There is a new controversy on GoFundMe that has been repeatedly criticized for giving in to campaigns to undo conservative concerns on the fundraising website. That controversy included the decision to turn off parent fundraising against Critical Theory, a group opposed to teaching critical racial theory in Loudoun County public schools. Loudoun County School staff supported a campaign to stop the fundraiser, and GoFundMe quickly notified the group that it had violated the website’s guidelines. However, there is no explanation for the specific violations I was able to find. There may well be valid reasons for such termination, but the failure to be clear and transparent about those reasons is deeply worrying from a freedom of speech perspective.
Loudoun County has become the center of an intense debate on anti-racist programs. In June Loudoun County Public Schools passed a “culturally appealing framework” to “break down white supremacy, systemic racism, and hateful language and actions based on race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation and / or ability. ”
Then, in September, Superintendent Scott Ziegler criticized a proposal that would prevent teachers from speaking out against the district’s new framework, according to a draft of that policy. The draft contains a deeply troubling provision that would restrict the freedom of expression of teachers speaking outside of school:
“Employees are expected to support the school department’s commitment to action-oriented justice practices by performing their duties, as the department is motivated by disrupting and reducing white supremacy, systemic racism, language, race and religion Acts. Country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation and / or ability. Behaviors that will not be tolerated include, but are not limited to:
Any comment or action that is inconsistent with the school department’s commitment to action-based justice practices and that affects a person’s ability to exercise professional responsibilities or create a breach of the trust placed in them as a school department employee. This includes on-campus and off-campus speeches, social media posts, and any other telephone or electronic communication.“
[Bold emphasis added]
This includes, in particular, phone calls outside of campus and social media. Critical racial theory remains a controversy across the country that has been the subject of significant debates over social media as well as political campaigning.
Add to this tension a video recently shared by the parents in a meeting in Loudoun County, in which a teacher confronts a moderator with the meaning of a picture:
This context has created high levels of tension in the county, which has contributed to the angry response to the campaign to end fundraising for this website. I am not familiar with the affected page which was created by a person named Scott Mineo. He is linked to Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT) who raised funds on this site to oppose the new guidelines. I am honestly unfamiliar with PACT, but the coverage on conservative media sites says GoFundMe refused to explain the rationale for the action. It just has a statement that it is may remove any User Submissions that it deems in its sole discretion to be unacceptable, in accordance with User Policy.
There is an obvious concern about private censorship, particularly in the absence of transparency based on such termination. As recently noted by Senator Bernie Sanders, there are growing free speech concerns raised by the private censorship of these companies.
As recently stated in a testimony to the House of Representatives, I remain a blatant “internet originalist” who prefers the free speech forum that once defined these big tech companies. Rising internet censorship continues to show bias and contractions as Democratic members push for a “robust modification” to silence conflicting views on everything from climate change to social justice.
I have no idea the merits of the recent dispute, and that is precisely the problem. If GoFundMe wants to close down political campaigns, it should at least bear the burden of explaining to the campaign or site how it violated the guidelines. Otherwise, the feeling of total impunity when censoring pages will only add to concerns about the future of free speech on the Internet.
I sent a request to GoFundMe for an explanation of the rationale for this action or to see why the affected group was reportedly not given such a basis. I haven’t received a response, but will update this post if I hear from the company.