Crowdsourcing: boon or bane?

Crowdfunding asher klassen


Crowd sourcing has been the latest phenomenon to sweep new media by storm. In essence, crowd sourcing is the practice of appealing to the public for monetary donations to support a particular project. This allows the cash-strapped entrepreneur or financially challenged visionary to see his idea come to fruition, with the help of the public.

Crowd sourcing has gained traction in recent years, along with social media’s burgeoning influence. Popular websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe are hits with the aspiring visionary, who simply launches a campaign into the embrace of a large Internet audience. But it is not simply a matter of “dreams coming true”- under the surface of fulfilled visions and realised potential, much more insidious activity is at play. As an economic model driven through the anonymous face of the Internet, problems do cloud the murky waters of crowd sourcing.

It is easy to see the allure of crowd sourcing websites, both on the part of producer and consumer. Through the Internet, aspiring innovators are able to fund their idealistic pursuits. With economic woes abated, producers can focus on delivering quality content and delivering their dreams to fruition. One such project is the Kickstarter-funded film ‘Inocente’, the first of its kind to win an Oscar in 2013. The film, about a 15-year old aspiring artist, garnered an astounding $52000 from 294 backers. The website thus offers a platform for aspiring individuals in creative arts fields such as film and music to launch their projects with a wider public reach.

In this age of struggling artists and a declining arts scene, crowd sourcing appears to be a viable means to revive artistic pursuits. The imagination is allowed to explore infinite possibilities, unrestrained by the practical woes of financing. There is a sense of mutual benefit as well; as artists share their project and gain validation on a public platform, they engage a wider audience to appreciate the merits of innovation and creative thinking.

Such projects offer a means of community engagement as well. From funding debate camps in Rwanda to the scientific research of Britain’s declining guillemot population, these sites offer the community an array of options to get involved from the comfort of their homes. However, this can breed a form of ‘slacktivism’, a portmanteau denoting actions that have little practical impact on community projects, but that offer the agent a sense of accomplishment or involvement. Rather than actively engage in the community, the Internet generation is likely to be lulled into this cradle of “clicking comfort”, perceivably contributing with just the click of a button. That ‘click’ thus becomes a symbol of affirmation, allegiance and solidarity, but masked by anonymity and separated by a computer screen. Such is the danger of public rallying that is only economic in scope; it offers little opportunity to actively be involved in public projects.

With the anonymity and accessibility offered by these websites, where do we draw the line between what is an acceptable sales pitch and what is merely glorified begging? The answer seems to lie in the spectrum of crowd sourcing websites that exist. With Kickstarter and Indiegogo imposing more rigid conditions for projects, there is an element of quality control. Conversely, GoFundMe, with its laissez-faire approach, appears to attract a bevy of questionable funding requests.

On one hand, we have a mother raising over $2000 for her daughter to pay for her trip to China- after her passport and tickets were stolen- where we are moved by compassion for the girl’s inexorable plight, and pledge a donation to aid her. But we then have a Cambridge student who received £2,000 on his page to take a helicopter to his sister’s wedding: the student had no other means to make the wedding, having had an exam finish just 45 minutes prior to it.

While we may sympathize with the sacrifices we make as students, are we morally obliged to make a donation? It seems to facilitate a bandwagon mentality, with the public being pressured to donate. We begin to feel that our participation as a ‘backer’ is a reflection of our moral character, exposed to public judgment. Furthermore, this clicking culture may just breed frivolity and a generation of careless spenders who rely on the Internet to fund their whims and fancies.

Perhaps this is an unassailable dilemma for an economic model that is shielded by anonymity, but simultaneously morally provokes our action. I believe that this revolutionary concept has its merit, but as consumers, we have the autonomy to exercise judgment when it comes to parting with our cash. There comes a point when we must take ownership for our expenditure, and I believe that canvassing money for personal entertainment oversteps the vague, indecipherable boundaries of Internet soliciting.


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