GoFundMe defends ban on Folau campaign

It raised more than $700,000 in just four days but Israel Folau's controversial GoFundMe campaign was flagged as "at risk" within just hours of its launch.

GoFundMe chief executive, Rob Solomon, revealed details of the company's decision to remove the high-profile crowd-funding campaign on Tuesday, telling News Corp the case was quickly flagged "at risk" of violating its policies, while denying allegations GoFundMe had "buckled to demands" to remove it.

Mr Solomon also dismissed claims the company did not support religious causes, saying it was "wide open for business" from churches of all denominations.

The news came after the Australian Christian Lobby launched a rival online crowd-funding site to collect donations for Mr Folau's legal battle against Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW on Tuesday, attracting more than $1 million in its first day.

Israel Folau’s GoFundMe campaign was being investigated just hours after its launch.
Israel Folau’s GoFundMe campaign was being investigated just hours after its launch.

The former player had his rugby contract terminated in May over Instagram posts that claiming "Hell awaits" gay people, and last Friday launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $3 million to fight his dismissal in court.

The campaign raised more than $700,000 from members of the public, but Mr Solomon said it was quickly flagged as a possible violation of GoFundMe policies and was removed on Monday, with donations refunded in full.

"To some people it might not be crystal clear that this is a violation, while others may have a different interpretation," Mr Solomon explained.

"Internally, we take it very seriously. We don't want to rush to judgment. We want to factor in everything and everything is reviewed with a multi-tiered assessment of our policy."

GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon says the saga was treated “very seriously”. Source: Supplied.
GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon says the saga was treated “very seriously”. Source: Supplied.

GoFundMe policy vice-president Danny Gordon said the platform's investigation team identified Folau's fundraiser as questionable and immediately froze all donations.

"We have dozens of specialists in health and safety that work around the clock and when there's a campaign that we deem to be of certain risk or in need of further review, we immediately put the funds that have already been raised on hold while we do our standard review," he said.

"That's exactly what went on in the Folau case. There was a hold placed on the campaign very close to the time of its launch, and then it went through our routine review process."

The review took "a couple of days" longer than usual due to the weekend, he said, and ultimately decided the campaign breached GoFundMe policies about funding the legal defence of "intolerance of any kind relating to … sexual orientation".

A spokesman for Israel Folau, with his wife Maria, called GoFundMe’s decision “disappointing”.
A spokesman for Israel Folau, with his wife Maria, called GoFundMe’s decision “disappointing”.

Mr Gordon said it was "relatively rare" to remove campaigns from GoFundMe, and declined to comment on a similar campaign currently running on the site raising funds for a Canadian preacher accused of making anti-gay slurs.

A spokesman for Mr Folau called GoFundMe's decision "disappointing" and claimed the company had "buckled to demands against the freedom of Australians to donate to this cause".

But Mr Solomon said the review had been run "independently" and rejected claims by Folau supporters that the company did not support religious causes.

"We're wide open for business," he said. "We have lots of churches, lots of mosques, lots of synagogues using the platform to raise money for different means. They're all welcome so long as there's no violation of our terms of service."



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