Despite enormous pressure to remove a crowdfunding effort for the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who killed young Michael Brown Jr. on Aug 9., GoFundMe is standing by its decision to let the campaign organizers rake in the cash.
“Much like Facebook and Twitter, GoFundMe is an open technology platform that allows for the exchange of ideas and opinions within the bounds of our terms of service,” a company spokeswoman named Kelsea said in an emailed statement Monday. “GoFundMe does not create or manage campaigns on behalf of its users. Rather, individual campaign organizers and their supporters act of their own accord.”
As of Monday afternoon, more than $388,000 has been raised in support of Officer Darren Wilson, who was identified (belatedly) as the cop involved in the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager that sparked protests, looting and riots in suburban St. Louis this month. GoFundMe, which gets a cut of the donations raised on its site, came under fire last week from critics who accused it of collecting “reward money for a lynching.” Using hashtags like #GoFundHate and #BoycottGoFundMe, social media users called attention to numerous racially charged comments on the campaign page (many posted by anonymous trolls who then boasted on 4chan about the mayhem they had caused).
GoFundMe quickly deleted the inflammatory comments, but many on Twitter say they won’t be satisfied until the campaign is shut down completely. “That’s a response to a PR problem,” one person tweeted. “You’ve got more than that on your hands. Half measures won’t do.”
â€” Steve Marmel (@Marmel) August 22, 2014
The fierce backlash is unusual for GoFundMe and may even signal a rite of passage for the young website, which launched four years ago as a less restrictive alternative to the guideline-heavy Kickstarter. In the past, GoFundMe has attracted some criticism for its loose guidelines (users can raise money for almost any purpose), but it has been largely successful in positioning itself as an impartial facilitator for those in need of financial assistance. Indeed, it often finds itself playing host to dueling campaigns raising money for opposing causes. In her statement, Kelsea was quick to point out that GoFundMe is also hosting a memorial fund for Brown, which has raised more than $251,000 as of Monday afternoon.
“GoFundMe is a neutral platform,” Kelsea said.
Neutral or no, the site’s lax guidelines make it ripe for potential scams, and while its official stance is that donors should only contribute to people “they personally know and trust,” crowdfunding by its nature relies on the kindness of the masses. Wilson’s campaign was launched by an anonymous user who did not respond to email requests asking for information about how the money will be distributed. (At this date, Wilson has not been charged with a crime.) GoFundMe, for its part, said it has been in touch with the organizer and has “no reason to suspect fraudulent behavior.”
Late last week, the original Officer Wilson GoFundMe campaign was halted by the organizer. A new one was launched in connection with Shield of Hope, a Missouri nonprofit that provides emergency funds for police officers in need. The organization -- originally called the Fraternal Order Of Police Lodge 15 Charitable Foundation -- incorporated in 2010 and was granted 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service in 2011. Shield of Hope has not reported previous income, according to the nonprofit tracker GuideStar, meaning it likely takes in less than $25,000 a year. An email to the group’s treasurer requesting more information has not been returned.
As for GoFundMe, the site maintains that raising money for Wilson, however controversial, does not violate its terms of service. The officer has not been charged with any crime and many facts surrounding the shooting have yet to come out.
A boycott effort continued as of Monday afternoon, but some on Twitter pointed out that the effort may hurt GoFundMe users more than the site itself.
The problem with the GoFundMe boycott is that you have to boycott other charities just to teach the corporation a lesson. Feels weird.
â€” Spek (@spekulation) August 25, 2014