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Technology And The Challenge Of Democracy

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Editor’s note: Dennis Hu is the CEO of fundraising platform Fundly.

Information is more available and accessible than ever before, and we are witnessing the power of the crowd to respond to news events with greater impact. As technology continues to play a larger role in our everyday lives, we must ask ourselves what ultimately is the responsibility of technology when it comes to the dissemination of information?

At Fundly, we see thousands of campaigns daily, from a small-town parent raising money for her kid’s school to massive fundraising efforts by some of the world’s largest charities. We also see polarizing campaigns such as the one started by a teacher from North Carolina that raised over $150,000 in a few days to help feed the children of Ferguson, Mo.

The Role of Technology

While the campaign to feed the students of Ferguson was mostly well-received by the public, there were a string of complaints from individuals who felt that supporters of the campaign were making biased, and in some cases offensive, comments on our site. Their upset was understandable, but when you look at the role of technology you see that it facilitates democracy, including the good and the bad that goes with it.

We receive angry emails every day demanding that we take down specific campaigns. Our job as a technology platform, however, is to remain un-biased and allow everyone to have an equal voice. It would be irresponsible of us to take down campaigns based on the demands of a vocal minority, unless there is a clear violation of our terms of service.

I’m not advocating for racist remarks on crowdfunding sites. In fact, our terms of service prohibit this, and I’ve had to remove racist comments from the “Feed Ferguson” campaign. However, beyond our basic terms of service, people have the freedom to raise money for the things they care about, no matter what they are. We may not like some of their campaigns or positions, but if we want to protect all of our democratic rights, we must allow them.

The Power of the Crowd…

Access is power. There was a time when our society had less access to information. There used to be a minority of taste makers and influencers who had stronger sway on people’s opinions. But times have changed. Technology has empowered more individuals to have stronger voices and make them heard, whether through crowdfunding campaigns, online communities or blogs. As we all know, there are blogs now that get more page views than some popular media outlets.

People also have access to massive networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We can instantly promote our opinions or causes to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people with a single tap of a button. If you take this power and combine it with the direct action taken on sites like ours, or GoFundMe and Change.org, individuals have even greater impact on events happening around the world.

New technology won’t change our behavior, because technology is neutral in nature. We can exert more or less control over technology (through censorship or other means), but that won’t stop what compels us to react impulsively online, nor will it help us resolve our differences or search for solutions without the actual desire to find them.

Instead of criticizing social networks and crowdfunding sites, consider they are fulfilling their purpose, which is to bring communities together in support of causes they care about. What those causes are is more a reflection on our society rather than our technology.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin