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Givewell

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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.

Chronology

A chronology of events, concerning the major Metafilter users and Givewell persons follows, covering the days from 12/30/07 to 1/2/08.

Givewell-related MetaFilter Threads

The Major Players

Relevant Other Websites

Astroturfing Activities

Holden Karnofsky

12/10/07

12/12/07

12/13/07

12/15/07

12/27/07

12/30/07

12/31/07

Elie Hassenfeld

12/10/07

12/11/07

12/12/07

12/15/07

Media Mentions

all coverage

For a thorough list of blog and media mentions, see the Givewell_coverage page.

before the troubles

after the troubles

Metafilter-specific details

Givewell-related Mefi accounts

  • 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, 6:12 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.