GoFundMe built a name for itself on having no rules, and now it seems to be breaking some of its own.
GoFundMe prides itself on being an “open fundraising platform,” but after the way it handled three controversial campaigns in recent weeks, the site has updated its “Content Guidelines” -- apparently rather hastily. The new list published on Tuesday outlines which kinds of topics are permitted on GoFundMe campaigns, but several campaigns remain that violate the guidelines.
The new guidelines were introduced after GoFundMe came under fire for what seemed to some like arbitrary enforcement of the crowdfunding site’s rules. Last week it removed a campaign to raise funds for an Illinois woman’s abortion. The site also took down a fundraising campaign for an Oklahoma police officer who is accused of sexually assaulting six women while on duty. The month before, GoFundMe endured a firestorm of protests for a campaign to raise legal funds for Darren Wilson -- the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who killed Mike Brown Aug. 9. That page was never removed. More than $235,000 was raised.
The new guidelines are organized under eight headlines: “adult material,” “breaking the law,” “drugs and substances,” “financial and gambling,” “medical,” “prohibited content,” “termination of life” and “weapons and violence.”
Specifics are listed beneath each headline. The list may be long, but not all of its terms are clearly defined.
For instance, the terms like “cosmetic sexual enhancements” are left unexplained. Arguably, transition-related surgeries for individuals who identify as transgender could fall under this label. While genital reassignment surgeries are generally considered medically necessary procedures, others that further an individual’s transition to living as the opposite sex include cosmetic procedures like breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty and laser hair removal.
Despite this, there are thousands of active campaigns on GoFundMe to raise funds for those surgeries. Outside the transgender community, there are at least a handful of women campaigning to go under the knife for either breast augmentation, tummy tucks or liposuction procedures.
A similar argument can be made for the term “marijuana or marijuana industry,” where there are a handful of campaigns related to marijuana growers and legal funds to contest the charges brought against them.
A Salon article pointed out that while the new guidelines prohibit abortion-related campaigns, there are numerous active GoFundMe pages that are anti-abortion in nature. GoFundMe told Salon that it will handle each complaint against a given campaign on a case-by-case basis.
GoFundMe further responded to Salon’s claims by saying that the platform’s “policies exist to protect our brand from certain materials and subject matter whose proponents span the political spectrum.”
While the Salon article presented an argument that the site may favor anti-abortion causes, a search of other controversial topics on GoFundMe shows hundreds of active campaigns related to euthanasia, stem cell research, LGBT rights, gun rights, alternative medicine and marijuana legalization. Not only does this prove that the company does not seem to discriminate against any particular cause, but many of them fall under prohibited categories in the new guidelines.
For example, a Missouri woman started a GoFundMe campaign in April to raise money to euthanize her sick dog.
“Mama Bob is a beloved pet and is 17 years old. She is very sick and the family can't touch her without her being in obvious pain,” she wrote. “Mama really deserves in-home euthanasia, as she has been there through thick and thin for many family hardships.”
Her campaign, which has raised $300 so far, is prohibited under the new guidelines, which explicitly bar “ending the life of an animal.” The same can go for a handful of other pet euthanasia pages – many of which are asking to cover the costs of the procedure that already took place. The guidelines say that “content associated with or relating to” termination of life dealings are prohibited as well.
In terms of gun control, GoFundMe told Salon Wednesday that the platform may not be used to “fund [the] purchase [of] firearms.” The new guidelines echo this statement, but they have yet to be enforced.
There are hundreds of GoFundMe campaigns related to both gun control supporters and gun rights activists. In one case, a California woman is seeking funds to get a firearm permit. A handful of others are raising funds for gun safety classes. One campaign started by a Georgia woman who identifies as a sexual assault victim has raised $700 toward buying a gun.
“For those who would like to know what my desired gun is - a Colt .45 1911! But I am looking at guns that are of the same quality, caliber, and similar in usage without such a steep price tag,” she wrote.
A Washington Post article pointed out that the only noticeable change since the new guidelines were released was the removal of the longstanding campaign that supported Raffaele Sollecito, the former boyfriend of Amanda Knox. Both were convicted of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Italy in 2007. The page had been active since June 2013 and raised more than $44,000.
GoFundMe isn’t the only popular Internet platform that is getting flak for changing its ways. Social news site Reddit has been criticized for taking down the leaked nude photos of celebrities, CNN reports. The website, which has allowed users to post whatever they want, removed the photos after they were notified some of them contained photos of minors.
"We should continue to be as open as a platform as we can be, and while we in no way condone or agree with this activity, we should not intervene beyond what the law requires," Jason Harvey, Reddit's senior system administrator, said, referring to how the company will handle offensive content in the future. "The arguments for and against are numerous, and this is not a comfortable stance to take in this situation, but it is what we have decided on."