It must have come as quite a surprise to Dave and Anna, the creative team behind the Cyrus Perkins and the Haunted Taxi Cab, when the ten thousand dollar money bomb hit their Kickstarter. Someone had promised them ten times the going rate of their top tier, one thousand dollar pledge level. Only, it wasn’t meant to be. They had been catfished.
Catfishing, for those who don’t know, is the act of using fabricated online identities to manipulate or deceive. In the case of the Cyrus Perkins Kickstarter, some ne’er-do-well alleging to be one “Linda Johnson” not only pushed the plucky little Kickstarter over the finish line, but more than doubled its total take with “her” fraudulent pledge. What the perpetrator ultimately hoped to achieve is a mystery. The top reward tier included dinner and drinks with the creators and a hangout sesh at San Diego Comic Con, so who ever was playing Dave and Anna clearly never expected to collect on the big rewards. Maybe they just wanted to sow some chaos amongst the well-meaning denizens of Kickstarter-o-sphere? Only one person knows for sure, and they’re certainly not sharing.
Obviously, nothing will deter people from being jerks on the Internet. Trolling is the second most prevalent online behavior after posting lolcats. But good communities moderate user behavior. What rankles me about this situation is that “Linda Johnson” catfished at least one more Kickstarter, according to Dave’s update to the Kickstarter page. Now, I realize that it takes some effort to distinguish a well-meaning individual whose credit card bounced or who over-pledged their budget, and someone whose intent was to defraud, but the fact that “Linda” could make at least two exorbitant fake pledges without any action on Kickstarter’s part is unconscionable.
I’ve extolled on the Wild West-ish-ness of the crowd funding sphere before. I think there is a lot of value in self-regulating social systems, but I do feel that there is room for the platform providers to step in and moderate disruptive members—especially those who seek to defraud users out of pledge rewards or otherwise muck with the money side of things. Hell, you’d think that the people screwing around with Kickstarter’s own bottom line would be the first on the chopping block, but they remain as inscrutable as ever.
Dave and Anna’s story reminds me of our original Kickstarter for The Wardenclyffe Horror, when David and I received a pledge of one thousand dollars from a complete stranger. Of course, our first inclination was to believe that we too had been catfished—someone pledging that much money seemed too good to be true. That assumption turned out to be entirely wrong: in fact, a well-meaning individual saw the promise of our project and put serious money behind it. The potential for individuals to help other’s dreams come true is the promise of crowd funding. I’m just sorry that Dave, Anna, and others like them have to contend with the trolls as well.