Growing Pains for Kickstarter, As the System Bans a Stalking Victim

Kickstarter, the company that allows entrepreneurs (often artists) to raise the funding they need to support their projects through small donations, has achieved a lot of positive press for the things it’s given life to, from the second season of Jane Espenson’s web series Husbands to Womanthology, the collection of comics by women. While it’s great to see donors embrace daring, progressive projects, it seems that Kickstarter may not have policies that match up to its promise.

Artist Rachel Marone reports that, after a project she created was spammed by her long-term cyberstalker and she let her other donors know what the spammer’s motivations were, Kickstarter suspended the project, and banned and then unbanned her on the grounds that the notification was a violation of Kickstarter rules. When Marone’s manager wrote in to the company to ask for an explanation, Kickstarter’s Daniella Jaeger wrote this less than charming response: “If there is any chance that Rachel will receive spam from a stalker on her project, she should not create one. We simply cannot allow a project to become a forum for rampant spam, as her past project became. If this happens again, we will need to discard the project and permanently suspend Rachel’s account.” Because clearly this is happening as a result of Rachel’s carelessness, or negligence, or lack of respect for the system.

One of the reasons that Kickstarter ought to be so special is that it offers people who have been excluded from conventional funding, whether because their projects aren’t the kind of thing that studios and networks are interested in airing because they’re too daring and unconventional a la Husbands, or because artists themselves have trouble cracking conventional funding sources. Stalking victims can, through no fault of their own, end up in the latter category. Stalkers harass their victims by contacting them directly, but they can also make life harder for them in general. Stalkers spread rumors about their victims. They contact their victim’s employers and try to discredit them, suggesting that their victims are crazy, unreliable, unprofessional, disloyal. If the stalker is more powerful than the victim, or more established, it can work. In an industry like entertainment, where employment is project-based rather than long-term, that kind of thing can be devastating.

Now, one of the risks of Kickstarter, of course, is that people will end up providing funding to unreliable donees or projects that aren’t actually viable. And providing a method of feedback for donors is important. But if Kickstarter’s brand is all about helping small donors fund worthy projects that major donors are dumb enough to miss out on, they should be concerned with making sure that their own system doesn’t replicate the pitfalls of conventional funders, and empower the same old abusable hierarchies.