Crowdfunding Controversies: When Kickstarter Funds Questionable Causes

While Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have funded many a great project, they have also been used for more questionable causes. 

In the wrong hands, and for the wrong purposes, even a well-intentioned site like Kickstarter can be twisted. All it takes is someone with an ill-informed idea and enough people to back it to create a recipe for disaster, or maybe just a potato salad. 

Here are some of the more controversial ways in which Kickstarter has been used:

Publishing tasteless material

There are some books too heinous to be published traditionally, but which unfortunately have a high demand. Take a book called “Above The Game,” for example.  Under the tagline “how to get awesome with women,” the guide allegedly included content that recommended and taught sexual assault as a seduction tactic.

The project raised $16,000: 8 times the proposed asking of $2,000. Due to backlash, Kickstarter released an apology and banned future seduction guides, but not until after the book was funded.

Similar projects include a tentacle rape card game called Tentacle Bento, which made $30,000 dollars before Kickstarter cancelled it.

Funding alleged hate crime shooters

The 2014 situation in Ferguson has been controversial in many aspects, none the least because the shooting of a young black man by a police officer is, as much as it is a tragedy, a racially charged and sensitive situation indicative of larger societal issues.

Crowdfunding platform GoFundMe has been used for the public to raise money for both shooter and victim. That the offending officer managed to raise over $250,000 (and climbing) in less than five days, and the victim’s memorial fund and family less than $200,000 in over nine, is troubling to some–so troubling, that a petition has been created in an attempt to prohibit fundraising the suspects of potential hate crimes, especially during impending investigations.

Raising millions for (already rich) celebrities

In 2013, Zach Braff raised $3.1 million for a sequel to Garden State, and Rob Thomas generated $5.7 million for a Veronica Mars movie.

Obviously, if there is a large demand for what’s being offered, people will fund it. But some critics say that this negates the site’s humble origins, which aimed to support talented artists and business people with limited means. Zach Braff gets paid $350,000 per episode of Scrubs, just to put things in perspective.

It’s worth noting that other celebrities have tried and failed to replicate this kind of success–I’m looking at you, Melissa Joan Hart.

Funding scientifically questionable experiments

A recent Kickstarter project sought to create and distribute a glowing plant called Arabidopsis thaliana, with DNA altered to emit a green-blue light endowed with genetic circuitry from fireflies.

This project, which successfully raised $484,013 early June 2013, has sparked debate among experts on the consequences of letting this genetically engineered plant, an invasive species, into the hands of the public or in proximity with other plant life, and sparked numerous petitions.

Over-funding banal proposals

Though there is nothing bad about potato salad, it is a bit strange to fund a recipe. Apparently, thousands of backers thought otherwise, and the project, which sought to raise a meager $10, raised $55,492 instead.

It says something odd about society that people are willing to fund potato salad instead of well, just about any other cause, charitable or not.  But in the end, there’s reason for celebration after all–“potato salad guy” Zach Brown is using the proceeds to throw a potato salad festival in Ohio, proceeds of which will be donated to Ohio’s homeless.

Funding scam artists

Perhaps the worst type of Kickstarter project is the type that isn’t a project at all–rather, a plot to crowdfund the pockets of scammers.

It happens all too often, though thankfully, investigations usually reveal such projects’ true colors and ensure backers’ donations are returned.  This happened when one project promising Kobe beef jerky raised over $120,000 before being suspended by Kickstarter for fraudulence.

Updated. Originally published 7.10.2013. 

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Jennifer Markert