While we cover the news, it is rare when something worthy of reporting happens near our Kearny Mesa office. But recently, a local business has made some headlines.
GoFundMe, an online donation website, has caught the ire of a social advocacy organization for its involvement in helping to raise money for the police officer who killed a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. in August.
It seems that supporters of the police officer, Darren Wilson, used GoFundMe to start two fundraising drives — bringing in more than $400,000. That upset Color for Change, a group with offices in New York City and Oakland.
To protest, Color for Change rented a billboard that it said “went up by GoFundMe's San Diego office. They can profit off racism, but *not* in secret.”
The billboard has the slogan, “DontFundHate.”
"Profiting off the killing of Michael Brown is not okay. Profiting off of racially-motivated donors is not okay,” the group wrote in a letter to the company, the UT San Diego reported.
But the organization gets an ‘F’ for execution. First, the rooftop billboard is located on Broadway near 10th Ave.
In case you are not familiar with San Diego geography, the downtown location of the billboard is eight miles from GoFundMe’s office. While Broadway is a common exit path for those leaving downtown, it is doubtful the billboard will make much of an impact.
That is especially the case given the fact that the billboard is somewhat cryptic. Unless you are aware of the facts around the situation, you might not even know it is referencing GoFundMe.
Of course, the more articles about the controversy, like this one, the more Color of Change can count its endeavor a success. That is, the more publicity, the more likely the protestor will succeed in either punishing the offending company or changing its future behavior.
Unfortunately, GoFundMe has exacerbated the issue. The UT reported that GoFundMe sent Color for Change a cease and desist letter that threatened a lawsuit along with a demand to stop public criticism. GoFundMe also hired a security company to guard the entrance to its building.
From personal experience, I don’t think they have taken the best approach.
Our company was the subject of a protest in the 1990s. Our magazine for law students, The National Jurist, published a story about law students and their love for money. To illustrate our point, I chose to photograph a seemingly naked woman covered in money. While the photograph would likely not draw as much contempt today, in the mid- ‘90s it was a lightning rod for protest. We were labeled sexist and law students across the nation were burning our magazines and throwing them away.
The intensity of the protest and the level of hate it inspired surprised me. But when I looked at the cover photo through the eyes of the protestors, I could see how it might be offensive. And without question, I had alienated a large percent of my readership.
Instead of trying to silence my critics or threaten them with a lawsuit, I chose to publish as many of the complaint letters as possible, devoting space in two magazine issues. I also apologized.
Whether it was because of the controversy or due to my response, the anger dissipated and our readership grew stronger than ever.
While GoFundMe may not have intended to fund hate, it did allow racist comments to accompany donations without removing them promptly. In a statement, it acknowledged that “Some donors’ comments have contained content that is in violation of GoFundMe’s terms and have been removed accordingly.” But then instead of apologizing, it said: “The content of the campaign itself is not in violation of GoFundMe’s terms of service.”
That response seems impersonal for a company that calls its customer service employees by the title of Customer Happiness. The response certainly did not engender happiness among its detractors.
GoFundMe claims the racist comments were part of a trolling effort, and there were too many to remove in a prompt manner. They said they were in discussion with Color of Change prior to the billboard being added, and only sough a cease and desist letter after Color of Change threatened to post a billboard with their employees faces on it. they also claim that the need for security guards goes far beyond the billboard issue.
Some protests are legitimate and some are not. I take no exception to GoFundMe choosing to fund the campaign in question. But the way companies respond to controversies is often more important than the initial incident.
GoFundMe recently announced it will donate its $50,000 profit from the funding in question to charity.
Our City San Diego Editor-in-Chief