Kickstarter forced to apologise over “seduction guide” controversy

By Chris Lee

Fundraising website Kickstarter found itself at the end of a social media storm recently after one project was accused of encouraging sexual harassment against women, forcing the site to issue an apology.

Ken Hoinsky, the author behind book project “Above the Game”, aimed to raise $2,000 to draft a guide for men on how to “get awesome with women”. He raised more than $16,000 but a backlash on social media, including this blog post from US comedian Casey Malone helped force Kickstarter to not only banish the product but outlaw any “seduction guides” going forward. In its own blog, Kickstarter said that this sort of product “encourages misogynistic behaviour and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works”.

Transparency is key

The Kickstarter case highlights the importance of transparency and – where required – an apology from brands on social media. It did not respond quickly to concerns and shut the Above the Game project down.

In its blog, Kickstarter acknowledges this oversight before explaining why the delay:

The posts offended a lot of people — us included — and many asked us to cancel the creator’s project. We didn’t. We were wrong.

Why didn’t we cancel the project when this material was brought to our attention? Two things influenced our decision:

§ The decision had to be made immediately. We had only two hours from when we found out about the material to when the project was ending. We’ve never acted to remove a project that quickly.

§ Our processes, and everyday thinking, bias heavily toward creators. This is deeply ingrained. We feel a duty to our community — and our creators especially — to approach these investigations methodically as there is no margin for error in cancelling a project. This thinking made us miss the forest for the trees.

The company then goes on to clarify its position on violence: “Let us be 100% clear: Content promoting or glorifying violence against women or anyone else has always been prohibited from Kickstarter.”

The fallout

Hoinsky himself, while he has found some support on the Internet, said in his response that he was “devastated and troubled” by allegations that his project “promotes rape” and believes he was taken out of context.

Blogger Alyssa Rosenberg believes that this episode may force Kickstarter – and other social media channels – to reconsider with whom they do business. In her post for Slate, she writes: “Perhaps Kickstarter and other social media sites wish they didn’t have to take responsibility for what people do with the tools they offer. But when you give people a platform, you’re in business with them. And the time may come when you have to choose between one set of consumers and another.”

At the time of writing, Kickstarter said it could not refuse the $16,000 already pledged to Hoinsky, despite pressure to do so, it has promised to donate $25,000 to anti-sexual violence charity RAINN. But the saga proves how difficult it is to police a channel such as Kickstarter and, once again, the power of social media to affect change quickly by asserting popular pressure on brands.

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