In recent months there have been a number of questions raised about crowdfundings reward model and its application to fund certain projects. This has been brought in to sharp focus with the shooting of Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August 2014.
The consequences of the shooting and the circumstances surrounding it are well documented, so I won’t dwell on this here, what I wanted to show was how crowdfunding is adding fuel to the controversial fires over this issue.
The crowdfunding reward model is by far the most popular, and by default it’s often the model referred to when people talk about crowdfunding. Controversy emerged when big stars in the USA started using reward model crowdfunding platforms to fund projects that could produce a commercially successful outcome for the celebrity.
Crowdfunding eliminates the risk for the celebrity as they are not using their own money for an unpredictable product that could fail. They are also tapping into a huge fan base that gives them an unfair advantage over campaigns that are starting from a position with much less of an audience. A stars fan base may simply accept their endorsement of a certain position and thus back them without really considering how they will benefit from funding the project.
So my first question for you is this; is it fair that stars should use crowdfunding for commercial projects they may gain from while playing it safe with their own cash reserves?
This is a hard question to answer. It becomes even more difficult when we move the focus away from celebrity culture to moral and ethical cultural issues more broadly. This can be seen in crowdfunding activities for both Officer Darren Wilson and the shot youth Michael Brown on the platform gofundme.com in the USA.
There were actually three campaigns running on the platform; two in support of Officer Wilson and one in support of Michael Brown. The last time I looked at these campaigns (5 September 2014) they looked like this:
Michael Brown Memorial Fund (MBMF):
- $327,118 raised
- 10,688 donations
Support Officer Darren Wilson (SODW):
- $235,525 raised
- 5,930 donations
Support Officer Wilson (SOW):
- $197,620 raised
- 4,483 donations
The grand total raised at that point stood at $760,263 from 21,101 donations.
But is it right that crowdfunding should have been used for these kinds of campaigns? Is it ethically right that the friends and families on both sides should be able to raise cash through a channel that was essentially set-up to be used for social and entrepreneurial projects?
Take a moment to answer yes, maybe or no to the question of whether crowdfunding should be used in the following scenarios:
- for a film by an already wealthy and rich celebrity with a huge fan base
- a political election (will be the second time in office if elected)
- a porn star’s medical bills (alleged domestic violence victim)
- a porn star’s medical bills (life threatening condition)
- adult books, films, toys and other services
- an abortion for a 23 year old woman.
If your answer is yes or maybe, then the question has to be asked who should be responsible for deciding if a campaign is ethically or morally acceptable. Should the platforms be made to accept any campaign no matter how sensitive the vision being crowdfunded?
Should President Obama be forced to give back the 72% of his $118 million raised in the 2011 elections by crowdfunding? Should Zach Braff, a Hollywood film maker, give back the $2 million he raised for a film through Kickstarter? He has, after all, been given a further $10 million after the campaign closed from traditional film funding venture capitalists.
The problem and the controversy doesn’t end here. The platforms themselves are also open to criticism as they make money from each successful campaign.
Porn star Christy Mack used crowdfunding to pay her medical bills after being beaten up, allegedly by her boyfriend, the Former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and Bellator fighter Jon ‘War Machine’ Koppenhaver. This follows an earlier campaign by porn star Eden Alexander to help pay her medical bills for her terminal illness.
In the Michael Brown/Officer Wilson campaign the gofundme.com platform stands to make 5% from the totals raised in each campaign (at the time of writing $38,013.15) while WePay, the payment provider, takes a further 2.9% plus $0.30 for each transaction (at the time of writing $28,377.93).
I would love to hear your opinions on these and other controversial uses of crowdfunding.
Mentioned campaigns can be found here:
- Christy Mack medical expenses (alleged victim of domestic violence): https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/qcd5/christy-mack-s-medical-expense-fund
- Eden Alexander medical bills (related to illness): https://www.tilt.com/campaigns/eden-alexander-emergency-medical-care-fund/description
- Michael Brown Memorial Fund: http://www.gofundme.com/justiceformikebrown
- Support Officer Darren Wilson: http://www.gofundme.com/SupportOfficerWilson
- Support Officer Wilson: http://www.gofundme.com/OfficerWilsonFundraiser
- For the abortion story see: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/09/crowdfunding-abortion
For more interesting information on crowdfunding and to keep up with this blog series follow the author, Chris Buckingham on Twitter!