GoFundMe’s Partisanship Sounds a Warning for Political Freedom

14 February 2022

3.1 MINS

If popular mainstream fundraising sites feel they can pick and choose which causes to permit on their platforms based on their inherent political bias, this will have a chilling effect on democracy.

You don’t have to believe in the Canadian truckers’ cause to affirm their right to peacefully protest, and to receive fair treatment from Big Tech in raising support.

GoFundMe obviously feels otherwise — and last week froze some US$9 million raised for the Freedom Convoy. Citing vague police reports of violence and alleging that “the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation,” the world’s largest crowdfunding site announced they would “work with organisers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities”.

The ‘GoFraudMe’ hashtag soon trended on Twitter, with understandable furore expressed at the company for taking political sides and cheating donors of their cash.


GoFundMe offered reimbursement to those who requested it, but donors were soon plotting revenge, encouraging one another to issue a charge-back via their bank to slug the platform with a US$15 fee per donor.

Leading Republicans were quick to weigh in on the controversy. People “gave money under the promise it would go to the Freedom Convoy, not to whatever left-wing political ideology GoFundMe and other Silicon Valley companies support,” Texan Senator Ted Cruz remarked. “They are deceiving consumers and it is wrong.” He demanded a full investigation into the case by the Federal Trade Commission.

Florida Governor Ron De Santis also vowed action, announcing he would work with his state’s attorney general to investigate the “deceptive practices” and secure a refund for donors. As the chorus from U.S. lawmakers crescendoed, GoFundMe reversed course and promised an automatic reimbursement to all donors.

Alternatives Needed

In a somewhat happy ending for the convoy’s organisers, Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo offered to host the fundraiser. Within days, more than 50 per cent of the funds had flowed back in, with US$9.3m of a new US$16m target now achieved on the pro-free speech platform. The site was so busy at one point that its servers struggled to cope with traffic.

Clearly, there is no shortage of anti-establishment enthusiasm. But in the new public square — whether online commerce, social media or crowdfunded activism — the walls are rapidly closing in for any who oppose status quo politics.

Blatant Bias

Truth is always the first victim. No actual violence was required for GoFundMe to pull the plug on the convoy cause — just whispers of it from a ticked-off Ottawa police chief, and barely coherent tweets from a Prime Minister fixated on transphobia and inclusivity.

Even The New York Times failed to pin any crimes on the protesters beyond the rumbling of trucks at night and the blaring of air horns. Despite tens of thousands being present for two weeks, just over 20 arrests have been made in Ottawa, mostly on charges of ‘mischief’.

Compare that to other causes that GoFundMe has happily endorsed, such as the ‘Portland General Defense Committee’ which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend rioters who set fire to police stations, assaulted officers, and vandalised the city hall. Or BLM’s New York City chapter which still today is seeking funds for “civil disobedience and disruption tactics”.

Australian Precedent

Australians are no strangers to GoFundMe’s political partisanship. In June 2019, the platform shut down a $3 million fundraiser for embattled rugby star Israel Folau, whose bluntly-expressed — but sincerely-held — Christian views on homosexuality cost him his sporting career. The Big Tech backlash also gave Folau a leg-up, with the ACL soon raising all he needed for legal fees and then some.

As with legacy news, social media and big business, so goes charitable giving: an airtight echo chamber reinforces a false reading on what the public really thinks. GoFundMe’s business will go on, but it has handed its rival enviable market share, free advertising and the moral high ground.

But again, this is a short-lived victory.

Parallel economies will continue to emerge, and while entrepreneurs enjoy making hay in the sunshine, the unravelling of our social fabric goes on unabated. The question for the rest of us is whether these tactics will stay in the private sphere or make their way into public policy that governs our day-to-day transactions.

China’s social credit system presents a frightful picture of where entrenched echo chambers can take us.


Image: BigStock

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