A crowdfunding campaign to cover the legal defense of a white supremacist who shot and killed protestors in Kenosha causes controversy for GoFundMe, and also reveals the discretionary nature of the service's terms.
Summary: Shortly after protests began in Kenosha, Wisconsin over the killing of Jacob Blake by police officers, armed citizens began showing up ostensibly to protect businesses and homes from violent protesters. One of these citizens was Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois native who traveled to Kenosha as a self-appointed peacekeeping force.
Following an altercation at a Kenosha car dealership, Rittenhouse shot three protesters, killing two of them. Shortly after it became apparent Rittenhouse was going to be criminally-charged, fundraisers for his legal defense were set up in his name at GoFundMe.
As controversy continued to swirl, GoFundMe deleted the fundraisers from its platform and refunded all donations. When asked for the reason, GoFundMe stated the fundraisers had violated its terms of service. While nothing was specifically cited by GoFundMe as the violation triggering the removals, its terms of service allow it to remove "any other activity" the site deems "unacceptable."
Decisions to be made by GoFundMe:
- Should moderation decisions be influenced by public outcry? Or should objectivity remain in place even if controversial fundraisers result in considerable public pushback?
- Does a policy of deleting fundraisers for people charged with serious criminal activity give users the impression that everyone accused of criminal acts is guilty? Does this prevent the wrongfully accused from securing competent legal help?
- Can fundraisers that violate the terms of service be detected prior to public posting? If this isn't possible at this time, would it be worth implementing to lower the possibility of controversial fundraisers gaining public attention before GoFundMe can address them?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
- Does a perceived lack of consistency in moderation decisions encourage more direct regulation by government agencies?
- Does GoFundMe have any obligation to treat accused criminals as innocent until proven guilty?
- Does treating the terms of service as fluid and subject to constant change deter fundraisers from using the site?
This decision follows others GoFundMe has made in the past to take down controversial fundraising attempts. In 2015, it removed a fundraiser for Baltimore police officers facing criminal charges in the death of Freddie Gray. The stated reason for the removal was the fundraiser's attempt to "benefit" people charged with serious crimes. However, that same violation was not cited during the removal of Rittenhouse-related fundraisers, despite his being charged with first degree homicide.