Crowdfunding site Kickstarter offered a frank apology to its users Friday for not removing a controversial fundraising campaign for a seduction guide from its site, saying that it should have stopped the book’s author from collecting the money he raised to publish the guide.
The book, “Above the Game,” raised $16,369 in funding from over 730 people during its campaign. It includes sections advising men to be very aggressive while pursuing women, and critics say in some cases the advice crosses the line and appears to advocate rape.
“Above the Game” drew criticism Wednesday after game designer and comedian Casey Malone shared portions from the guide on his blog and asked Kickstarter to remove the campaign.
The funding site first said that while it found some of the material in the guide objectionable, it would not shut it down. On Friday, however, Kickstarter said in a company blog post that it made a mistake and should have listened to those complaints rather than moving ahead with the fundraiser.
“Our processes, and everyday thinking, bias heavily toward creators,” the firm said in its apology. “This is deeply ingrained. We feel a duty to our community — and our creators especially — to approach these investigations methodically as there is no margin for error in canceling a project. This thinking made us miss the forest for the trees.”
While the firm said it cannot take the money back from the book’s author, it is making changes to its policy to avoid similar situations in the future, banning any “seduction guides” from being funded on its site. The firm has also said that it will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization called RAINN.
The controversy illustrates how difficult it can be for sites to screen content and also to choose when to step in to censor material that some may find objectionable.
Companies that host user content such as Google, Facebook, Apple have all dealt with instances where offensive or sometimes violent content has slipped through despite guidelines — an app, a Web result or organization page— and has only been brought to their attention after the fact.
When that happens, firms have to make quick decisions about how to balance free speech issues with calls to remove the controversial content. That’s particularly tough for companies such as Kickstarter, which have built their reputations as places for improbable or unpopular projects to find an audience.
Ken Hoinsky, the guide’s author, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the book grew out of dating advice that he had posted to Reddit that he believed had helped people.
Parts of the book do encourage men to be very aggressive with women, sometimes physically. One portion of the guide Malone quoted, from the chapter on “physical escalation & sex,” tells men to physically sit women they’re flirting with in their laps, with the advice: “Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.”
Hoinsky said he understands the reaction to the excerpts Malone posted, but that he believes the full book advises men to be more respectful and to listen when a woman says no.
“They say that [the guide] encourages violence against women, but that’s not in the spirit of what I wrote,” Hoinsky said.
Hoinsky has received the contact information of his customers from Kickstarter and will be able to fulfill all orders on his own. He also said that he wants to start a dialogue with Malone and feminist groups in the future to talk about these issues.
Malone, in a separate interview Friday said that he has heard from several people thanking him for speaking up about the kind of behavior encouraged by parts of the book.
“The vast majority of responses I’ve been getting have been positive,” he said. “Often it has been from women saying this is something they have to deal with every day.”