The Youtube and Twitter anime communities have been abuzz in the past two weeks. A California-based nonprofit, Flying Colors Foundation (FCF), officially launched, hit the ground running with an ambitious anime census, and closed down — all within two weeks.
When they launched we immediately talked with Daniel Suh, the man in charge of the foundation’s Finance and Operations, to shed some light on what FCF was all about. At the time, nobody expected how quickly everything would come crashing down.
This is a developing story with many different sides to it. We’ll focus on the main developments that are currently public. More information is coming to light daily and it seems that as of today the FCF Twitter is now private and their website has been suspended by their hosting provider.
In summary, we’ll be covering:
- How FCF started and the ideas behind it
- The inspiration for the 2018 Anime Census
- The scandals and revelations brought forward by the community
- FCF responses and subsequent shutdown
So strap in and get ready because the past two weeks have been a wild ride.
The Unrepresented West
According to their official website, the Flying Colors Foundation was trying to give the Western audience representation in the Japanese focused anime industry.
Daniel shared, “We met with Gigguk [at Anime Expo 2017] and the conversation led to the question of why there was no organization to represent the Western audience.” Coincidentally, a month after Anime Expo, the popular Youtuber Joey, The Anime Man, released the survey for The Top 100 Anime Series of All Time, and the people behind the foundation saw an opportunity.
The group behind FCF, the foundation not yet officially launched at the time, collaborated with Joey to help him analyze and publish the results of his survey. Daniel noted, “The survey did extremely well and our team was convinced that this is what the online community truly wanted – a chance to express themselves”.
Gunning for a Sequel
With the success of The Anime Man’s survey, FCF launched their own ambitious census. The 2018 Anime Census aimed to reach more than 50,000 participants and get 10 million data points.
Looking at the people involved, this did not seem to be a far-fetched idea at the time. The foundation was backed by popular ‘Anitubers’ who helped promote the FCF survey to their fans.
FCF claimed multiple times that no Anituber influencer was compensated in any way during this process, although later investigations revealed that to be not entirely true as influencers spoke out.
A Scandal at Dawn
It was about a week after the official launch of Flying Colors Foundation when rumors and negative press started to hound the organization. Most notable of these was an in-depth article by socialanigirl, Alicia Haddick, posing the question “Is the Flying Colors Foundation a Scam?”
The article pointed out that one of the staff, Francisco Lee, used to work for Loot Crate and Disney as Consumer Insight and Data Analyst.
This sparked a fear that the 2018 non-profit Anime Census was made for the sole purpose of data harvesting and selling analytics to companies. Finding a previous connection between Gigguk, the founders, and the for-profit company Otaku Pin Club only added fuel to the fire.
Other concerns were voiced about the lack of team transparency, intrusive census questions about mental health and income, and questionable donated profits. FCF promised to donate their profits to other non-profits but also said that they would donate to a for-profit company. It’s clearly illegal for a non-profit to give revenue they earned through donations or other non-taxable income to a for-profit company, which raised questions if the team behind FCF is simply unaware or intentionally misleading people.
Daniel shared, “We faced some issues on how to communicate FCF’s purpose in the clearest way possible on social media without causing confusion”.
All this negative press resulted in a series of tweets from FCF, trying to rectify what Daniel referred to as “conspiracy theories.”
There are a few issues we would like to clear up. Unfortunately, some misinformation about our non-profit is spreading. We would like to address the confusion (please see comments) and provide a full disclosure about our organization. (1/8)
— Flying Colors Foundation (@FlyingColorsFdn) March 21, 2018
The foundation claimed in their now-deleted tweets that all their staff has divested themselves of involvement with any business, including those in Otaku Pin Club and Loot Crate. Their official statements maintained that any data collected is anonymous and will only be used to create publicly available research papers and will not be sold.
Daniel added, “Our staff has agreed to volunteer, without compensation, until the non-profit has demonstrated sustainability and acceptance from the community.”
When asked directly about socialanigirl’s article, Daniel shared, “The author… and I actually connected earlier today to talk about the article. I found her article to be thoughtful and well-articulated.” This was followed the next day by an official response on their twitter.
— Flying Colors Foundation (@FlyingColorsFdn) March 25, 2018
In the response, FCF hoped that being registered and thoroughly reviewed by the IRS will dispel any fears of overlap and conflict of interest.
“To be quite honest, our team is small, and we have made plenty of mistakes along the way” Daniel confessed. “FCF is not a perfect organization, but we are committed to growing and learning with the community.”
Nobody knew at the time that FCF was only a week away from shutting down.
The Beginning of the End
The talk with socialanigirl probably didn’t pan out as FCF expected. Just a few days after our email exchange with Daniel, socialanigirl released another article, “The Concealment and Lies Behind the Flying Colors Foundation: Further Revelations.”
In it, socialanigirl notes several shady and potentially illegal actions taken by FCF, whether willfully or unintentionally. Some of the noted “lies” include:
- Having more employed individuals than publicly known (including a potentially illegal unpaid intern)
- The staff claiming to have no more connections with Otaku Pin Club while some still have admin privileges on the OPC Discord server
- They considered the possibility of charging Japanese clients for a more in-depth analysis of the gathered data. They also did not represent themselves as a non-profit with these clients
- The survey management tool they used collected IP addresses despite FCF themselves stating that no personal data will be gathered
- Despite claiming to have not paid influencers, they paid Digibro $100 for their first consultation
The strong reactions to this article did not look good for FCF and, in hindsight, foretold their demise.
I'm halfway through, and I can already tell this gonna end badky for them. :S
— AnatoleSerial (@AnatoleSerial) March 27, 2018
Down for the Count
The blows to the Flying Colors Foundation did not slow down one bit. Gigguk started to distance himself from the foundation and even The Anime Man deleted his video promoting the 2018 Anime Census as revelations about FCF came to light.
In light of recent events I have deleted my previous statement about FCF. For now I will be waiting on the sidelines to see what happens and will halt any involvement until further notice.
— Gigguk (@GiggukAZ) March 28, 2018
On March 28, almost two weeks since their official March 15 launch, FCF published a farewell letter on their website. In the letter, they said “Our decision [to close down was] made to ensure that the community feels safe and at ease. Our intentions and purpose was always good, and we apologize for not being able to communicate that as clearly as possible.”
In light of recent controversies, FCF will be closing down permanently on March 31, 2018. Thank you to everyone who supported our idea and believed in the best of us. We leave you one last letter to explain our decision:https://t.co/7206OzCJGN
Thank you for all the support!
— Flying Colors Foundation (@FlyingColorsFdn) March 28, 2018
I am noting within the statement provided by Flying Colors at this time that threats and harassment to members of the Flying Colors team have apparently occurred in the last week
I condemn anyone who may have harassed members of the team in light of these articles
— RODEO THE MONONOFU (@socialanigirl) March 28, 2018
And that was the life and death of Flying Colors Foundation. Whether they were intentionally trying to scam the anime community and using the influencers for their own gain or they were just inexperienced and made a lot of avoidable mistakes, we can’t really tell. FCF seemed genuinely hopeful at the beginning just a couple of weeks ago, and now they’ve shut down, leaving us with more questions than before.
If you’d like to do an in-depth reading on what transpired in the last two weeks, we recommend checking out these links:
- Flying Colors Foundation FAQ
- Flying Colors Foundation Press Kit
- Goboiano Questions and FCF Response
- First FCF Article from Medium by socialanigirl
- FCF Official Response to the First Medium Article
- Second FCF Article from Medium by socialanigirl
- FCF Farewell Letter to the Public
- Why Did The Flying Colors Anime Census Lose Fans’ Trust? by Lauren Orsini
- r/anime Reddit Thread on FCF Closure
If you have more info on this developing story or any related stories, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org