TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 rejects Anne Frank from app "potentially offensive"

TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco hackathon is happening now, pretty much, and it is an event where app makers get to show off their great ideas to great people. One such app is Build-a-buddy, an idea created by Elaine Ou and Warren Mar, which creates a buddy in your phone. Think Siri or a virtual assistant meets Tamagotchi, but with the added bonus of a personality that you can chat with. You define the Big Five personality traits you want, and the build-a-buddy rummages through the personalities it has, created using the autobiographies of famous people from Benjamin Franklin to Tina Fey. You can chat with your buddy, who will be oddly abrasive and a bit of a megalomaniac if you chose Donald Trump type personality (see chat images below for how entertaining a buddy that gets to be).

But Elaine Ou and Warren Mar discovered that their Build-a-buddy Hackathon app entry was blocked from the submission gallery. They were then contacted by a writer at Techcrunch who gushed that the app "looks awesome", but could they "please use another personality example other than Ann Frank" (sic).

Elaine explains that "We had chosen to include Anne Frank to illustrate diversity. There’s no shortage of autobiographical material to profile powerful white males. With Anne Frank, we gain the personality of a persecuted 13-year-old girl." There really aren't all that many biographies in the world written by teenagers, and Elaine admits that Anne Frank is indeed the youngest woman among the biographies their app has loaded.

Tired, the Build-a-buddy team replaced Anne Frank with Ben Franklin for their presentation and alerted Techcrunch on the change. The response Elaine got was :

Thanks for removing it. It's potentially offensive and there are countless other individuals you can use instead.

Perplexing. How could the voice of Anne Frank be "potentially offensive"? The voice in her diary is that of a child living in the shadow of the threat of genocide, mentally maturing beyond her age before her life was cut short. It's not potentially offensive as, say, a drug-addled 60s rock 'n' roll star biography, with constant mentions of hookers and blow, now is it? Other well known personalities from the second world war loaded in the app include Winston Churchill and Viktor Frankl, whose biographies pale in fame next to the Anne Frank diary which has been read by schoolchildren worldwide for generations now. Surely, the "potential offense" here was some sort of overcautious misunderstanding? It appears not, Elaine describes the moments before their presentation:

"When it came time for presentations, three separate hackathon organizers approached our team to ensure we would not include or display anything about “Anne Frank”. A TechCrunch editor stopped us (and only us) to review the app before we could be allowed on stage."

How did one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century become grounds for controversy?

I’m sad about the state of Silicon Valley. I’m sad that an event that awards $5000 to a Donald Trump drinking game finds Anne Frank “potentially offensive”. I’m sad that an industry that bills itself as “disruptive” needs to police its public image.

And most of all I’m sad that writers for a leading tech publication can’t even spell “Anne Frank”.

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Comments (16)

  • David Felton's picture
    David Felton

    Remember when Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank Museum and wrote "She would have been a Belieber!" in the guest book like the odious little cunt that he so obviously is. Well it made international news.

    I guess they were trying to avoid controversy like that.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • J. Bernard's picture
    J. Bernard (not verified)

    i have no objection to your singling out Justin Bieber for criticism, but why call him "an odious little cunt"? Just because you find him an objectional person doesn't give you the right to call him nasty names. Your point is completely lost because of this.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • Dabitch's picture

    I'm still waiting to hear from Techcrunch if they wish to elaborate on their reasoning for this. While some may see Anne Franks diary as a treasure of pure 'data', the real heart of a young woman's thoughts, there are many people out there who would just as soon find the use of the name of a holocaust victim in a "fun" smart phone app quite offensive.

    Also, yes we remember the Belieber Incident.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • miriam's picture
    miriam (not verified)

    Actually, my first response was anti-Semitism. But the above comment also makes total sense to me. Too bad they didn't explain their reasoning.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • Rich's picture
    Rich (not verified)

    Anti-Semitism (often disguised as anti Israel) is a mental illness wherein (through willful disregard of FACTUAL information from the environment) the illogical becomes logical, the irrational is rationalized to seem rational, and the unethical is ignored.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • David Felton's picture
    David Felton

    Off topic, one can be critical of Israel without being antisemitic. I'm a Jew, and that shouldn't even be up for debate. Blindly supporting a nationalist government hasn't worked out so well in the past. (Narrowly avoided Godwin's Law there).

    Sep 22, 2015
  • kidsleepy's picture

    Narrowly avoided Godwin's law but totally nailed the Threadjack Law.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • Gal's picture
    Gal (not verified)

    This meme of "critical of Israel without being antisemitic" is used, 99% of the time, to single out Israel with 'criticism' about things that get a clear card when other western and other countries behave in a similar manner. Therefore, this meme is just a cover for antisemitism.

    Sep 22, 2015
  • Marsha Coleman's picture
    Marsha Coleman (not verified)

    Do you have an alternative way for ISRAEL to protect itself! People like you are misguided and very ignorant! And that's the nicest thing I can say about you! You should be PROUD of ISRAEL and all it has accomplished instead of criticizing without anything constructive to say! The Palestinians should not be Israel's problem! Like to see your reaction to having rockets fired at you! ISRAEL is the only humane country in the area! I should not have to tell you, a so-called Jew,
    this! And, yes, you are an anti-Semite against your own people! Don't be a wimp, stand up for your own people!

    Sep 22, 2015
  • Konstantin Kogan's picture
    Konstantin Kogan (not verified)

    Total agreement from another Jew.

    Sep 23, 2015
  • StephenA's picture
    StephenA (not verified)

    Considering what this App does to its subjects and makes them say (given the example above) everyone should consider her removal a positive thing. Do we really want Anne Frank to "say" "Sorry, we can't be friends anymore. Please enter your credit card number to continue."

    Sep 22, 2015
  • Natasha Gerson's picture
    Natasha Gerson (not verified)

    On the risk.of sounding naive, isn't this a misunderstanding? Not that Anne Frank is offensive but the use of her person could be considered offensive by some? After all, ppl can become very hysteric at the appropriation of Anne Frank sometimes. Even innocent mentions of her can cause outrage. I still don't think Justin Bieber said anything so wrong at the Anne Frank house. All he did was remond the world that When she went in hiding, she was just an ordinary 13 year old girl with pictures of stars pinned on her wall and freaks of fame....

    Sep 22, 2015
  • David Felton's picture
    David Felton

    I think it should have been pretty obvious that a famous holocaust victim, emblematic of the tragic destruction of innocent youth isn't the ideal figurehead for an iPhone app. That's all I've got to say on the matter.

    Sep 23, 2015
  • Goyim's picture
    Goyim (not verified)

    I think Natasha Gerson and Dabitch hit the nail on the head, the use of Anne Frank could be considered offensive by a lot of people. I don't think the app makers intended that, but now they're trying to inject the idea that Anne was rejected and this is bad because she's a minority young woman, oblivious to the fact that her being rejected from the presentation seems to have been done in an effort to not derail the techconf. We all remember the titstare app.

    Also, David, you speak as if you're 12 years old. Gain some perspective.

    Sep 26, 2015
  • Nick D.'s picture
    Nick D. (not verified)

    This is why we all need to stop confusing tech with social literacy or progress.

    Sep 26, 2015
  • Dabitch's picture

    @ StephenA - sorry, a bit late to the party here, but regarding the "Do we really want Anne Frank to "say" "Sorry, we can't be friends anymore. Please enter your credit card number to continue."" - from what I've read on the app, and the fact that the above images show the Donald Trump personality, I don't think Anne Frank would ever say that. You see, that type of snark is only done by Donald Trump. Because he's a buffoon personality, as I'm sure you're aware.

    The joke at the demonstration being that 4111111111111111 is a test credit card number used to check if payment systems work.

    Sep 28, 2015

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