What makes a place a good place? A good world to live in? What is acceptable, and what is not, what is considered decent, fair and respectable, and what is not?
What Global Giving identified as the Neutrality Paradox describes precisely what my colleagues and I experience from the perspective of an intermediary. betterplace is Germany’s best-known online fundraising platform and every day we decide which fundraising events to promote, which projects to host, and what kind of corporate partners we feel comfortable working with. We like to see ourselves as open-minded and would probably all agree that our platform should represent the broadest range of perspectives. We believe in freedom of expression and think of censorship as something sinister and from an increasingly distant past.
And we do know what we’re talking about. Most of us are German, reasonably well-educated and from more or less politically moderate or centre-left homes. A responsibility to prevent anything remotely resembling the Nazi regime ever happening again has undoubtedly heightened our sensitivity.
And that’s where the trouble starts.
Do we protect democracy by remaining neutral? By opening the floor to all the voices that surely have a right to be heard?
Or do we protect democracy by making choices? And thereby exclude voices, people, perspectives? Which is what autocratic governments do.
Like everywhere else in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is currently a matter for much debate in Germany. The government has issued regulations that heavily restrict people’s professional and private lives. Surveys show that a majority of Germans believe the measurements are proportionate. However, do these constraints on personal freedom pose a threat to our fundamental rights as specified in the Grundgesetz – the Basic Constitutional Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, drawn up after World War II in order to prevent dictatorship?
Recently a sizeable number of people have begun organizing themselves in a movement called Querdenker (lit. “lateral thinkers”). They have staged demonstrations in major German cities and draw on the freedoms of the Grundgesetz to fiercely criticize the government’s Covid crisis management.
So far, so debatable.
However, most Querdenker neither wear masks nor keep their distance while demonstrating with thousands of others. In their eyes, Corona is no more dangerous than common influenza.
So far, not quite so debatable – at least for me, given the current scientific consensus.
But surely these people only want to protect our basic rights? And shouldn’t democracy allow critical opposition?
In other words, shouldn’t we, at betterplace, accept campaigns that raise funds in order to finance the Querdenker’s demonstrations, print their magazines and pay their publicists?
The Querdenker movement includes a colourful potpourri of political opinion, including the middle-class mainstream, environmentalists, traditional conservatives, socialists, and supporters of the clubbing scene. However the movement is increasingly attracting potentially extremist supporters from the far right and left, as well as neo-Nazis (including some with criminal records), anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. As more and more recent incidents show, the tone of their message has become increasingly spiteful and aggressive.
Only this month the Secretary of State for the German state of Bavaria suggested putting the Querdenker under the observation of the German Verfassungsschutz (lit. “protection of the constitution”, an institution observing groups that may potentially endanger the German Grundgesetz).
So now the Grundgesetz is to be protected from the people who claim to be protecting the Grundgesetz? As far as making the right decisions for our platform is concerned, my head is now starting to spin.
Still, decisions need to be made and at betterplace we’re prepared to make choices. We do welcome critical thinking. But we won’t make our platforms available to fundraising campaigns or charitable projects that in our opinion aim to divide communities, fuel fear, promote aggression and endorse unproven facts as the truth. We’ve accepted – somewhat reluctantly – that on our platforms it’s we who must define what is a good place, what is acceptable, decent, fair and respectable, and what is not.
We see this approach as being the lesser evil. For now, a concept based on core values regularly discussed and reviewed by our team, seems the best option we have. That said, maybe a future solution for evaluating individual cases may lie in combining our approach with GlobalGiving’s concept of Ethos?
One thing I’m sure of is that simply remaining neutral may lead us onto very swampy ground – as it has done before in our history. For me, and for betterplace, that’s simply not an option.
Theresa Filipovic is Head of Customer Care and Fundraising Advice, betterplace