A new crowdfunding platform called Kickstriker launched today — but unlike Kickstarter, the dominant crowdfunding portal for creative ventures, Kickstriker aims to fund paramilitary projects.
The site, which is still “in beta,” is the brainchild of three New York University graduate students in technology expert Clay Shirky’s “Political Uses of Social Media” class. Some of its earliest projects include the Panopticoper, the world’s first open-source military drone; and the Mobile Black Site, a “discrete interrogation vehicle” capable of altering temperatures, noise levels, darkness and humidity.
“Following the massive success of Invisible Children’s ‘Kony 2012’ campaign, we found ourselves excited about the potential that crowdsourcing held for addressing global conflicts,” reads Kickstriker’s ‘About’ page. “We were equally disappointed when that campaign unraveled, amid a backlash and public scandal.
“While ‘Kony 2012’ succeeded at raising awareness and connecting potential activists with an issue, it ultimately failed due to suspicions regarding the role that Invisible Children played as a middleman,” the site description continues. “Kickstriker is our attempt to cut out the middleman in online activism, allowing funders to directly support the causes they care about.”
Spoiler alert: Kickstriker is a hoax, of course, but it raises questions about the viability of the crowdfunding model for political and military endeavors. Crowdsourcing.org spoke briefly with Clay Shirky, NYU professor and Internet technologies expert, to learn more about his students’ Kickstriker ruse and the feasibility of crowdsourcing solutions in the realm of global conflict.
Eric Blattberg, Crowdsourcing.org: So you guys were talking about Kony 2012 and somehow that transitioned into a discussion of crowdfunded warfare, right?
Clay Shirky: In fact, the class is called Political Uses of Social Media, so we look at all the ways in which small aggregates can translate into higher leverage than one participant could create on their own.
We were talking about Invisible Children’s theory of change — [which is], if you pressure the people who pressure the people who pressure the people who could arrest Kony, Kony will get arrested — when [graduate student] James Borda said, “You could collapse a lot of layers of interaction if you just created a Kickstarter campaign to hire Blackwater.” The minute that phrase came out of his mouth there was a long silence in the classroom — and then the class erupted, like, ‘Oh my god, you actually could do that.’
Those guys popped up this morning and said, “you know, that was such a good idea we couldn’t not build something that illustrated it,” and that’s when they showed us Kickstriker.
Blattberg: Do you think something like Kickstriker is actually a viable idea in the future, or would governments never allow it?
Shirky: There’s two different ways to approach that question. One is the Charlie Strauss way, which is, “What would a war look like even if that was a viable thing?” But the other is to ask yourself — and I don’t necessarily know the answer to this question — what are the obstacles to putting together a campaign to hire Blackwater? I mean, right now, there must be some kind of controls on who Blackwater would work for, but if you look at Soldier of Fortune magazine — which I don’t know if they’re publishing anymore — these people are for hire. I don’t know if there are any constraints other than having the amount of money you’d need to hire one of these organizations.
Blattberg: Do you know if Kickstarter itself is aware of Kickstriker? And if you aren’t sure, how do you think Kickstarter might respond to Kickstriker?
Shirky: I don’t know; in fact, it occurs to me I should probably send [Kickstarter co-founder and CEO] Perry Chen a note. I mean, it’s clear enough as a parody that I think they will say, “We’re flattered that people now think that this model is so comprehensible that they could use it to illustrate this kind of scary idea.” Given the message [Kickstriker] pops up when you actually try to fund something, I don’t think they’re going to have any problem with people wondering whether it’s real or not.
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