There is a new controversy at GoFundMe which has been repeatedly criticized for yielding to campaigns to cancel conservative causes on the fundraising site. This controversy involved the decision to deactivate the fundraising ability of Parents Against Critical Theory, a group opposing the teaching of critical race theory in Loudoun County Public Schools. Loudoun county school employees supported a campaign to cancel the fundraiser and GoFundMe quickly informed the group that it had violated the site’s policies. However, there is no explanation of the specific violations that I could find. There may well be valid grounds for such termination but the failure to be clear and transparent on those grounds is deeply concerning from a free speech perspective.
Loudoun county has become the center of an intense debate over anti-racist programs. In June, the Loudoun County Public Schools adopted a “Culturally Responsive Framework” to dismantle “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 drew criticism for a proposal that would bar 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 curtail free speech rights of teachers speaking outside of school:
“Employees are expected to support the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices through the performance of their job duties, as the Division engages in the disruption and dismantling of white supremacy, systemic racism, and language and actions motivated by race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or ability. Behavior that will not be tolerated includes but is not limited to:
Any comments or actions that are not in alignment with the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices, and which impact an individual’s ability to perform their job responsibilities or create a breach in the trust bestowed upon them as an employee of the school division. This includes on-campus and off-campus speech, social media posts, and any other telephonic or electronic communication.“
[Bold emphasis added]
Notably, this includes even telephone conversations off-campus as well as social media. Critical race theory remains a controversy across the country that is the subject of considerable debate on social media as well as political campaigns.
Adding to this tension is a recent video being circulated by parents on a session from the Loudoun county where a teacher confronts a facilitator on the meaning of a picture:
That context has left tensions high in the county, which contributed to the angry response to the campaign to shutdown the fundraising ability for this site. I am unfamiliar with the affected page, which was created by an individual named Scott Mineo. He is connected with Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT) which used the page to raise funds to oppose the new policies. I am frankly unfamiliar with PACT but the coverage in conservative media sites state that GoFundMe has declined to explain the basis for the action. It simply has a statement that it can remove any user posts that it deems “in its sole discretion to be unacceptable,” according to its user guidelines.
There is an obvious concern over private censorship, particularly in the absence of transparency on the basis for such a termination. As noted recently by Sen. Bernie Sanders, there are growing free speech concerns raised by private censorship of these corporations.
As stated recently in testimony before the House, I remain an unabashed “Internet Originalist,” favoring the free forum for speech that once defined these Big Tech companies. The expanding censorship of the Internet continues to show bias and contractions as Democratic members push for “robust modification” to silence opposing views of everything from climate change to social justice.
I have no idea of the merits of the latest dispute and that is precisely the problem. If GoFundMe is going to shutdown political campaigns, it should at least shoulder the burden of explaining to the campaign or page how it violated the guidelines. Otherwise, the sense of utter impunity in censoring pages only magnifies concerns for the future of free speech on the Internet.
I sent an inquiry to GoFundMe to seek an explanation of the basis for this action or why such a basis was reportedly not given to the affected group. I have not received an answer but will update this posting if I hear back from the company.