- MATTHEW WADE
The destruction will also aggravate the situation already housing crisis “beyond gravity”. Some will have no choice but to move elsewhere and leave existing social ties behind. Reconstruction will take years and local communities may never be the same again.
A man moves his belongings out of a flooded house in the suburb of North Manly, Sydney, Australia on March 9. PHOTO: Reuters/Jaimi Joy.
So it’s perhaps no wonder that people are turning to crowdfunding to help those affected.
But while the urge to create such crowdfunding campaigns, or to donate to them, is understandable and admirable, it’s worth asking: who can succeed in crowdfunding and who gets left behind?
“For many, Dutton’s campaign reflected a broader lack of planning and urgency to mitigate extreme weather events, but it also reveals the daily normalization of crowdfunding.”
Even a federal deputy pass the hat
Already more than a thousand flood-related crowdfunding campaigns can be found on GoFundMe alone, with more on Australian-based crowdfunding platforms like MyCause and Chuffed.
One campaign is that of MP Peter Dutton, raise funds for those concerned in his Dickson constituency.
While perhaps well-meaning, it was terribly thoughtless. Among other complaintsobservers have expressed frustration that a federal MP is passing the hat, rather than focusing his energy on pulling government levers to distribute aid.
For many, Dutton’s campaign reflected a broader lack of planning and urgency to mitigate extreme weather events, but it also reveals the daily normalization of crowdfunding.
What does he say about the role of government, the reciprocal duties of citizens and how best to support each other in difficult times, when nothing less than the Federal Minister of Defense turns to crowdfunding?
Flying helicopters and rising anger
One of the most pervasive themes of these floods – perhaps even more evident than previous disasters – is the abandonment and rage felt by the people concerned, who judged that the federal and state response was hopelessly insufficient.
Added to this desperation are feelings of distrust of federal and state governments. Perceptions of misplaced priorities are at the root of these suspicions, as evidenced by criticism of police actions and untimely photo shoots by the ADF.
Evoking memories of government responses to the black summer bushfiresit is feared that the artful relief imagery precedes the relief itself.
Bold Community Efforts to save people with private helicopters supported through crowdfunding is a remarkable example of courage and ingenuity, but also a damning indictment of our willingness to deal with extreme weather events.
Those on the ground are tired of being praised for their resilience. They are resilient because they have been given no alternative.
Who succeeds in crowdfunding? Who doesn’t?
Meanwhile, those watching from afar understandably want to help, ideally with immediate impact.
A direct cash donation – along with a message of encouragement – can provide a quick, safe and impactful way to provide relief. And as observed by journalist Jenna Pricestarting a crowdfunding campaign on behalf of someone else can be a real action to take in otherwise powerless times.
But most people won’t have a convincing defender like Price in their corner. As I noted previously, social crowdfunding platforms are in fact marketplaces of sympathy, where “the crowd” assesses claims of moral worth. Such mechanisms create few winners and many losers.
Most campaigns return little or nothing at all, which may seem like a detrimental measure of the value of a life. covid only aggravated these tendencies.
As researcher Bhiamie Williamson observed, indigenous peoples are over-represented and under-resourced in the floods. They are also highly likely to be underrepresented in crowdfunding calls (but here are of them campaigns trying to make sure that doesn’t happen).
So while crowdfunding can be a great method to directly support individuals, consider who these platforms may be missing and support agencies that seek to help them.
GoFundMe is not a response to mass disaster
Recently, GoFundMe has become acutely aware of its public perception as a place of desperate appeal, where only a few succeed.
In response, the company made it clear that it was not an alternative safety net, but rather a “complement” to existing institutional support. That’s part of why GoFundMe more regularly partners with charities and nonprofits, such as To give.
This strategic shift was evident in a candid op-ed by GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan, who said, “we can’t do your job for youby urging the US government to offer more substantial relief at the height of COVID.
This is ultimately why Dutton’s GoFundMe campaign generated such a backlash from the public. Although well-meaning, an elected official shaking a donation box after a disaster of this magnitude feels hopelessly inadequate and a powerful symbolic marker of our collective failure to embrace mitigation strategies.
Crowdfunding cannot solve these problems. On the contrary, crowdfunding individualizes too easily what shared existential crises are, which distracts us from our ability to properly take them into account.