitt Romney. Or Wilt Chamberlain.
  • Sadly, this isn't any different than a scam that some government contractors play.

    In many government contracts, there are set-asides for women and/or minority owned businesses. Sometimes less than scrupulous goverment contractors set up shell companies that name a women and/or a minority as a principal owner (more often than not a wife of the owners of the original contractors) and bid on those contracts with set-asides to avoid competition and make more profit. Inevitably, some of the work come the way o

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