GoFundMe, the online crowdsourcing platform through which organizers of the truckers’ protest in Ottawa raised funds, may have set a precedent for the digital media giants last week.
On Friday, GoFundMe announced it was canceling fundraising for the convoy, which had racked up around $10 million in about a week, citing “promotion of violence and harassment” on the streets of Ottawa – a violation of his politics.
The funds, according to convoy organizers, would be used to support protesters’ stay in Ottawa as the group continues to “lobby” the government over vaccination mandates and other COVID-19-related restrictions.
Now that the fundraiser is over, donors have two weeks to request a refund, GoFundMe said. The remaining money will be distributed to charities.
This is not the first time that a major digital media platform has intervened in such cases. Readers may recall that Twitter permanently suspended former US President Donald Trump’s account shortly after the January 6 uprising on the US Capitol. Twitter concluded that two of Trump’s tweets posted at the time of the uprising violated its policy of “glorifying violence.” Facebook also suspended Trump’s account, later extending that suspension until at least 2023, and GoFundMe announced it would no longer allow people to fundraise for travel expenses used for potentially violent political events.
Social and digital media platforms are facing increasing pressure from their users to intervene in situations like these, where their platforms are used to spread mis/disinformation and incite violence, among other things.
Spotify, the popular music streaming service, found itself in a similar situation. In January, Canadian musician Neil Young threatened to pull his catalog from Spotify if the company did not remove Joe Rogan’s podcast, which contained false information about COVID-19 vaccines.
Spotify, which has a multi-million dollar contract with Rogan, granted Young’s wish and removed most of his music from the service. Other musicians, including beloved Canadian artist Joni Mitchell, followed Young’s lead. In this case, it’s not just members of the general public who are demanding accountability — celebrities have also found their way into the conversation.
The rise of far-right rhetoric and the sharing of fake/misinformation on social media has raised questions about the role of online platforms and their responsibility in monitoring potentially harmful information. As the social divide between right-wing and left-wing thinkers widens, digital media companies will likely be faced with the unenviable task of developing stronger and clearer policies around information sharing.
The Internet Policy Review, a peer-reviewed online journal on internet regulation in Europe, says there are currently few.
“There are currently no clear policies or guidelines on how to handle misinformation on social media platforms, how to deal with it when detected, what legal frameworks and ethical issues to consider, how to disseminate corrective information and how to encourage citizens to read or share corrective information as it becomes available.”
The creators of Facebook and Twitter – pioneers in the early days of social media – were probably unaware of the social and political influence their websites would one day have.
Before, social media was arguably an unassuming space to connect with friends as well as strangers, play games, and spend time away from the “real” world. But now we have come to a time when social media companies need to be more aware of the dangerous connections that are formed through their platforms without stepping on the toes of users who are there to simply enjoy the space for what it is. was intended.
However, it is not certain that social media and digital companies will achieve this alone. It will be up to their users, and perhaps lawmakers and experts who can inform legislation, to continue to demand the policies necessary to protect facts and rein in fake news without hampering democratic discussions.