So it goes that just as soon as the holidays end, the snowflake-shaped scales fall from our eyes and harsh, cold reality sets in. All that goodwill and cheer just got us fat credit-card bills and a fatter ass, and you know those nice boys from the New York Times? The ones who left their hedge-fund jobs to start Givewell, a charitable organization that rates other charitable organizations, that separates the wheat from the chaff, that keeps them honest, as our dear friend Anderson Cooper would say? Well, they turned out not to be so honest themselves.
A couple of days ago, co-founder Holden Karnofsky was busted for pulling a John P. Mackey: That is to say, he set up an alias to post positive messages about his company on a message board, and he got caught. Earlier this week, when the kids at Metafilter noticed that a question about where to find a “high performance” charity to donate to and the response —Givewell— and a number of positive comments came from the same IP address, an army of Internet vigilantes descended on Karnofsky. “Is this transparency?” a poster questioned. It only got uglier from there: The Internet is a surly bitch, and she does not take kindly to what the kids are calling, “astroturfing.” “What dicks!” one commenter said. “If Holden were pumping stocks, selling penis enlargement nostrums, or promoting Hot Women Looking To Meet You Tonite, I’d chalk it up to more of the same and not give it a second thought,” said another. “But he’s the founder of a charitable foundation that makes bold claims about honesty and transparency.” Eventually Karnofsky himself intervened. “You’re right. I tried to promote GiveWell, and you caught me … I tried to get the word out there in a way that wasn’t right. It was a lapse in judgment. It was terrible. I really hope that you can understand the difference between this mistake and running a scam.”
Yeah, that didn’t help so much.
“I really hope that you can understand that you wasted people’s time and abused the trust of this community!” a poster called Jessamyn retorted. Since then, the commenting has ballooned — there are more than 1,000 comments on the Metatalk thread now — and the Givewell blog has a big mea culpa on its Website. It’s all very gory and kind of entertaining, in a deeply dorky way.