The Trouble with GoFundMe

The good and the bad behind digital crowdfunding campaigns

Megan Orr, Opinions Editor // Illustration by Alison Johnstone

What started as a heartwarming story of good karma quickly spiralled into an idiot cluster. GoFundMe recently found itself at the centre of an unfolding drama when a young couple, Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico, asked for $10,000 from the public and ended up raising more than $400,000. The money was intended for homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt after he lent McClure his last $20 when her car ran out of gas. “Awww,” hey? Mysteriously though, McClure and D’Amico only gave Bobbitt $75,000 and withheld the rest. Where it went, one can only guess, although $325,000 could hardly have disappeared into thin air.

The two cited concerns about how Bobbitt would spend the money as their reason for not handing over the lump sum. Although, after their house was raided by the police, it became evident that they never intended to release the money anyway. A little less “awww” now. Part of the issue lies in their reasoning. If they were truly so concerned about how Bobbitt would spend the money then why did they even launch the campaign in the first place? These people don’t have the right to dictate how Bobbitt gets to spend the kindly donated funds. Bobbitt didn’t ask for any of this. Sure, he needs it, but he likely didn’t give his consent to be involved in a media shitstorm. Now, with the money being withheld, Bobbitt is suing the couple for what is rightfully his.

GoFundMe stepped up to the plate and assured Bobbitt and the concerned public that he would receive the money that was donated. Although this story is already fading into the back of the public’s mind, it does bring up concerns about the nature of crowdfunding. Bobbitt was worthy of help, but the viral campaign, Paying it Forward, went above and beyond. In a market oversaturated with people desperate for help, it’s hard to figure out which causes are worth supporting. Anyone can create a campaign. It only takes a compelling story and a couple of minutes to start receiving donations. However, many worthy causes go unnoticed, and evidently there are people out there taking advantage of the kindness of strangers.

The reason this story leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth is because it speaks to how desperate so many people are for help, and how desperate the rest of us are to feel like we’re helping. It’s a perfect example of the idea of armchair activism, where people on the internet feel like they’re saving the world from the comfort of their own homes. In a society already overrun with apathy, the GoFundMe’s of the world tend to get lost in the noise.

While the GoFundMe campaign for Bobbitt raised more than $400,000, plenty of other campaigns went unnoticed. People all over the world are suffering, yet from the comfort of home people get to feel like they’re making a real and positive difference in the world by donating a few bucks and sharing a link. Who gets to decide what causes are worthy and why? And finally, will Bobbitt’s life actually improve as a result? Sure, money is a start, but will he truly have the resources that he needs to live a fulfilling life? Only time will tell if all of this was worth the trouble.

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