“Arab Spring” Kickstarter suddenly suspended

Former journalist Matthew Vandyke was about $4,000 short when his documentary project was taken offline yesterday.


Jennifer Abel


Published Aug 22, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 12:26 pm CDT

A Kickstarter fundraiser offering backers the chance to “become part of the Arab Spring” was suspended Tuesday, almost a month after it first started, for undisclosed reasons.

Matthew VanDyke calls himself an “Arab spring freedom fighter in the Libyan civil war” on his website. He started his career as an embedded journalist with the U.S. military, covering the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Last year he went to Libya to join the uprising against former dictator Moammar Gadhafi and spent six months in a Libyan prison before escaping.

He hopes to join the Syrian rebellion against longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad, and he started his Kickstarter campaign in hope of collecting $19,500 to make a documentary about the rebellion and his role in it. Or, as his Kickstarter page says, “Two freedom fighters from the Libyan revolution join the Syrian uprising against Assad and capture it all on film.”

By Aug. 21, he had raised just over $15,000. Then the fundraiser was suspended.

The Daily Dot contacted Kickstarter and Matthew VanDyke to ask about the suspension. Kickstarter representatives declined to comment, but sent a link to Kickstarter’s FAQ page; the question “Can I find out why a project was suspended?” has the answer “No. For legal and privacy reasons, Kickstarter does not comment on moderator actions.”

Kickstarter’s community guidelines has a list of prohibited content, including “Projects endorsing or opposing a political candidate” and “Projects promoting or glorifying acts of violence,” so it’s possible VanDyke’s documentary ran afoul of one of those rules.

But in that case, it’s a mystery why Kickstarter approved VanDyke’s project at all. In an email exchange with the Dot, VanDyke wrote:

[Kickstarter] carefully reviewed my project, had me make some changes to the wording of it, and then approved it. … They were very aware of this campaign from the start …. They even provided me with tech support recently to help me get a video uploaded.

However, VanDyke also said that the lack of Kickstarter support will not prevent him from making his documentary: “Some of my Kickstarter backers [have] already started sending money via PayPal to my email address without me asking for it, and some are planning to hold fundraisers and mobilize online groups in support of the project.” VanDyke says he’s “certain that I will raise far more money now through PayPal than I would have through Kickstarter as a result of the controversy.”

One possible explanation for Kickstarter’s sudden crackdown on the project? An explosion of unwanted publicity. On Aug. 21, just hours before the suspension, Wired reporter Spencer Ackerman wrote a story about a “New Kickstarter Pitch: ‘Join the Syrian Uprising’” in which he pointed out “there’s an uncomfortable terrorist element (of unknown size) glomming on to the anti-Assad uprising.” He continued: “The Patriot Act and other post-9/11 legislation gives the government wide latitude to attack the avenues of suspected terrorist finance. At what point does it start looking at Kickstarter?”

Whatever the cause, VanDyke notes on his website that he’ll decide today whether to formally use another form of public funding, like PayPal.

Photo via Matthew VanDyke

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*First Published: Aug 22, 2012, 8:19 am CDT