Taipei, Taiwan- GoFundMe has frozen a fundraising campaign for far-left media outlet The Grayzone due to “external concerns”, in the latest case aimed at highlighting the controversial role of tech companies in regulating controversial speech.
The Grayzone says it was unable to access more than $90,000 donated by 1,100 contributors to support the work of three journalists.
Max Blumenthal, founder and editor of The Grayzone, said the California-based crowdfunding firm informed him in mid-August that he would not be allowed to transfer donations pending a review of the campaign. related to unspecified “external concerns”.
Blumenthal said he believed the review was undertaken for “political reasons” related to his coverage of the war in Ukraine.
“They only told me because of external concerns, and I guess someone should be powerful enough to make GoFundMe overlook the profit motive that usually governs companies like this to cancel a fundraiser. extremely successful,” Blumenthal told Al Jazeera. Friday.
Blumenthal added that Wyatt Reed, editor-in-chief of The Grayzone, encountered similar issues with payment platforms Paypal and Venmo following his reporting from the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
GoFundMe said every fundraiser on its platform is subject to review and The Grayzone may continue to solicit donations.
“Throughout this review, fundraising has remained active and open for donations on the site,” GoFundMe director of public affairs Jalen Drummond told Al Jazeera.
Drummond did not elaborate on The Grayzone’s concerns, but confirmed that the platform’s terms of service do not allow users to “promote inaccurate or misleading information.”
The Grayzone is known for its critical coverage of US foreign policy and anti-war views, but has been accused of spreading Chinese and Russian government disinformation and propaganda, including debunked claims about the conflict in Ukraine and whitewashed accounts of Beijing’s crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities. in the far west of Xinjiang.
GoFundMe’s decision is the latest case to highlight thorny questions about Big Tech’s role in determining truth online.
Over the past decade, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LINE and PayPal have been embroiled in an increasingly polarized debate over the line between protecting free speech and combating misinformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, among other events, have underscored the potential dangers of online misinformation in the real world.
GoFundMe’s handling of controversial views has already come under scrutiny, including the decision last year to freeze millions of dollars in funds raised on behalf of “Freedom Convoy” truckers in Canada.
GoFundMe president Juan Benitez later told the Canadian parliament that the campaign was initially approved, but the company changed course after the movement grew increasingly violent and confrontational.
Last year, the platform also suspended the fundraising efforts of a Canadian First Nations group engaged in blocking a rail line through British Columbia.
Free speech groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have raised concerns that tech companies are suppressing unpopular speech, given their “utilitarian” status and role as “custodian of the modern public square”.
The ACLU also criticized payment platforms for denying access to sex workers, equating the measures with “financial censorship”.
The International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders did not respond to requests for comment. The Committee to Protect Journalists did not provide a comment in time for publication.
Some tech companies have recently stepped back from their role in moderating online speech, amid calls for greater tolerance of controversial and fringe opinions.
On the eve of the 2024 U.S. presidential election, Facebook owners Meta and Youtube backed out of their policies aimed at combating misinformation about COVID-19 and the 2020 election results.
The moves have raised concerns among some analysts and lawmakers about misinformation, with Democratic Senator Mark Warner warning that allowing the proliferation of election information “undermines trust and has dangerous consequences.”
Last year, PayPal was criticized for appearing to add misinformation to its list of prohibited activities subject to a $2,500 fine before clarifying that the update was an “error” and that it did not would not take place.
X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, has dramatically reduced its moderation of misinformation and hate speech under its owner Elon Musk, whose stewardship of the platform has polarized criticism.
Blumenthal said The Grayzone has since moved its fundraising campaign to rival crowdfunding platform Spotfund, where it raised $110,000 towards a goal of $150,000.
“How disinformation is defined and applied by social media sites, from Wikipedia to the old regime of Twitter and Facebook, is determined by state-sponsored entities and these state-sponsored entities want to suppress the flow of any information or report that contravenes their purpose. “said Blumenthal.
“In this case, the goal is to maintain public support for massive US military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine,” he added. “So everything we do could be called disinformation, but no one ever defines what it is.”