GoFundMe, the crowdfunding free-for-all that has raised money for drug users, convicted murderers and the embattled police officer who killed Michael Brown, has finally found a moral line it won’t cross: abortion.
Earlier this week, the platform — which operates like its big-brother Kickstarter, but with far fewer rules — summarily shut down the sincere, if irreverent, fundraiser of an Illinois woman who had raised $2,100 to terminate a “rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.” Per “Bailey’s” fundraising page, which is no longer online, complications from the pregnancy had prevented her from keeping a job. Without any money, and without adequate medical insurance to cover the procedure, Bailey and a friend turned to GoFundMe.
In the uproar that followed, GoFundMe didn’t just take down Bailey’s page. On Tuesday, the platform also categorically banned fundraisers on a wide range of arbitrary moral issues, including abortion, gambling, “sorcery” and any material “relating to the adult industry” in any capacity. Since this post was first published, GoFundMe also quietly deleted its long-running fundraiser for Raffaele Sollecito, who was convicted, with Amanda Knox, of the high-profile murder of British student Meredith Kercher in 2007. The fundraiser had been active since June 2013 and raised over $44,000.
“As GoFundMe’s growth and popularity surges, the company will continue to refine and improve its content review process to ensure a positive experience for all visitors,” a GoFundMe spokeswoman said, by way of explanation.
But judging by the list of banned content, GoFundMe doesn’t necessarily want a positive experience for all visitors. It wants a positive experience for visitors who align with a specific social outlook — a social outlook, incidentally, that has very little to do with universal social standards, like the law.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily: GoFundMe is a private company, and like Chik-fil-a or Starbucks, it can do pretty much whatever it wants.
But it’s a fascinating departure for a site that previously billed itself as a platform for literally everyone and everything, no matter how bizarre, explicit or depraved. And it’s certainly a radical shift from the type of content policing employed at virtually every other user-generated Internet community, where moderators will regularly take down instances of hate speech or violence or gore, but would certainly never get into the tangled weeds of a polarizing moral issue like abortion.
In fact, in many ways, the sort of hyper-activist, highly moralized content policy GoFundMe is now pursuing is the antithesis of the policy we’ve seen Reddit cling to in the news over the past few days. Their orientations to the Internet are at once opposite and extreme: Reddit seeks some impossible, absolutist libertarian utopia, where everything is permissible and people police themselves; GoFundMe, on the other hand, now seems to believe that man’s natural inclination for evil can only be curbed by strict rules handed down from on high. Not just legal rules, it bears repeating, but also moral ones.
And GoFundMe is not the only Web company wading into this space: On Tuesday, the e-commerce site Etsy announced it would not allow products with the Redskins’ name. In a lengthy explanation on the company’s blog, Bonnie Broeren wrote that the policy change sought to balance “freedom of speech and protection from discrimination.”
GoFundMe, however, has failed to explain how or why it chose its specific set of rules; in a statement to The Post, a spokeswoman declined to provide anything besides the typical PR boilerplate. The company was a little more specific in an e-mail to Bailey herself, where they explained that “a high number of complaints” had been made about the campaign and that, as a result, GoFundMe would “rather not be associated” with it.
Among the complaints, as they appeared in conservative and pro-life media: The pregnancy was “near viability”; Bailey wanted to end it so she could “continue to party”; and the father was the one running her GoFundMe account.
Each of these claims, it’s worth noting, runs counter to the actual statements Bailey has made on GoFundMe and to the press. More important, each of those statements has nothing to do with the law or established public policy — they’re based entirely on moral judgments, the type usually made by individual people.
The old GoFundMe, whatever it’s other issues, at least allowed people to make those judgments for themselves — and they did. More than 130 people donated to Bailey’s abortion campaign, contributing more than $2,140. People who disagreed with that were, of course, free to comment on the page, or message Bailey, or write about it on LifeNews.com.
But now, no matter what you believe about these issues, the debate is effectively closed. Perhaps that “ensures a positive experience for all visitors,” as GoFundMe claims. Or perhaps, as I fear, all this policy actually does is stifle open exchange.