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After GoFundMe banned Australian sportsman Israel Folau, Donations exceeds $1 million

Israel Folau, a rugby player from Australia, launched a fundraiser page on June 18 for legal action against Rugby Australia after his contract termination in May following some uncalled for posts put up publicly on his Instagram account just before Pride Month in June. The buzz over Folau’s nearly $3 million appeal had started a debate on how popular crowdfunding sites are being monitored, as per legal and social media experts.

Folau’s campaign raised $750,000 and more from thousands of donors, right before GoFundMe decided to remove the page within a week, citing violation of terms of service. Monitoring is challenging for crowdfunding sites, with thousands of new campaigns launches daily. Algorithms pick up insulting, defamatory, or even “vulgar” words that trigger alerts for review requiring manual action, but there is no failsafe system. Israel’s campaign has no words used to trigger automated moderating features, and that’s why it ran for a week. The media and the public noticed and everyone’s eyes were on GoFundMe. 

A Deluge of Donations

Donations at the mind-boggling rate of $1,000 per minute poured into the fund now worth more than $1 million including a $100,000 donation from the ACL. The ACL also had a lot of say after GoFundMe stopped Folau’s appeal for money to help appeal against Rugby Australia’s actions with a goal of garnering at least $3 million. ACL represented the ‘quiet Australians’ concerned about their sense of “losing” their basic sense of freedoms. The outpouring of support for Israel Folau comes from the Australian community, who see Israel’s case as their case. Many disagree with Folau’s views, but believe that decisions by GoFundMe and Rugby Australia were wrong.

GoFundMe Conditions

GoFundMe’s terms and conditions listed on its website state that illegal or prohibited content includes intolerance of any kind or hatred campaigns. The reaction to Folau’s campaign contrasts with the Aussie battler spirit as they are happy to help someone genuinely in need. The outrage is not about Israel’s underlying religious beliefs, but from someone who has a job that thousands would dream of. He was generously paid, a role model, with connections to influential people and he expects people to help him when financially he doesn’t need the common man’s help.

GoFundMe reputation intact

Experts said that multiple cases have come up where crowdfunding campaigns and their platforms had come under federal scrutiny over problems like failed inventions and launches, but this Folau case created a new level of political and social issues bringing unrest to many quarters. GoFundMe, as the platform to raise money, was hit with a huge controversy.  Once a funding page is set up, these organizations move quickly to minimize problems. With the massive volumes of crowdfunding campaigns, human resources available to monitor their contents are limited.

Ethical Guidelines Necessary

Law Council of Australia mentions ABC Australia needed a nationwide review of ethical rules and guidance for crowdfunding specifically for litigation. If a client represented that a particular case could secure certain freedoms, when a contractual dispute over money exists, it puts a lawyer where they would have to cease to act. One cannot allow funds raised from the public to go to lawyers based on false premises. Rules on crowd-funded legal work existed in USA and Britain, and the Folau case issue needed examination as regards full disclosure about funds utilization, a cap on legal fees and return of unspent funds to protect the public and protect court processes.

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