Who Authorizes? Startup Anime Nonprofit Misunderstands the Question

By Shochiku / directed by Mitsuyo Seo – Screenshot from the film., Public Domain, Link

March 26, 2018; Forbes

Lauren Orsini, writing for Forbes, has done a masterful job in discussing the protocols of online base building in close communities when you are not yet on familiar terms. Her column is well worth a careful read because it applies much more broadly than just to the anime enthusiast community.

The Flying Colors Foundation was founded just a few months ago to “inspire change through dialogue. We connect and share the [anime] community’s voice.” Their website says they want to share the (Western) anime community’s voice with animators and producers in Japan. The problem is that no one “authorized” the group to act in that powerful role. In the wake of the Facebook revelations, potential constituents think they smell a rat in the whole endeavor.

The Foundation’s first move was to put out a “community survey” to find out what fans watched and what they wanted from companies. It was immediately controversial for two major reasons. One, they did not explain why they wanted the information. The group was brand new and their following was small, so their mission was not well known, and it was unclear what they were planning to do with whatever data they collected. Two, they asked, “Have you ever suffered from any of the following health complications?” They asked about anxiety, depression, addiction, and other socially stigmatized issues. They claim that they wanted to “prove that anime can quite literally change lives by helping fans endure and grow through difficult times, and to understand and measure the benefits of anime on mental health,” but again, they weren’t clear on how they were planning to protect or use this sensitive information.

Other questions have been raised about ties to a for-profit company, the Otaku Pin Club, which was founded by the same person who started FCF. OPC filed for registration just a few months before FCF, but Daniel Suh, who founded both, claims to have divested himself of all ties to the for-profit effort.

Right before their official nonprofit registration in November, FCF met with for-profit companies in Japan that were reportedly interested in their data, another warning sign to fans made wary by the recent scandal involving Facebook’s handling of private data. FCF claims not to “track, collect, or keep any online data about participants apart from their voluntary responses to our surveys,” but according to a lengthy Medium post by an industry commentator, Typeform, the service used to conduct the survey collects and stores users’ IP addresses, browser type, and operating system. Whether FCF is merely ignorant of their tools’ capabilities or is deliberately obscuring how much data they possess, their practice demonstrates a lack of accountability on a very sensitive issue, especially given their early connections with for-profit ventures interested in data.

All in all, if this group is not actually scheming on its potential constituents, it has done an abysmal job of reaching out to gain their trust and endorsement. We love Orisini’s conclusion:

The Flying Colors Foundation’s greatest mistake was being an unknown entity in a niche community, one that didn’t make it easy for fans to get to know them from the get-go. It’s a lesson for any company hoping to survive in the anime fan community: if you want our data, you’re going to need to give us yours, first.

—Erin Rubin and Ruth McCambridge