June 23, 2017; Seattle Times
Two weeks ago, NPQ wrote about the fact that GuideStar had flagged 46 nonprofits as hate groups on its site by way of a banner advising that they were so designated by Southern Poverty Law Center. Evidently, it was unprepared for the backlash. On Friday, it took the banners down, issuing the following statement:
At GuideStar, our ongoing mission is to provide our users with valuable information about nonprofits in order to help them make educated and informed decisions. We develop profiles based on information from a number of government and private sources. We also actively encourage any nonprofit in our database to update their profile for free—allowing them to present themselves to our users on their own terms.
Earlier this year, in order to provide even more information to our users, we noted that 46 of the 1,676,746 active nonprofit groups we track had been flagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a long-standing civil rights advocacy organization.
In the weeks and months since, we have heard from both supporters and critics of this decision, many of whom have presented reasonable disagreements with the way in which this information was presented. We are always open and willing to have conversations with our users and nonprofit groups and welcomed this feedback. We acknowledge there is a deep, nuanced conversation to be had with Americans of all political, cultural, and religious backgrounds regarding how we address—and identify—hate groups.
Dismayingly, a significant amount of the feedback we’ve received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.
With this development in mind—driven by both our commitment to objectivity and our concerns for our staff’s wellbeing—we have decided to remove the SPLC annotations from these 46 organizations for the time being. This change will be implemented during the week of June 26, 2017. In the meantime, we will make this information available to any user on request.
At the same time, we view this as an opportunity to refine how we present and curate this type of information, as we do believe that it is in line with our mission to provide as much information about nonprofit organizations as possible. We hope to engage in a constructive dialogue with experts from across the political spectrum to help us determine the best way to fulfill this need.
We want to thank the many users who have constructively expressed their opinions on this situation. We will take this feedback into account as we consider how to continue to provide the most helpful information about the nonprofit community.
We’re not exactly surprised about this outcome. In fact, it appeared to us from the start that GuideStar was not reflecting a sense of commitment about this decision, since Jacob Harold had already told the Associated Press earlier this month that GuideStar was reevaluating its “design choice” to designate the groups this way, saying it conveyed “a degree of certainty” in SPLC’s judgment that didn’t match their own level of conviction.
As an organization that has received quite a bit of threatening mail ourselves, we confess we are a bit taken aback about the way GuideStar handled this. Either you do or do not believe these groups are hate groups; if, in your estimation, the charge hasn’t been proven to your satisfaction, you should not designate them so. And if you are committed to the truth of the original statement, to back down and then claim to be doing so out of concern for staff just looks as if the whole thing was insufficiently thought through, at the very least. The one point the statement makes with which we overwhelmingly agree is that GuideStar, for which we have the utmost respect for in general, needs to consider carefully how it curates the information on its site.—Ruth McCambridge