Crowdfunding the Court of Public Opinion

Throughout most of history, disputes were settled between individuals, tribes, or communities, either through force or with the help of some third party - a chief, king, judge, or priest who made the final decision. With the invention of mass media people found a new way to address their grievances - the court of public opinion. In the 500 years since Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, people have used publicity to gain support for all types of political, religious, economic, and cultural ideas. They’ve also used the media to make personal disputes public, in the hopes of creating a public outcry that can be used to their advantage. But now with the Internet and electronic payment, individuals have a new way to gain support - by crowdfunding the court of public opinion.

Almost a year ago, the owner of The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman put up a post complaining that a humor website - FunnyJunk - was using The Oatmeal’s content without permission.  The owner of FunnyJunk responded with the threat of a defamation lawsuit and offered to settle if Inman gave him $20,000. Instead of negotiating or counter suing, Mr. Inman took his case to crowdfunding website, indiegogo. His idea was to “to raise $20k to donate half to the National Wildlife Federation (for the bears), and half to the American Cancer Society (because cancer is shitty).” The project met its goal in the first 24 hours and as of this writing, with roughly 19 hours left, the campaign has raised over $210,000. FunnyJunk is clearly not amused and has now threatened further action against The Oatmeal, indiegogo, the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Cancer Society.


A few weeks ago, Max Sidirov saw a particularly disturbing video on Facebook. It showed a bunch of 7th graders bullying 68 year old school bus monitor Karen Klein. Mr. Sidirov posted the video to YouTube and set up a campaign on indiegogo. In his post he states “I’m not sure why these kids would want to bully a senior citizen to tears, but I feel we should do something, or at least try.” His goal was to raise $5,000 to give Ms. Klein the vacation of a lifetime. With 26 days left (as of this writing), the video has had almost 7 million views and the campaign has already raised over $645,000, enough to fund a permanent vacation for Karen.

All of this makes one wonder what’s coming next? Would you donate to the victim of a car accident who was hit by an uninsured motorist? They could certainly use the money for medical bills. What about a party in a contract dispute or a divorce proceeding? If they could make a strong case for their need would you lend a helping hand? Your support could provide the resources they need to win a legal battle. What if they didn’t need the money but simply wanted the exposure? Would you donate to their favorite charity in a show of solidarity?

Looking back to Mr. Inman’s battle with FunnyJunk, one has to wonder about the impact of all this publicity. For The Oatmeal, its almost certainly positive, but for FunnyJunk one can only assume that the negative publicity has lead to fewer hits on their website and less advertising revenue.

Crowdfunding has the potential to quickly amass large amounts of money and deliver enormous publicity. To achieve their goal, crowdfunders should keep these tips in mind:

  • Be the good guy - it won’t work if the crowd doesn’t like you
  • Get your story straight - make sure your project has merit and there are no hidden facts or agendas - with exposure comes inspection
  • Make sure there is a clear tie between the outcome and your financial goal - if we reach our goal of X then Y will happen
  • Make the video count (nearly 7 million hits has netted over $600K for Ms. Klein)
  • Market your cause - they won't come just because you built it
  • Deliver on your promise


At Crowd Hydrant we help innovators take their ideas to market. We engage the crowd to create powerful brand advocates and gain access to their collective resources. We offer crowdfunding support to get projects successfully posted and funded. We offer strategy, planning and execution. We're affordable and effective. If you’re interested in hearing more, CONTACT US TODAY. We’ll begin by consulting with you and provide innovative solutions to help you build and grow your business.

(Image courtesy and copyright The Oatmeal, to promote his charitable works)