How to swiftly torpedo a racist crowdfunding campaign

On Friday afternoon, Indiegogo quietly canceled every crowdfunding campaign in support of South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, the cop who murdered Walter Scott. The company reversed its initial decision to allow the campaigns, after facing widespread criticism for its profiting from racist police violence, and at least partially because of my own Indiegogo campaigns that targeted the company.

The Slager fundraisers appeared on Indiegogo after it was rejected by GoFundMe, another crowdfunding site, for violating their terms of service, which ban “campaigns in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes.” Indiegogo was initially accepting of the Slager campaigns, claiming that their service “enables anyone, anywhere to raise money for any idea the crowd wishes to fund.”

This statement was smarmy — cynically appealing to fuzzy libertarian notions of democracy and the free market, skirting the reality that companies have to make moral and ethical decisions, and face public scorn based on those decisions.

Their non-answer couldn’t avoid public criticism. Their social media posts were bombarded with negative comments. The Color of Change created a petition for its 130,000 members to sign.

And I created two Indiegogo campaigns — one, a facetious Swiftian project to build a large orphan meat grinder (surely, if they support racist cops murdering people than they’d have no problem with grinding up abandoned children), and another to erect a large billboard in front of Indiegogo’s San Francisco office, advertising the fact that they support racist police. The latter gained some traction on social media, and even received a small amount of contributions.

Because of this pressure, the company quietly changed its mind on Friday, removing the Slager campaigns from its site (there were at least five active by Thursday night). They made no announcement on their website, or on social media. In fact, their social media feeds have been suspiciously silent since April 8 — an aberration from their usual daily activity.

Indiegogo’s only public acknowledgement of their change of heart came in the form of a vague quote to the Chicago Tribune. “Our Trust & Safety team regularly conducts verifications and checks and these campaigns did not meet their standards,” a spokesperson explained via email.

All of this, plus the Friday afternoon timing of their decision, seems likely the sign of a PR team choosing to strategically ignore engaging with a controversy, hoping it will blow over before the start of the next week. Regardless, this is a victory.

I’m not certain how much their decision was based on my prank Indiegogo campaigns — a large number of people protested and signed petitions and furiously emailed them, and their folding was inevitable. However, the timing and nature of their decision seems to suggest the prank campaigns played a large part in getting them to change their minds.

I received two voicemails from Indiegogo on Friday, the first at 2:11 p.m., and the second at 3:14 p.m., from a Trust and Safety representative named Johnathon. The messages explained that they were about to “take action” on my meat grinder campaign at 3:30 p.m. (around the same time they pulled the plug on the Slager campaigns), but wanted to speak to me before doing so.

I called back. In our painfully awkward minute-long conversation, Johnathon explained that they were cancelling the meat grinder campaign for violating their terms of use, and refunding the $2 it raised. But, he explained, they wouldn’t ban me from the site, as is their typical practice in such a situation, as my billboard campaign did not violate their terms, and they didn’t want to shut that down as well. I asked if he could confirm this via email, to which he replied that he’d be happy to, though he’d hoped we could just settle it on the phone.

Shortly after, I received a short email from “Indiegogo Customer Happiness,” saying only, “Per our conversation over the phone here is your email confirmation that your campaign has been removed.”

indiegogo-customer-happiness-email

 

Should they stick to their decision to remove all Slager crowdfunding campaigns, I will discontinue my plans to rent the billboard, and donate any money raised to the family of Walter Scott (or refund the money, if donors prefer).

So: Using a crowdfunding site to raise money to publicly shame that same crowdfunding site for their sleazy practices appears to be an effective means of getting such a company to change their policies. At least, for now.

It’s not difficult to see where this is going. As more hate-filled crowdfunding campaigns appear — for homophobic pizzerias, or crappy anti-abortion documentaries — and then are rejected by mainstream sites like GoFundMe and Indiegogo and Kickstarter, a conservative alternative will soon appear. It will have a red, white, and blue color scheme, and look ugly as hell — a fitting reflection of the septic worldviews of Republicans. But, like most cheap conservative knockoffs, it will be widely successful.

This small victory only signals that crowdfunding will soon change in a profound and bleak way.