Yoast CEO Marieke van de Rakt published a post yesterday, addressing the controversy that dominated the #YoastCon hashtag on Twitter in the days leading up the the event. Several parties from the SEO industry began circulating old tweets, along unsavory videos depicting Joost de Valk partying with promotional models. de Valk issued a public apology on Twitter before YoastCon officially kicked off.
I think and act differently now, though I know that doesn’t change the past. If anyone felt harmed by this: I’m truly sorry.
— Joost de Valk (@jdevalk) February 6, 2019
In her post, titled “Let’s create a more female-friendly world!”, van de Rakt characterized the incident as an attack and cited examples of how Yoast is actively working to improve the position of women:
We were all hurt. We really don’t understand why the company Yoast is being attacked, why the #yoastcon is being used for something the person Joost did 10 years ago. Our company and our company culture is nothing like the tweets imply.
van de Rakt also referenced a post from Gisele Navarro, a woman who has been working in the SEO industry for 10 years.
“I totally agree with Gisele that the SEO industry was not welcoming to women ten years ago,” van de Rakt said. “And although some things may have changed, I still think that the SEO industry has a long way to go. I also think that the problem is much bigger than the SEO industry.”
After the tweets and videos began circulating on the #YoastCon hashtag, the @yoast Twitter account was quietly scrubbed of potentially offensive tweets. The total tweet count for the account was 44.1K on January 31, 2019.
On February 8, 2019, the account’s total tweets were slashed to 10.7K. Approximately 33,000 tweets have been deleted in the wake of this controversy.
Some of the tweets were still available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine during the height of the controversy and screenshots were shared widely.
No seriously, fucking don’t try and excuse behaviour like this. (9/41) pic.twitter.com/DoK1zOl3p2
— Tom Rayner (@tjprayner) February 7, 2019
One recipient of the tweets, Lisa Barone, dismissed them as “friends being stupid,” but de Valk’s wife, Marieke van de Rakt, admitted in her recent post that the tweets and videos were hurtful to her. Since the tweets were public, many onlookers said they felt uncomfortable reading these types of interactions within a professional context.
Navarro’s post described how the tweets made her feel as an outside onlooker working in the male-dominated SEO industry:
I don’t know the story behind the ‘friendly and consensual sexual banter’ (as someone called it) of those tweets so I’ve got zero context on how the conversations led to Joost saying things like:
‘I bet you’d look good, even when pregnant ;-)’
‘Ahem, why are you not naked indeed?’
‘Nothing beats a yummy young mummy :)’
When I read those tweets, that was all I could think of – Decades of obscenities been pushed on me by men who thought that was normal, acceptable behavior.
I thought about how much it would have crushed me back then if someone I respected were to have said something like that to me. I wondered if I would still be part of the SEO community had that happened.
I imagined how would I have felt if before or after that tweet, I were to have been an attendee at SEOktoberfest surrounded by Playboy escorts who touched themselves looking at the camera while I was having a beer in a corner, trying to network my way to a job interview at an agency I loved.
After the tweets and videos began to get attention on the #YoastCon hashtag, many in the SEO industry dismissed the content as an attack orchestrated by trolls who they alleged are also guilty of harassment. Several spoke out against David Cohen in particular, who had originally started the controversy by unearthing the old content, describing him as the person behind other troll accounts known for sending harassing tweets.
Regardless of how the old content came to light on Twitter, both Joost de Valk and Yoast CEO Marieke van de Rakt have admitted that the tweets and videos are indefensible and not representative of their company’s current push to empower women.
Navarro’s post calls readers to look at the tweets and videos from the perspective of someone working in the SEO industry, wondering if they should attend conferences after seeing leaders and role models behaving this way:
To those of you who are defending the SEO personality that is Joost: remove the so-called SEO trolls and #YoastCon from the picture, go through the tweets and ask yourself how would YOU feel if someone you look up to says those things to you on a public forum. Would you feel comfortable attending a conference knowing this person would be there? Would you want him to be your boss? Would you feel safe around this person? Would you have anybody to talk to about what happened and how you felt? Would you even bring it up?
The #YoastCon Twitter controversy has had the positive effect of highlighting behavior and public communication styles that need to be addressed in order to create a more welcoming and diverse SEO industry. In spite of the recent challenges, van de Rakt said she is hopeful that her company can continue working towards creating “an atmosphere at conferences that is friendly for all people, regardless of their gender.” On this Navarro and van de Rakt both agree – the conditions for women working in the SEO industry are ripe for improvement.