When 16-year-old Harshita Arora first launched her app, a tool for tracking the value of cryptocurrencies called Crypto Price Tracker, at the end of January, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Within days, the service was rated the No. 2 most-popular app in the Apple Store finance category, notching more than 900 downloads by the end of the week.
Then things took a turn--and what happened next offers a startling example of how cyberbullying remains a real problem.
Taking to Reddit, a user insisted in a post that the app was actually "plagiarized"--in other words, that Arora did not deserve all the credit she was getting for the service. This soon garnered the support of someone Arora had previously considered a friend, who published screenshots of Arora's activity on Github to "out" her as having had help with the infrastructure. Although Arora immediately defended her work online--explaining in the comments section of Reddit that a mentor had helped her to commit files to the online coding database, but that the design was entirely her own--it was too late for the trolls.
The post invited a steady stream of hate mail, vitriol and virtual abuse, with hundreds of messages streaming into Arora's inbox over the ensuing days. "Some were targeting my age, some were targeting my gender, and a lot were targeting my race," says Arora, who is Indian, and recently moved back in with her parents in a town to the north of New Delhi. She even says she received several death and rape threats. "It was very scary to have that for no apparent reason," she adds.
Some of the comments, as first reported in The Daily Beast, are more than incendiary; they go so far as suggest that the product must have been developed by someone with more experience (and probably a man.) "I doubt the girl herself came up with the idea and hired the contractor(s) herself," wrote one user. "She's trying to look pretty for boys in her class, worrying about what the bitch Jessie said to Brittany about Cloe who likes Brian even though he so likes Ciara, and sitting in her room listening to 21 pilots or whatever. That's my take anyway."
Regardless of whether Arora did in fact lift her app's design from another developer, the ensuing controversy is telling, as it shines a light on the continued problem of cyberbullying--particularly against women in tech. It also highlights the relevance of the #MeToo movement, and the importance of believing women's stories.
Ultimately, Arora and her friends contacted the employers of several of the perpetrators, leading at least one man to issue a public apology on Twitter. The original poster, however, recently filed a lawsuit against Arora when her employer terminated her over the fallout on Reddit.
There are silver linings for the founder. Her $0.99 app has generated more than 1,400 downloads in less than one month, and earlier this week, she received two acquisition offers. Arora says she is already hard at work on a second project, an artificial intelligence app, for which she has received $5,000 in Amazon Web Services credits from a mentor's venture firm. The debacle even landed her a job offer, from the Indian cryptocurrrency exchange Zebpay, though Arora says she plans to turn it down to focus on her next business.
"It's been an interesting ride," she adds. "If there are people who hate me, they'll still need to make some form of argument, and I have a community of supporters now."