GoFundMe appears to have lifted its ban on fundraising for Kyle Rittenhouse . . . after he was acquitted. Of course, those funds were most needed to put on a defense and many demanded that the site cut off access to fundraising. The site yielded to the pressure and refused to allow people who believed Rittenhouse to be innocent from donating on its site. GoFundMe has been repeatedly criticized for political bias and conservative sites have objected that the site continued to allow fundraising for Black Lives Matter protesters accused of rioting. The company appears to have embraced a Red Queen policy from Alice in Wonderland: This “sentence first — verdict afterwards.”
GOFundMe issued a statement.
“If someone is acquitted of those charges, as Rittenhouse was today, a fundraiser started subsequently for their legal defense and other expenses would not violate this policy. A fundraiser to pay lawyers, cover legal expenses or to help with ongoing living expenses for a person acquitted of those charges could remain active as long as we determine it is not in violation of any of our other terms and, for example, the purpose is clearly stated, and the correct beneficiary is added to the fundraiser.”
Previously, Twitter and Facebook also blocked those who defended Rittenhouse. For its part, GoFundMe declared in a prior statement that “GoFundMe’s Terms of Service prohibit raising money for the legal defense of an alleged violent crime. In light of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, we want to clarify when and why we removed certain fundraisers in the past.”
The GoFundMe policy is facially absurd. A criminal defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. GoFundMe presumes guilt until proven innocent . . . for some defendants.
A criminal defense in any case (let alone a high-profile case with ramped up prosecution teams) is hugely expensive. That financial threat can prompt some to plead guilty. That is why people want to help fund such defenses to guarantee true access to a fair trial. GoFundMe did everything it could to block such efforts.
Of course, as I noted recently in a column, Rittenhouse is likely to need additional funds for the next chapter of litigation that could range from federal investigations to civil lawsuits.
It is a familiar pattern on Internet sites which were once largely neutral platforms for people to communicate and organize. Now these companies are actively engaged in shaping public opinion and creating barriers to free speech and free association. I am an unabashed Internet originalist. I have long opposed the calls for censorship under the pretense of creating “an honest Internet.” We have have been discussing how writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President Joe Biden and his key advisers. The erosion of free speech has been radically accelerated by Big Tech and social media companies. The level of censorship and viewpoint regulation has raised questions of a new type of state media where companies advance an ideological agenda with political allies.