Effects of Socially Stigmatized Crowdfunding Campaigns in Shaping Opinions


GoFundMe, a pioneer in donation-based crowdfunding, came to media attention by hosting campaigns on various socially stigmatized issues such as equality for LGBTIQ people and abortion. For example, a campaign was created in 2015 to assist the owners of Memories Pizza who received death threats for declaring during an interview that their pizza parlor would not cater a gay wedding due to religious reasons. The campaign raised $842,387 in just a few days. The extraordinary success of this campaign immediately triggered several rival campaigns. One such campaign raised $165,975 from more than 4,000 supporters. While seeking monetary support is the primary objective, such campaigns can also potentially shape the opinion of the individuals' about stigmatized topics.

Shaping social opinions through online media is not new to the research community. Previous researchers have demonstrated the power of mass media and social media in shaping opinions regarding mental illness and political movements. Similarly, while crowdfunding platforms might primarily be viewed as fundraising sites, these platforms contain numerous unique social signals such as monetary donations and social media shares that may potentially impact individuals' social opinions. Despite the potential of these signals, little is known about how socially stigmatized campaigns with active social supports may influence individuals' opinions about stigmatized topics. In our work, we aim to explore how people assimilate information about stigmatized topics when the information is presented as a donation-based crowdfunding campaign.

Our Approach

We chose a specific stigmatized topic, fairness and equality for LGBTIQ people, as it is one of the most discussed topics in donation-based crowdfunding platforms. Opinions on stigmatized topics such as equality for LGBTIQ people are often polarized. We hypothesize that people's pre-existing attitudes toward these topics may moderate how they perceive and react to information presented on crowdfunding campaigns, and to what extent they may change their attitudes towards them.

Often, campaigns presenting conflicting points of view of a stigmatized topic appear on a crowdfunding platform at the same time. Someone, browsing such campaigns, may experience a sense of cognitive dissonance especially when one sees campaigns inconsistent with his or her own pre-existing attitude. We desire to know whether individuals' pre-existing points of view on equality for LGBTIQ people affect their opinions when the stigmatized topic is presented with differing points of view on a crowdfunding platform.


We found that people with supporting and opposing attitudes towards fairness and equality for LGBTIQ people did not react similarly when they were asked to judge attitude-inconsistent crowdfunding campaigns. Participants moderated their judgment based on their pre-existing attitude towards equality. While participants supporting equality were more inclined to change their attitude after seeing social support for attitude-inconsistent campaigns, participants opposing equality maintained their initial attitude; In fact, they strengthened their pre-existing attitude and decided to donate significantly more to their attitude-consistent campaigns that their attitude-consistent campaigns.


Sanorita Dey, Karrie Karahalios, Wai-Tat Fu. Effects of Socially Stigmatized Crowdfunding Campaigns in Shaping Opinions, CHI 2018. pdf


Sanorita Dey