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Givewell is a charity organization that was called out in this metatalk thread for astroturfing in this AskMe thread. As the MetaTalk thread progressed, it was discovered that one of the Directors of Givewell, Holden Karnofsky, had participated in similar astroturfing on other sites and engaged in other unethical practices, by his own admission. The MetaTalk discussion also expanded from the specifics of the astroturfing episodes to include criticism about GiveWell's other practices and its model of philanthropic oversight.
A statement concerning Karnofsky's actions was released January 6, 2008 by the GiveWell board of directors. "Effective January 3, 2008, Holden Karnofsky has been removed from his position as Executive Director of GiveWell and from his position as Board Secretary."
This page collects notes and pointers to content concerning this issue as it unfolded on MetaFilter and elsewhere.
Viewers of this page who are unfamiliar with the culture of MetaFilter and MetaTalk may wish to read this post from cortex, one of the site's moderators, which discusses in some detail the tone of the thread and the workings of MetaFilter as a community site.
A chronology of events, concerning the major Metafilter users and Givewell persons follows, covering the days from 12/30/07 to 1/2/08.
- AskMe thread - in which the mefi sockpuppetry occurred
- Metatalk thread - in which the puppetry was reported and the discussion/revelations blossomed
- Metatalk thread #2 - in which Givewell's statement was presented
The Major Players
- Holden Karnofsky - founder and director of Givewell. Mefi accounts geremiah holden0 and holden00
- Elie Hassenfeld - founder and director of Givewell, also seems to be involved in larger astroturfing, though not at MeFi
- Miko - made the original callout in MeTa
- Tim Ogden - Givewell board member, registered with MeFi to make this comment in the Meta thread. Also managing editor of Beyond Philanthropy
- Lucy Bernholtz - on the Givewell board. Runs the Philanthropy 2173 blog which had a series of back and forth comments about the Givewell episode.
Relevant Other Websites
- Givewell's main site
- Givewell's blog and Holden's apology post
- Givewell's old wiki
- Holden's removal - 1/6/08 announcement of Karnofsky's ousting as ED and Board member.
- Givewell update - including audio link to Jan 3/08 board meeting, agenda, and Karnofsky's narrative report of wrongdoing to the board.
- Posts open question on Boingboing under username Holden.
- Posts answer on Boingboing and attempts to direct conversation away from Heifer International and to Givewell.net
- Posts 2nd answer on Boingboing, dismisses Heifer International and insults Charity Navigator.
- Posts criticism about Heifer International and suggests Givewell.net under user name Holden on the Huffington Post site.
- Posts criticism of article and drops name on Consumerist.com. References quoting of himself, which is found in link at top of page. Posted under name Holden0
- 2nd Post to Luxist.com to respond to question to his first comment on Luxist.com to support his argument.
- Sock puppet created to agree with himself in Luxist.com comment thread, uses lower case "holden" as user name.
- First Lifehacker.com comment post, now deleted, posted under name Geremiah.
- Posts question on AskMetafilter asking for help on choosing a charity under user name Geremiah.
- Answers AskMetafilter question with Givewell.net under user name Holden.
- Argues on AskMetafilter against an answer that disagrees with "Holden" answer on 12/30 and marks the "Holden" comment as "best answer" under user name Geremiah.
- 2nd Post on Lifehacker dismissing Charity Navigator and offering Givewell, under user name Geremiah.
- By his own admission, sends 10 emails to bloggers under the name of a new employee in a "deliberate attempt to plug GiveWell without the affiliation showing up"
- Elie drops Givewell.net in comment thread on Wall Street Journal's The Wealth. Makes an ambiguous "we" comment. Board of Director member, Tim Ogden, made first comment in thread. Ogden was first individual to point this out in Metatalk thread.
- Elie makes 2nd post on The Wealth, questioning RobinHood.org and suggesting Givewell.net. Makes another ambiguous "we" comment.
- Posted answer in Boingboing thread (same one as Holden) under Elie, with link to a negative Heifer International blog entry on board of director member Tim Ogden's BeyondPhilanthropy site. Clicking Elie's user name in that thread leads to a profile page that, as of early January, included a link to GiveWell.net
- Under name of Elie, makes another anti-Charity Navigator post in same thread on Buzz Builder blog. His user name for both posts at Buzz Builder redirects to GiveWell's site when clicked, although his affiliation is not transparent in the comment or the redirect URL.
- Under name Elie, follows up his own question of 12/11 at Marginal Revolution by asking for sources "like along the lines of a www.givewell.net." In this comment, his user name redirects to GiveWell's site when clicked, although his affiliation is not transparent in the comment or the redirect URL.
For a thorough list of blog and media mentions, see the Givewell_coverage page.
before the troubles
- Givewell's press page
- Leaving Finance for Philanthropy - at age 26 06dec07
- 2 Young Hedge-Fund Veterans Stir Up the World of Philanthropy - New York Times 20dec07
after the troubles
- UncivilSociety's report January 2, 2008.
- GiveWell's Self-promotion at the Chronicle of Philanthropy January 2, 2008.
- Hedge-funders Use Their Skills for Evil, Not Good, New York Magazine January 2, 2008.
- Founder of a Nonprofit Is Punished by Its Board for Engaging in an Internet Ruse, New York Times January 7, 2008.
- Nonprofit Punishes a 2nd Founder for Ruse, New York Times January 15, 2008.
- geremiah - Holden Karnofsky's original metafilter account, started 1/28/07. Account banned 12/30/07.
- Holden0 - Holden's second account, started 12/30/07 with later-acknowledged express purpose of answering the question posted by his "geremiah" account. Account banned 12/30/07.
- holden00 - Holden's third account, created 12/31/07 after the first two accounts had been disabled.
- timogden - Tim Ogden, a member of the Givewell Board of Directors. Account created 12/31/07.
- Nonprofiteer - Kelly Kleiman - unaffiliated non-profit blogger; joined the metafilter discussion to comment on Givewell here. Account created 1/2/08.
- mrserkan - Serkan Piantino - joined Metatalk thread to protest harsh treatment of Holden. Worked with Holden at Bridgewater Associates. Account created 1/2/08.
- jefftrexler - Jeff Trexler - blogger, author of this summary of the situation cited in Metatalk. Account created 1/2/08.
- PhilCubeta - Phil Cubeta - philanthropy blogger, joined after extended discussion at his Gifthub site. Account created 1/5/08.
- Maureen Doyle - Maureen Ward Doyle, ED of Heritance, Gifthub commenter and proprietor of this blog. Account created 1/6/08; closed by user 1/10/08.
- Jeff Doyle - Husband of Maureen Doyle, and lead programmer at gift-giving website Handmeon. Account created 1/6/08; closed by user 1/7/08.
GiveWell employee postings on the MetaTalk thread
- Karnofsky, 5:44 AM "You're right. I tried to promote GiveWell, and you caught me, and I deserve to be banned. [...]"
- Karnofsky, 6:02 AM "I did a horrible thing, I did it without thinking much - to me it was the equivalent of shouting. [...] I can offer a donation to Metafilter from my pocket"
- Karnofsky, 6:08 AM "The lapse was quick and relatively thoughtless. To me, the best thing I can do is recognize what I did wrong, do what's necessary to make up for it, and move on. [...]"
- Karnofsky, 6:11 AM "[...] what should I do? I am open to roughly anything."
- Karnofsky, 6:12 AM "Fourcheesemac: your proposal [to make full disclosure on the GiveWell blog] makes sense. Do others agree?"
- Karnofsky, 6:18 AM "Mea culpa posted. Is it honest enough? Please let me know what you think." [The Mea Culpa doesn't, as originally posted, give full disclosure, see 9.46 AM posting.]
- Karnofsky, 6:23 AM "I asked what I should do because I can recognize that I'm not thinking well right now. The suggestion to own up to it on the blog was a good one. I should have thought of it. I should not have done this. I am sorry."
- Karnofsky, 7:22 AM "All of this [sockpuppetry, astroturfing etc] is true, yet saying that it means I can't be genuine in my wish for a better world sounds to me as simply incorrect as saying that you can't be a good person if you've done something wrong"
- Karnofsky, 7:27 AM "I've made a lot of comments about GiveWell using my name (Holden) while not putting the fact that I founded GiveWell in the comment itself."
- Karnofsky, 9:46 AM [Admits to the following activities:] "The AskMeFi post [...] two comments on Lifehacker [...] 10 emails to bloggers, from an gmail account that I had recently created for a new employee [which] did not mention the employee's affiliation and was a deliberate attempt to plug GiveWell without the affiliation showing up [...] Numerous comments in past weeks that I made under the name Holden and that Elie made under the name Elie, but that did not explicitly disclose our backgrounds as founders of the project [...] I did not initially disclose [the emails, sent the same morning] in my blog comment because I had literally forgotten. [...] I will edit all these into the frontpage blog post"
- Ogden, 12:30 PM [Tim Ogden makes 950-word response, among which he says he's] "seen some comments left on other sites where Holden did not specifically identify himself as being associated with GiveWell and it did not immediately strike me as a problem"
Miscellaneous Givewell references
A list of additional references to Givewell-related topics can be found at the Givewell references on Metafilter page.