8 Dec 2015

Hack a hairdryer campaign backfires

9:11 am on 8 December 2015

After running for a couple of months more or less unnoticed online, IBM's "hack a hairdryer" campaign suddenly attracted a barrage of criticism by Twitter users who called it patronising and sexist - and the company has now apologised.

A screenshot from IBM's "hack a hairdryer" campaign.

A screenshot from IBM's "hack a hairdryer" campaign. Photo: IBM

A video created by the American computer giant aimed to "reengineer misperceptions about women in tech, and to focus on what really matters in science".

Women working in science and tech were asked to "hack a hair dryer", then share their work on the IBM website.

The video was posted on YouTube in early October. It failed to grab much social media attention at the time, but this week a number of scientists, most of them female, started tweeting their reactions.

Unfortunately for IBM, most of them were not positive:

The hashtag racked up close to 5000 mentions in just a few hours. One of the most popular tweets was by the engineer and rocket scientist Stephanie Evans:

"The #HackAHairdryer campaign is a poorly designed attempt to inspire women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers due to the fact that it reinforces gender stereotypes," Evans told the BBC.

"Getting women interested in STEM is as simple as making educational resources readily available for them to freely pursue their interests without being placed in a glittery, pink box."

Others called the campaign patronising, and many of the messages deployed sarcasm to make a point:

Amid the outcry, IBM apologised, tweeting out: "This was part of a larger campaign to promote STEM careers. It missed the mark and we apologize. It is being discontinued." The original video has since been removed

Meanwhile, London Fire Brigade took the opportunity to issue an important safety reminder: