Israel Folau receives $100,000 Christian lobby donation after cancelled GoFundMe campaign

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Folau’s campaign raised more than $750,000 before it was shut down.

Israel Folau has received a $100,000 donation from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) in response to GoFundMe’s decision to cancel his crowdfunding campaign.

Key points:

  • A $100,000 donation from the Christian lobby comes after “an outpouring of support” for Folau
  • It comes after GoFundMe shut down Folau’s page, which was raising money to fight Rugby Australia
  • The Law Council says a review of rules on crowdfunding for legal cases is needed

The ACL said it hoped to amplify the voice of what they call “quiet Australians” by helping Folau.

“There is an outpouring of support for Israel Folau from the Australian community, who see Israel’s case as their case,” ACL managing director, Martyn Iles said.

“They feel the pinch of political correctness and the erosion of their basic freedoms.”

Mr Iles said Folau’s supporters were concerned about their freedom of speech and the reaction of GoFundMe had only confirmed those concerns.

Crowdfunding monitoring in question

The furore over Folau’s $3 million GoFundMe appeal could spark a review of how crowdfunding sites are monitored, social media and legal experts say.

Folau launched the page on June 18 as a fundraiser for legal action against Rugby Australia after his contract was terminated in May following homophobic posts on his Instagram page.

By Sunday, Folau’s campaign had raised more than $750,000 from several thousand donors before the non-profit crowdfunding site pulled the plug on Monday, citing a violation of its terms of service.

Social media expert Ryan Shelley said monitoring was always challenging for crowdfunding sites, with up to thousands of new campaigns launching daily.

He said algorithms could pick up defamatory, insulting or vulgar words to trigger an alert for manual action, but it is not a failsafe system.

“From having a look at Israel’s campaign, I don’t believe there’s any words that he’s used that would have automatically triggered any of those automated moderating features, so that’s why it’s been allowed to run for a period of time,” Mr Shelley said.

“It’s only after it’s started to run and the media and the public have noticed it that people have then brought it to the attention of GoFundMe.”

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.VIDEO 2:11

Israel Folau launches crowdfunding campaign for his legal feesABC NEWS

GoFundMe’s full terms and conditions listed on its website state that “illegal or prohibited” content includes campaigns in support of “hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind relating to race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity, or serious disabilities or diseases”.

Although Folau’s page was taken down by GoFundMe’s Australian office, Mr Shelley said in some circumstances where crowdfunding platforms operated out of the US, it could make it difficult to understand the background and context of cases.

“I think they just need to be a little bit more cognisant about how they monitor campaigns,” he said.

“The challenge will always be the amount of new campaigns that have been launched and whether they’ve got the resources to manually review the intent.”

Mr Shelley, founder of digital media agency Pepper IT, said the reaction to Folau’s crowdfunding campaign had been significant because it contrasted with the “Aussie battler spirit … where we’re always happy to help someone who is genuinely in need”.

“The outrage has come not so much from the underlying religious beliefs of Israel but from a mindset of this is someone who has a job that many, many people would dream of.

“He’s been paid very generously, he’s been a role model, he’s in a position with connections to various influential people and he’s expecting people to help him when he’s in a position that … financially … he probably doesn’t need the general help of the average man on the street.”

GoFundMe reputation intact

David Waller, a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Technology Sydney, said there had been a number of cases where crowdfunding campaigns had come under scrutiny over issues such as failed inventions, but the Folau case had created a “whole new level of political and social issues … bringing unrest to many quarters”.

A screengrab of Israel Folau's GoFundMe campaign

“GoFundMe, as the platform to raise money, has been hit with an almost perfect storm of controversy,” Dr Waller said. 

“Certainly [if there’s] the whiff of any controversy once a funding page has been set up, these organisations have really got to get on it quickly to minimise any problems.”

Dr Waller said he did not forsee the Folau saga would have any negative impact on the number of donations made on the platform.

“There’s no blame on GoFundMe. They [the public] see it squarely with Israel Folau and probably respect GoFundMe more because they were willing to put down the page,” he said.

‘These kids in the suburbs are killing themselves’

'These kids in the suburbs are killing themselves'

Rugby league great and groundbreaking gay sportsman Ian Roberts has spoken out over the Israel Folau controversy.

Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses told the ABC Australia needs a nationwide review of ethical guidance and rules regarding crowdfunding for litigation. 

“If a client were to make a representation that a particular case will secure certain freedoms, when in truth it’s all about is a contractual dispute over money, it puts a lawyer in a position where I think they would have to cease to act,” he said.

“You cannot have funds being raised from members of the public which would then go the lawyer based on a false premise.”

Mr Moses said rules on crowdfunded legal work had been put into place in the US and Britain, and the Folau case demonstrated the issue needed to be examined here.

He also said there needed to be full disclosure about how the funds were used, a cap on legal fees and the return of any unspent money.

“Ultimately we need to protect the public and we need to protect the processes of our courts,” Mr Moses said.