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A woman in a red coat takes a photo of a collection of signs attached to a fence.
A woman stops to take a photo of signs attached to the fence around Parliament as the trucker protest continues in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Is GoFundMe violating its own terms of service on the ‘freedom convoy?’

The truck convoy that’s taken over Ottawa is protesting a requirement that truck drivers crossing the Canada-United States border are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The trucker vaccine mandate is not a widespread concern among Canadian truck drivers. Both the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Ontario Trucking Association, among others, have criticized the convoy and pointed out that 90 per cent of their members are vaccinated.

But regardless of what anyone thinks about vaccine mandates, the convoy and its organizers have gone far beyond this narrow mission. In addition to more widespread criticism of pandemic mitigation efforts, organizers and participants have called their political opponents communists and Nazis, they’ve waved swastikas and Confederate flags, they’ve threatened a Jan. 6 style insurrection against the government of Canada and they’ve abused journalists covering the convoy.

While the protest movement itself consists of about 10,000 people, a significant part of its visibility and perceived support is due to a massively successful crowdfunding campaign.

So far, the “Freedom Convoy 2022” campaign hosted by GoFundMe has raised more than $9.6 million from 119,000 donations. As money has continued to pour into the campaign from Canada and abroad, its fundraising goal has gone from a starting point of $100,000 all the way to its current goal of $10 million.

Shortly after the publication of this article, GoFundMe announced the campaign is paused and currently under review to ensure it complies with its terms of service. Nonetheless, $1 million has already been distributed and other related campaigns are still up and running.

Money already being put to use

This crowdfunding success has been covered extensively in the media and used as an example of the purported popularity of the convoy and its message.

The GoFundMe campaign organizers have been clear about how important crowdfunding success is to the convoy and the $1 million already released has paid for the fuel costs of convoy participants. The crowdfunding has even implicated NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh after news stories revealed that his brother-in-law donated to it.

Given the importance of this crowdfunding campaign to the convoy’s success and visibility, GoFundMe needs to decide what role it wants to have in supporting it. While the platform did temporarily freeze the money raised through this campaign, it did so only due to questions around how the money would be used.

Campaign organizer B.J. Dichter then celebrated this release of funds, saying that the “team at GoFundMe have been amazing to work with and we are very appreciative of their support.”

Terms of service violations?

GoFundMe could say, of course, that it wants to be neutral as to how money raised on its platform is used and that hosting a campaign does not imply supporting the campaigner’s goals or political views. But it’s important to keep in mind that GoFundMe and other crowdfunding platforms regularly ban campaigns for running afoul of their terms of service.

GoFundMe does not allow campaigns for the legal defence of people accused of hate, intolerance and violent crimes, it has removed campaigns that spread misinformation about vaccine safety and campaigns associated with pornography and sexual content are prohibited.

A protester holds a sign of Justin Trudeau's face behind bars.
A protester holds an anti-Trudeau sign near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Its terms of service include its right to prohibit “any other activity that GoFundMe may deem, in its sole discretion, to be unacceptable,” giving GoFundMe wide latitude to remove any campaign it desires.

GoFundMe purports to want to be “the most helpful place in the world.” Its CEO, Tim Cadogan, has stated that the company has “a responsibility to society” and so “we prohibit the promotion of misinformation, or the promotion of hate or discrimination, or using a campaign to bully someone or discriminate, or to promote violence or terrorism.”

But the so-called freedom convoy’s GoFundMe page hosts a cesspool of comments from donors that call political enemies communists and Nazis, threaten violence and promote the QAnon conspiracy movement. Many organizers are associated with far-right political movements and conspiracy groups, including the campaign organizers.

Legitimate questions about the proper scope of government power in a pandemic may have motivated many supporters of the campaign. But this concern has been left far behind in favour of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and more general anti-government grievances, not to mention outright white supremacy and hate.

GoFundMe profiting from campaign

GoFundMe is hardly disinterested in the success of this campaign. While it no longer collects a fixed five per cent of donated funds, it does receive voluntary tips from donors. Five per cent remains a fair estimate of the money made from these donations and, if so, then GoFundMe has pocketed more than $480,000 from this campaign — with more to come.

Making money from crowdfunding campaigns is fine of course — GoFundMe is a private business, after all. But if it’s going to brand itself a positive force in the world that supports kindness, generosity and human rights, then that doesn’t square with hosting and profiting from this campaign.

GoFundMe has already decided that it won’t host fundraisers for people accused of hate crimes and proponents of vaccine misinformation. It’s hard to see why this campaign deserves its support over those others, especially when it’s giving the convoy’s often abusive supporters a larger platform.

It’s time for GoFundMe to decide what it actually stands for in practice, and not just pay lip service to it.

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