David Heinemeier Hansson

February 5, 2022

How to mint a crypto fan

You couldn’t have planned a better advertising campaign for crypto than Gofundme’s ham-fisted cancelation of donations intended for the protesting Canadian truckers. Their first attempt would literally have re-routed donations for the truckers to “other charities”. That sounded so crazy when I first read it that I had to dig up multiple confirming sources to believe it to be true. But true enough it was!

Thankfully, this original plan was revised after Gofundme got some “donor feedback”, including from the likes of Elon Musk (what a timeline we’re living in!). The new plan will “just” block the donations from reaching their intended recipients, and result in refunds 7-10 days(!!) from now. What a conveniently long time to keep $10 million locked up, and unable to support the protesting truckers.

The original confiscation of funds came at the behest of the Ottawa city (via its police). As best as I can tell, without any court order to back it up. Meaning Gofundme acted as a voluntary extension of the local government that’s on the other side of this political conflict.

This is an eery echo of how certain US politicians and institutions have been using/pressuring tech platforms to be their enforcement arm in political disputes (see this report on the topic). And how it in that case clearly appears to be a violation of the US constitution, as repeatedly asserted by the Supreme Court: The government can’t circumvent the 1st amendment by having private actors carry out the censorship on their behalf.

But somehow this seems worse. It’s one thing to take down someone’s words, quite another to take their money. Having the freedom to support political organizations of your choice with your own money seems like a fundamental one in a democracy.

The organization Black Lives Matter, for example, raised $90 million during 2020, and is now in hot water with the state of California, amongst others, over failures to account for the money. All allegations of financial misconduct should of course be fully investigated, but surely people were in their good right to make these donations in the first place?

Could you imagine the outcry if Gofundme, or any other donation platform or financial institution, had blocked Black Lives Matter from raising money during the summer of 2020? Because some of the protests started in their name turned into violent riots? Hell, donations from these fundraisers were occasionally used to bail out some of these rioters! Gofundme even featured a donation drive to recipients part of the Seattle occupation known as CHOP that followed from the protests.

Lord knows I’ve been highly skeptical and critical of crypto. But actions like these from Gofundme make a very strong case for why we need an apolitical protocol of money transfer when the existing channels are so liable to petty political capture. That goes whether you’re donating to Canadian truckers, Black Lives Matter, Palestinians, or the NRA.

You don’t have to agree with any of these causes or organizations to understand that politicizing our basic platforms for charity or finance is a terrible idea. But this is the slope we’re sliding down when terms like “domestic terrorists” are expanded to include Canadian truckers and parents at school board meetings. Then sanctions imagined only for “terrorists” suddenly become reasonable and fair game for a much broader group.

This is not the way.