Tech journalist Holly Brockwell harassed with semen photo after criticising 'Stolen' app


Jenny Noyes editor Holly Brockwell editor Holly Brockwell Photo: Twitter/Holly Brockwell

As a tech journalist who happens to be female, Holly Brockwell is no stranger to trolling. But being sent a photo of herself covered in semen has got to be a new low in harassment.

And all because she raised concerns about an app that prompted the developers to pull it. 

Brockwell, who edits women-centred tech website Gadgette, interviewed the creator of 'Stolen' - an iOS app that "allows you to buy and sell real people's Twitter accounts as if they were trading cards" last week. 


She'd only been alerted to the existence of the app after learning that someone had 'bought' her Twitter account on it. And, although the type of 'ownership' the app bestows does not mean the purchaser gains access to the Twitter account itself, Brockwell still had some obvious concerns about issues relating to privacy and the app's potential as a tool of harassment. 

"As someone who's received a fair amount of harassment and trolling over the last few months, I can't tell you how disquieting it was to see a total stranger's name plastered across my Twitter account as my 'owner'," Brockwell wrote. "And worse, once someone buys you, they can write whatever they like on your page, giving you a 'nickname', advertising their products, whatever they want."

Brockwell also interviewed Siqi Chen, the CEO of Hey Inc (the company behind 'Stolen'), who said the intended use of the app was for fans - but ultimately she agreed with Brockwell that it is entirely open to being abused by trolls. For that reason, following their interview and Brockwell's article, the app was pulled. And, of course, that's when the abuse really started. 

Two days after the article came out, 'Stolen' users were still throwing a tantrum about their game. And then Brockwell was sent a photo of her Twitter profile picture (in which she's playing with the adorable seal robot PARO) on a screen covered in semen. 

Apart from being a horrible story, it's also a perfect example of the insane harassment that continues to be levelled at women who dare to raise concerns about stuff dudes like online. And the need for app developers to educate themselves on these issues.

As Brockwell herself points out to the clueless CEO during their interview, people developing social platforms really must consider the worst case scenarios of how people will use the platform to hurt other people.

Because unfortunately as we learn time and again on the internet, if they can, they will.