Two years ago, students at ITP, NYU's "high-tech funhouse," built a fake Kickstarter to warn viewers about the possibility that crowdfunding platforms might eventually be used for warfare. That bit of online performance art turned out to be prescient. Earlier this week, a campaign on Crowdtilt successfully raised $22,000 to buy battle gear for the IDF's 97th Battalion, according to the description on the site.
I've reached out to Crowdtilt to confirm the legitimacy of the campaign, but earlier this afternoon Crowdtilt CEO James Beshara retweeted one of his employees asking whether this was "the world's first crowd funded war."
The campaign was initiated by Tzvi Wiesel who claims to be part of the 97th Battalion, which he says polices the West Bank:
My unit, the 97th Battalion is known for it's speciality in urban warfare and counter terrorism. As all units within the IDF, we have been assigned a territory as our primary location. The area given to my battalion is that of the West Bank an internationally recognized hotbed of terrorism. Ever since the tragic kidnapping and murder of the 3 yeshiva students; Eyal, Gilad and Naftali my unit has been working non-stop to locate and arrest terrorists, quell violent riots, and ensure the safety of the Jewish people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Now as Israel's borders are heating up yet again we have been placed on high alert and are preparing for the worst. Due to the recent nature of our brigade, the newest in the army, and our battalion, the newest within the brigade the amount of funds allotted for our gear dwarfs in comparison to that of some of the better known units. I kindly request, in this time of tremendous trouble befalling Am Yisrael and the soldiers who have enlisted to protect it, that you might donate to our unit. This money will go towards buying much needed equipment, such as knee pads, flashlights, waterpacks, tourniquets, bullet proof vests and much more as a means of ensuring the safety and preparedness of the soldiers. I thank you on behalf of myself, my entire unit, and the army as a whole for your contribution.
Wiesel's target was $20,000. He raised $22,241. I have reached out to him via the "Facebook verified" account linked to the campaign to confirm that he is part of that unit and to ask if the IDF approved of his campaign. Crowdtilt, a Y Combinator startup which has notoriously lax standards, seems like the most natural fit to push the boundaries of crowdfunding.
The campaign description clearly states: "This money will go towards buying much needed equipment, such as knee pads, flashlights, waterpacks, tourniquets, bullet proof vests and much more as a means of ensuring the safety and preparedness of the soldiers."
In addition to our automated verification and fraud prevention measures, we also manually verify campaigns (including this one), which we are in the process of doing before sending the funds to the fundraising organizer.
Update II: Wiesel, who also goes by Todd, responded to my questions early Thursday morning. He argued that he did not intend to crowdsource generally, but only from family members and friends. Wiesel said he saw the option to make it private, but "when I first signed up I didn't put thought into what that would mean."
Yes I am in fact a member of the 97th battalion in the IDF. As a clarification, we did not exactly crowdsource. It's a misconception.
We had created the page on a crowdsourcing website but the donations can be accounted for as donations from friends and family members whom the link was sent to.
We used crowdtilt because of it's easy to navigate interface and the fact that it allowed us to bring the donations together.
The IDF knows that it's soldiers fundraise from families and friends in the states to buy gear for their units. Again as clarified by crowdtilt we are not purchasing weapons with the funds, rather, protective gear.
The campaign, which already ended, is still public. I asked Wiesel whether he planned on using that protective gear for "urban warfare and counter terrorism," as it says in the first line of his campaign. He responded that warfare for his unit in the West Bank is protectionist:
Well that's our units speciality, so essentially wherever we are called we will be wearing our protective gear. The issue with the wording is that it seems like we're buying "gear for warfare" it's for protection not warfare. Even now our "warfare" is a means of protection via anti-terror.
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[Image via Crowdtilt]