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After spending a lazy Saturday afternoon browsing through the dating app she was currently experimenting with, she hit it off with a nice-sounding guy, and the two exchanged real names and numbers.
As I scrolled through the largely German #escortgate hashtag, one Bing translation at a time, I started to piece together an unraveling scandal.Several in the group were Ohlala users, but Poppenreiter puts those numbers in the low single digits. “I was exhausted, I was at the conference the whole day.” There’s no question the group was pulling off a stunt.A leaked Facebook invitation for the party-within-a-party encouraged invitees to “grab a drink and mingle with men who crave the finer things in life.” A publicity stunt involving a controversial app doesn’t sound like the stuff of trending topics, until you consider NOAH’s abysmal female attendance rate — at this year’s event, only 11 out of its 108 speakers were women.That week Berlin had been host to the NOAH Conference, an invite-only event comparable to Code Conference or Disrupt back in the States.According to multiple reports, the gala party two nights earlier had been characterized by a high number of “attractive, glamorously dressed women” who flirted aggressively with the male attendees and handed out business cards.The presence of escorts at the evening events have long been a wink-wink assumption.
By symbolically associating themselves with these women, Ohlala’s party crashers made the company a scapegoat for these rumors. Poppenreiter had already released a statement earlier in the day in response to the outcry, apologizing for letting things “get out of hand.” But part of me can’t help but wonder if this was exactly what she had planned.This isn’t a huge roadblock in Germany, where the app first launched, and where sex work is legal.But in February of this year, Ohlala crossed the Atlantic and launched in New York City, where not only are the laws different, but social interface is as well.“Search ‘hashtag escortgate’ on Twitter.” I do so as we step out to the balcony and she lights up a Marlboro Red.A pink Ohlala banner tied to the railing billows silently behind her.He worked at a startup; he was visiting New York on business.