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Change.org Quietly Censored Petition that Challenged Billionaire Investor

The online petition database claims to be committed to free speech, but a deleted petition aimed at key investor Bill Gates presents an ethics question.

By: David Kain —Additional Research: Dan Goncalves

“Ben Rattray 2” by personaldemocracy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Reports of an allegedly removed Change.org petition protesting Bill Gates and potentially mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations were swept under the rug earlier this spring. The petition is said to have garnered as many as 150,000 signatures — though some statements have capped at 130,000.

Change claims that it does not dictate who can and can’t post petitions to its site and does not incorporate guidelines that specifically bar protests against public figures. At the time of reporting, Newsdive has not discovered evidence that identifies the petition as having violated any of Change’s community guidelines or terms of service. Change.org has not responded to our request for questioning.

The site states atop its Terms Of Service (TOS) page:

“We’re an open platform because we believe more change happens when people with different backgrounds and perspectives can participate in the conversation.”

At face value, this ideology looks up to par — given that Change petitions can be found covering everything from student debt cancellation to animal rights laws, both anti-Trump and anti-Biden movements, and to other bizarre causes, like canceling the sun.

While the impression of policy uniformity is typically upheld, these standards potentially do not apply if the contended public figure is one of the company’s key investors.

Published, shared, and promptly deleted in early April, the alleged petition focused on Bill Gates’ ID2020 and a conspiracy that the hundred-billionaire may fuse the program with Covid-19 vaccinations.

Regardless of the theory’s likelihood, Change’s community guidelines detail that any petition is within its right to be featured and shared on Change.org as long as it follows the company’s policies.

The most convincing argument against the Gates-centered petition could be that it violates Change’s policy on misinformation. However, this creates a clear double standard given that Change.org has not removed other petitions which either promote evidence-free claims or could be considered misleading.

Among these is a petition calling for Congressional hearings for the Russian-Taliban bounty storyline from earlier this year. This particular story gained considerable national spotlight when the New York Times published its initial article in June. Despite its notoriety and public acceptance, journalist Alan MacLeod has debunked the NYT claims at Fair.org.

Another petition requests “that President Trump be censured” by Congress. The petitioner lists dozens of examples to back the request — though many of them could be considered misleading (including discredited Russiagate theories). This specific petition has more than 64,000 signees.

The question we should be asking is not if the Gates-Covid petition was a just or logical cause, but rather why was this particular petition removed by the social advocacy site.

Despite being a platform where organizers are championed for speaking truth to power, Change has taken massive sums of money from several major players possessing private interests.

In a May 26, 2017 post, Change announced a $30 million investment led by Reid Hoffman and Gates. Accompanying the funding round was a reshaping of Change’s board. Several Silicon Valley titans joined the mix — including Allen Blue (LinkedIn), Joe Greenstein (Flixster), and Sarah Imbach (23andMe, PayPal, LinkedIn). Also included was Nancy Lublin (Crisis Text Line, Do Something, Dress for Success).

Following the investment, Change kicked-off its transition to becoming a certified B-corporation — a status that Change.org CEO Ben Rattray uses to justify the company’s use of “.org” despite being a for-profit company — a move that has garnered considerable criticism and pushback from users of the site.

“Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn Delivers Remarks at the Opening Session of GES 2016” by GES 2016 Silicon Valley is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Hoffman, who is a Silicon Valley billionaire and the founder of LinkedIn, has deep ties to the DNC and is believed to have spent as much as $100 million to oust President Trump. The entrepreneur has ties to groups such as Lincoln Project, ACRONYM, and Courier, and reportedly considered directly paying activists to convince voters to submit ballots in North Carolina.

One may consider it odd that the billionaire would act in such partisan fashion given this statement he wrote regarding the Change investment:

“With Change.org, financial autonomy plays a particularly strategic role. A global utility that anyone can use to persuade governments to change laws and corporations to change policies must be completely reliable. It needs to be transparent, and beholden to no special interests or agendas.”

Given that Rattray is willing to accept funding from partisan mega-ghouls like Hoffman, the assumption that the site could be influenced by its donors is plausible.

The alleged censored petition not only displayed public anger towards Gates but also took umbrage with Covid-19 vaccinations — an area that Gates and his wife Melinda have invested hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Gates Foundation has chunks of its fortune tied into multiple companies working on a Covid-19 vaccine — including frontrunner Pfizer, and its partner BioNTech. Gates’ relationship with Pfizer can be traced as far back as 2002 and The Foundation invested $55 million in BioNTech in September 2019 (before Covid-19 spread).

Microsoft’s founder has additional connections to the pharmaceutical industry through ties with CureVac, Vir Biotechnology, and Moderna (all of which are currently focused on Covid-19).

“Bill Gates @ the University of Waterloo” by batmoo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While Gates’ simultaneous financial commitments to both pharmaceutical companies and Change.org does not necessarily indicate that Change bent its policies to appease Gates, it does raise interesting questions about the company’s ethics and decision making — a common theme in Change’s history.

Change has repeatedly aggravated users who have donated to petitions without realizing that the company was for-profit. Frustrated signees and donors have, at times, struggled to obtain refunds — despite Change offering a 3-month refund policy.

One recent case of signees being misled by Change involved a famous “Justice for George Floyd” petition. The petition has received over 19 million signatures. Change urged signees to “become a hero” by donating money to “get this petition on the agenda”.

As is the policy at Change, the donation yields are kept in-house where the site converts dollar amounts into distributions of the petition. Circulation of petitions are often distributed to Change users within the Change.org website itself.

One frequent signee Newsdive interviewed, who requested to remain anonymous, detailed the gloom and despair felt when learning that the donations went to the website and not to the causes featured in the petitions. The Change user said:

“I would hope that it would go to BLM or women’s reproductive rights or one of the things I signed for. I would be sad to hear if it went to some random corporation or people who didn’t really need it, but also these days I wouldn’t be surprised…. Honestly I wouldn’t want to sign with them again but I would also [want to] speak up if there was an issue I wanted promoted. That’s a tough one. But I definitely wouldn’t donate to them knowing this,”

Rattray has chugged along while making a fortune despite giving an at first glance impression that Change.org is a charitable non-profit site. Considering Change’s history of being fueled and governed by partisan and private-interest-laden investors, the company’s principles are worth questioning. This includes censored petitions linked to plutocrats and money-lenders.

The profit-incentivized business model operates more like a tech robber baron that cleans up off of kindness and progressivism than an in-solidarity platform for grassroots organizers.

When a petition that bombards one of Rattray’s lead investors garners 100,000+ signatures in a matter of days suddenly vanishes and its signees are censored, questions surrounding ethics should be asked. When the company keeps silent on the matter, follow up questions should be asked.

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David Kain

David Kain

Poetry, politics, and sometimes video games. #FreeAssange