Call me an optimist. I like to believe that most people really do try to do the right thing. Sure, a lot of people are utter scoundrels; I’d even hazard a guess that nearly one third of humanity is unworthy of the name. About a third of all people are utterly selfish, inconsiderate, sneaky, and dishonest. They are everywhere, from prisons to board rooms and from freeways to supermarket checkout lines. There really are people who steal candy from babies, people who would swindle their own mothers, and people who see life as one big rip-off and are determined to get their share.
However, that is only about a third of humanity. The other two-thirds really are more good than bad, and they try to muddle through life doing the right thing. For most people, life is a noble (if futile) struggle, and they try not to harm others. If someone is in need of help, these people will do whatever they can to assist, whether it is helping to change a spare tire or help an elderly neighbor carry their groceries up the stairs. It is these people who help make life bearable for others; it is they who help optimists like me believe in the inherent decency of people and the lives they populate.
Such people aren’t always in the best position to help others. Many a decent person is locked in a job that neither pays well nor offers much in the way of affirmation. Yet, they don’t usually complain about it much, and they still do what they can to spread a little good karma around. They may only have twenty bucks in their wallet, but if someone is in dire need, they will hand it over. The gesture might not be purely altruistic; the donor may feel better about themselves for handing over the twenty. However, this is a fair trade-off for most people; the small help a twenty may provide a person in need is worth a little ego boost to the person helping out. After all, there is nothing shameful about feeling good about doing a good deed.
It is this small-time generosity that is the engine behind such crowdfunding platforms as GoFundMe.com. The idea is that a person in need of help can post a profile on GoFundMe and then use social media to alert friends and relatives of the request for funds. Optimally, a couple dozen people chip in varying amounts of money, and the person who placed the profile receives funds for a car repair, medical bill, or other emergency that is beyond their ability to pay. When used honestly, GoFundMe is yet another remarkable tool the internet has provided the common person; it is a way to give and receive help that would have been unthinkable in the pre-internet days.
GoFundMe success stories are legion. In some cases, tens of thousands of dollars have been received by people in dire medical straits. People whose cars have been totaled, whose houses have burned down, whose families face crisis have been saved through the innate generosity of not just friends and family, but also that of vague internet acquaintances and complete strangers. It is vindication of the idea that people are generally good, and that we’re all in this thing called life together.
Enter the other one-third. For some of them, GoFundMe is Sucker Central, while for others, it is a resource of entitlement. At its worst, GoFundMe is an instrument of fraud; a means for people to leverage to goodwill of others to perpetrate a swindle. Alternately, it is seen as a place to collect on one’s own imagined goodwill, by monetizing the “friendships” one has built online.
For those in the webcam subculture, which includes the haunters of Blab, Spreecast, Periscope, and other webcam platforms, GoFundMe has quietly become the means of choice to score some cash without seeking a job or engaging in anything productive. GoFundMe offers an advantage to such persons insofar as it does not even require the pretense of a “project” the way Kickstarter does. GoFundMe is littered with profiles looking to mooch money for such non-essentials as new sofas, vacations, or “time to get my head clear”. One karaoke singer from Michigan complained that his GoFundMe for a new truck went without a single donation, while an unemployed rockabilly fan managed to score over a thousand dollars from largely the same circle of online acquaintances. Stung by this negation of support to which he felt entitled, he complained via Twitter and took his ad down. He currently has a new one up seeking $500 to cut off his skullet. One Seattle Blab regular is seeking $100,000 for a fresh start in life, while an unemployed Texan who once hosted legendary Google Hangouts got a $6,000 vacation from a successful GoFundMe campaign. None of these requests were made in the spirit for which GoFundMe intended, and all attempted to use leverage from their familiarity on social media and webcam platforms, seeking money from virtual strangers who view their webcasts.
That the webcam community has taken to GoFundMe as flies to shit should come as little surprise to anyone who follows the subculture, as few people have time to waste on webcam all day and still hold down a paying job. Many in the Blab and Spreecast microverse are one disability check away from homeless. While some have obvious mental deficiencies or physical handicaps that preclude their finding legitimate work, others are able-bodied but lazy; willing to beg for any handout as long as it staves off finding a job for another month.
The effect this has on GoFundMe at large is negligible. With millions of dollars being raised daily, there are larger scams underway, mixed in among the legitimately needy requests. A handful of webcam flotsam begging for chump change probably isn’t going to bankrupt the American public, nor is it likely to make any ripples in the media. But they are out there, looking for your handout. They feel entitled to it.