Ethics and Values in Crowdfunding

In a recent piece for the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy, I discussed the ethical limits of crowdfunding: should platforms host campaigns that promote hatred? How should they handle campaigns that are legally dubious? Should they be worried about their success crowding out the activities of other worthy organizations?

I made the argument that platforms can play a positive role in shaping the kinds of crowdfunding campaigns that succeed on their watch.

For the crowdfunding industry to establish and retain a sound ethical footing, it should embrace the interplay of community and platform to develop conversations and opportunities that are productive and avoid harm to individuals and institutions.

Clearly platforms cannot be expected to handle unlimited liability. But active stewardship is worthwhile for two reasons. Firstly, it’s not in the interest of platforms to sit back and allow campaigns that promote hatred or are misleading to operate using their resources and their brand name. Secondly, what is allowed to happen on a platform reflects (or will soon reflect) the community who feel excited about using it. Happy, productive communities don’t typically rally behind activites that aim to bring unhappiness to others.

In civic crowdfunding, the ethical issues are more complex because the stakeholders involved are more likely to hold themselves – or be held to – higher standards than the average startup. In most cases these stakeholders will be held to higher standards than the crowdfunding platforms themselves. These standards go beyond pure ethics, too, and probably better described as values. But again, platforms have an opportunity to lead by example, and to articulate the values and practices that civic crowdfunding should stand for. And that goes for the rest of us too – as researchers, fundraisers, backers and community members.

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