A Troll Army Attacked A 16-Year-Old App Creator. She Fought Back — And Won.

“I like how there’s always a silver lining for everything."

Harshita Arora tried as hard as she could to stop the lies, but, at first, nothing seemed to work.

The 16-year-old programmer living outside New Delhi, India had just launched a cryptocurrency price tracking app, her first solo project. But just a week after the app launched, Arora was hit by an unexpected wave of criticism. 

At first, things went how she had imagined they would. Arora executed a self-developed marketing plan on her own that included writing a Medium post about the app and sharing it on several different platforms. She watched as her downloads slowly climbed. Initial posts about it got traction on Reddit. She even got a shoutout on Twitter from the CEO of Product Hunt. Within 24 hours, Crypto Price Tracker was the No. 2 trending paid app in finance. 

The post that went viral on Reddit.
The post that went viral on Reddit. Harshita Arora 

But a week in, Arora opened her computer and found anger pouring in. Most of it stemmed from a blog post originally titled "Crypto Price Tracker made by 16-yr old actually plagiarized." The woman who wrote the post accused Arora of stealing code from other programmers and claimed she did not complete the project herself. She included screenshots that purported to show Arora "admitting" she didn't code the app herself. Some of her claims would later be retracted, but the immediate effect was hateful comments from users on Reddit. Other commenters joined in, accusing Arora of plagiarism and arguing that no 16-year-old could complete such an app on her own. One commenter even suggested that she hired an older man to make the app and then tried to market it to impress a boy in her class. 

At first, Arora said she was overcome with the urge to delete the false claims that she had "plagiarized" the app.

"It makes absolutely no sense," she told A Plus. "A plagiarist is a person who is using someone else's work without their permission. The app was completely designed by scratch from me and each fragment of code was written from scratch. It was just clickbait."

But her earnest responses to trolls, an effort to block people on Twitter and her honest attempts to address critics did little good. In fact, it seemed to stoke the flames. Soon, trolls found her email address on the price tracking app website and began flooding her inbox. One individual, Arora said, suggested she kill herself. Another told her that she had destroyed her career. A third threatened to rape her. Through her Google Analytics account, Arora figured out that it was referrals from Reddit driving traffic to the page on her website with her email address.

So she decided to do something. 

After talking with her friends about how to respond, Arora decided to take action by reporting the people spreading lies about her online. That meant putting an unusual amount of effort into flagging comments, contacting employers, tracking down users to address them directly and continuously responding on social media. Her friends joined in, helping her address lies about her app's creation wherever she found them.

The coordinated response had an immediate effect. Arora's decision to fight back began to mitigate the spread of the lies, and also served as a warning to trolls before they threatened her or posted about her online. Things "cooled off," Arora said. One critic issued a public apology. Another, she learned, lost her job. Articles with lies about how she built the app were taken down (though some later were re-posted). Positive messages through Twitter and emails started coming in. People congratulated her on Reddit and Twitter for overcoming the trolls. Some even helped her fight back. She was featured in an article by The Daily Beast that offered her side of the story. 

Arora then went offline for two days to take a break.

Harshita Arora
Harshita Arora

"I read some really good books during that time and did some programming," Arora said. "I think those two days were good to get away from the insane amount of anxiety it was causing me."

Once her critics began retreating, Arora started seeing the payoff for her hard work. Before she had created the app, she had already spent some time in Silicon Valley. When she couldn't land a job and her visa in the States ran out, she came home to live with her parents and work on the application she had proudly launched on her own.

Now, though, with news of her app and the saga around the criticism being shared online, friendly offers started replacing the death threats in her inbox. She's being interviewed by Apple this week for a feature that will be published in the App Store. The company is flying her to their offices in Bangalore on an all expenses paid trip. Next month, she's speaking at TedX and she said she's made numerous connections in her industry because of the controversy. 

She even has three offers to buy the app, which now has over 1,700 downloads.  

Arora says she is already working on her next project.

"I like how there's always a silver lining for everything," Arora said. "Getting all that media for something negative probably worked out for my app and got it more traction afterward. It was a horrible experience, but I think it taught me something for the future: ignore the haters."

Cover image via Harshita Arora.

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