Kickstarter and the Politics of Funding

“The Politics of Funding” in 3.3.5 of today’s readings were interesting to me, considering the use of numerous crowdfunding platforms as a way of conducting online community fundraising. The idea that it is “necessary to think of a funding model that offers incentives, financial assistance and support to ideas without the usual mechanics of funding and scholarship” is basically the idea that drives Kickstarter. However, there is a minimum threshold that must be observed to effectively accomplish any serious goals or to mobilize activity- lest it end up fulfilling the prophecy set out by the “Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism”. This theory suggests that people are not interested in using the Internet for activism- they would much rather surf pornography or lolcats.

Projects like this one on Kickstarter, where the initiator raised $55,000 for potato salad, demonstrates the entertainment value and troll effect that Digital Natives are undeniably influenced and oftentimes motivated by. Since the internet is a platform for recreation as much as it is for rather serious campaigning, the potato salad Kickstarter reflects the viral nature of the Internet that compels Digital Youth to support projects that are otherwise pretty professional.

In contrast, there are several examples of what a successful Kickstarter campaign (that is also aligned with social justice) might look like- take the Reading Rainbow project that raised $5 million on Kickstarter, for example.

But like any activist project, it takes a good marketing strategy to engage Digital Natives. Similar to the success of the Reading Rainbow campaign, the All of Us Mental Health campaign launched by a couple of offices in UCLA student government might be considered an effective use of media to convey activist causes. The particular strategy used here was to use photographs with a unifying theme that were photographed in the same fashion, then released at the same time. Part of this process tacitly recognizes a couple of things- such as the potential virality of releasing many photos at once (leading us to consider what might or might not be a good strategy to make content viral), and the use of profile pictures as a way of garnering attention (as opposed to simply sharing a post).

Whatever it is, the burden of proof seems to lie in the creators- so while it might be true that people consciously seek out pornography and lolcats over going fishing for an important social cause to donate to, they are evidently more than happy to support a well marketed and properly supported cause, the success of which is dependent on the creators. For me, this in no discredits users- it is human nature to gravitate toward an entertaining more than serious cause.


5 thoughts on “Kickstarter and the Politics of Funding

  1. nklepper

    I find it really relevant that you brought up Kickstarter in your blog post because one of my friends from back home just launched her Kickstarter campaign to promote empowering young girls to drive social change. In her case, she wants to reach her goal to fund her tour across America to go to different school and teach design thinking, however, in the case of the potato salad, it was for other less important motivations. Yet, the amount of support the guy received was overwhelming and that proves the power of social media, and quite frankly, humor.

  2. christineholland

    I think our generation thinks of the Internet as a tool. Something to gain access to entertainment or to information. We go online with a specific task to do or purpose to fill. However, the internet exposes us more than what we are specifically look for, and if it captures our attention enough we will shift our focus from our original intentions to that. Certain social change campaigns (and viral internet content in general) have done a great job at tapping into this trend, knowing how to capture our attention away from whatever it is was we went online to do in the first place.

  3. fmanto

    You brought up a really good point in regards to the importance of marketing certain social good campaigns. I think that it takes a lot to convince Digital Natives why they should care. I think in general, our generation really does care about making the world a better place. But I’ve seen so many different campaigns online. Friends on Facebook who are starting their own social good campaigns (ex: Dance Marathon) or bigger marketing campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. There are so many, but it takes a lot of convincing to make Digital Natives care enough to want to donate.

  4. emdesur

    I think something like Kickstarter is a perfect example of how people can actually affect change from their computer. By donating to a kickstarted, people make more actual change than just a like on facebook or sharing a video. Although it is not like older ways of fundraising, and we do need to be marketed to, it is an example of how ways of doing things must progress as time continues.

  5. snmarquez

    The Kickstarter phenomena is a really interesting one in terms of what kind of campaigns get funded and what kinds don’t. Like you stated, many users actively support well-marketed Kickstarters or humorous ones, while many people with a good cause but low technical know-how are often left unfunded. In a lot of ways, I feel like it’s the usual case that those who need to use the system most are those who are unable to—unless they hire a marketing company. What’s more, I wonder how many Kickstarters actually are funding the cause they are claiming to, as I’m thinking of the Eric Garner fund which has yet to make it to his family:

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