Race + Tech: Despite ‘Titstare,’ Black Girls Code Does Disrupt Right

By Arturo R. García

While a pair of sophomoric, reckless displays ended up being the calling card for this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt developers’ gathering, let’s not let that take away from the work Black Girls Code put in over the weekend.

As founder Kimberly Bryant told KQED-FM on Monday, she brought a team of three BGC members to the event as part of a partnership between her organization and ThoughtWorks, with their demo, SnackOverflow, providing a guide to each of the organization’s chapters.

The successful appearance at Disrupt came just a couple of weeks after Bryant and her group were profiled on CNN.

But as BGC pointed out after the event, the lack of diversity at Disrupt was evident.

“Honestly there were only 5 women of color at the entire event,” BGC wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “And 3 of them were students from BGC.”

Developers David Boulton (left) and Jethro Batts demonstrate the “Titstare” app at TechCrunch Disrupt on Sept. 8. Image via YouTube.

For better or worse, the event has been marked by two onstage disasters: the “Titstare” app — the name should say it all — by Australian developers Jethro Batts and David Boulton, which was the opening demonstration at the event. Worse yet, as ReadWrite pointed out, the bit of “Aussie humour” went on immediately before a demo by Adria Richards. (Also in the crowd: 9-year-old developer Alexandra Jordan, who was taken to the event by her father.)

The other backwards display came from Kangmo Kim, who felt compelled to demonstrate his “Circle Shake” app — which measures how fast you can shake your iPhone for 10 seconds, because absolutely nobody cares about that — by simulating masturbation onstage. In public. At an ostensibly professional event.

But according to Bryant, that wasn’t even the worst part.

Developer Kangmo Kim shows off “Circle Shake” at TechCrunch Disrupt. Image via YouTube.

“I think the unfortunate part is that it was not just the presenters of this inappropriate and misogynist app, but the response of the crowd was actually celebratory,” Bryant told KQED-FM on Monday. “That’s really the feeling that I had during the weekend — ‘Oh, this is college revisited, 2013.’”

TechCrunch, of course, issued an apology blaming the outbreak of brogrammming on “a failure to properly screen our hackathons for inappropriate content ahead of time and establish clear guidelines for these submissions.”

But Amy Gray puts the lie to this in The Guardian:

However, part of the process for Disrupt was for developers to upload their personal and project details, along with video, to the hackathon’s wiki. So the organisers presumably knew about the presentations’ content in advance. They posted an apology, which is too little too late.

Kim’s wiki entry is still up and, while the text reads mundanely, the video content, with all its comedic grunting, gives a clear indication of what would happen on stage. I cannot find mention of Botts, Boulton or Titstare, which would suggest that not only did the organisers allow a breach in process, they have tried to hide the details by removing any reference to the pair. Given they had audio-visual footage incorporated into their presentation, it suggests the organisers not only knew of their project, they also allowed them to present.

A YouTube search for “Titstare demo” corroborates Gray’s account; for a video that, one would think, be all over the place given the attention it’s gotten, there’s only two listed as of Tuesday morning. An attempt to watch the demo at at least one other news site comes up empty, saying the video is down “due to a copyright claim by AOL.” (Circle Shake, by the way, is more easily accessible.)

Where TechCrunch goes from here is uncertain, but hopefully they know enough to do more to weed out more bro-centric apps — and to keep inviting BGC.