In the wake of the now four-months-missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370, conspiracy theories have hit strange heights. Shakira and Pitbull were even alleged to hold a key to it all, when a few months back Internet alarmists found close parallels between the plane’s disappearance in early March and the lyrics of their 2012 duet ‘Get it Started.’
Now, if the general sense of “well if only someone were really trying to find out the truth” that fuels casual barstool pondering and drives the dizzying spin of conspiracy theories (Aliens? Black holes? Government?) wasn’t enough, a few brave souls have now turned to Indiegogo for the answer.
“MH370 Is Missing with 239 People On Board, Help The Families Find The Truth,” reads the headline of a $100,000 campaign, launched on June 8th.
The “Reward Team MH370” is led by Ethan Hunt, the CEO of Australian 3D printing company Rapide 3D and — sounding almost as impressive as his Mission Impossible namesake — a “former military airman, an experienced private investigator and successful Indiegogo fundraiser.” Joining Hunt on a six person executive committee is Maarten Van Sluys, a Brazilian businessman who lost his sister in the Air France crash in 2009, and Pralhad Shirseth, K.S. Narendran, Sarah Bajc and Ghislain Wattrelos, all of whom lost loved ones on the flight.
There is no disputing that the issue and grief behind the Indiegogo campaign is real. MH370 hasn’t been found. No answers have been afforded bereft relatives, desperately in need of some closure for their mourning.
But, despite the depressing reality behind it, there’s still no hiding that the campaign is another example of Indiegogo’s junk shop crowdfunding at its worst. The campaign launched with the original goal of raising $5 million to offer as a reward for any “whistleblower” who came forward with information that helped locate the plane, while also establishing a fund to employ a private investigator to look into the case and follow up on new information.
“This mystery has too many unknowns, false leads, unconfirmed facts and missing details. Yet, someone somewhere knows what happened to flight MH370. We hope to encourage them to come forward,” the page reads.
After a week, the page had raised just $33,968 towards its $5 million goal (as always, with Indiegogo’s flexible funding they would bank all of this). This $5 million ask was revised down to $100,000 and when it looked to close out the initial 30 days still days well short of even this, the campaign was extended out to August 8, remaining still $4,500 short of this goal with nine days remaining. The campaign mentions private negotiations that are in place to fund the $4.9 million shortfall and still dangles out the potential for the $5 million reward.
The shifting deadline, changeable funding goals and flexible funding option are all quirks of Indiegogo’s get-its-fees-at-any-cost approach. The campaign also offers no rewards to funders, welcoming contributions at 13 levels spaced between $10 and $100,000, each named after a different metal, between aluminium and rhodium.
Six days ago, the page also became a platform from which the “Reward Team MH370” started selling t-shirts for $29 a pop in conjunction with People’s Apparel.
The campaign is a Catch-22 playing out on an epic scale and a stage play of real life absurdity. The Indiegogo campaign, whatever good intentions lie behind it, is underscored by the idea that all it takes for MH370 to be found is someone with a good brain and a pure heart. One of the most frequent commenters on the page goes by the nom de plume of James Bond.
“The Australian Government has said they will invest another $90 million searching the floor of the Southern Indian Ocean over the next 12 months. We think this may be a total waste of taxpayer funds and end with the same result,” the page exclaims.
“OUR effort will not be to rehash the failures with the current investigation. Rather, we will put a fresh set of eyes on the mystery.”
The page links to a tip line that asks contributors not to send alien abduction or psychic theories. But the entire page only ends up serving as a giant platform to fuel the conspiratorial fire.
The sanctioned efforts to find the plane have been historically unprecedented. Within a little over a week after the plane disappeared, 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft were actively searching for the plane, and radar information and search data had been requested from 26 nations. At the end of May, the cost of the search was estimated to end up tallying in the hundreds of millions of dollars, with — as the page decries — the Australian Government pledging another $90 million.
Somehow though this effort has been for naught, this meagre, crowd sourced pot of gold, we’re told, will make the difference.
The idea that a person or persons know the truth but are holding back, and can be incentivized to come forward by a large cash reward, is a stock issue feature of all conspiracy theories. The updates page, mostly written by Ethan Hunt, liberally suggests that an obvious cover up has taken place and openly references debunked components of different MH370 theories, like family members trying to call passenger phones and hearing the phone ring. (A person dialing a phone can hear a ringtone still while the network tries to locate the phone.) Different updates also reference being on the trail already of various leads.
The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 is a harrowing unsolved mystery, with a potential combination of criminal malevolence and technical malfunction leading it on a confusing path probably into an inhospitable part of the Indian Ocean, hampered at first by a badly run investigation.
The MH370 Reward Team on Indiegogo would have you believe otherwise, that it wasn’t just sinister happenings that might have crashed the plane, that bad intentions have kept us from the answers, too.
To borrow from an early July Indiegogo update which lays down the nature of this suspicion perfectly, “When Amelia Earhart when [sic] missing in 1937, that was a mystery because no one knew where she was or where she went (and still don’t). MH370 is not a mystery because someone knows what happened to the flight. In fact its only a mystery to those who do not know what happened. Instead of a mystery the disappearance of MH370 could be the most baffling cover up in the history of aviation.”
And as always, Indiegogo lies in wait, forever eager to play the role of fee collecting patsy, no matter how much false hope and unneeded complication it helps to add to an already difficult situation.
Indiegogo and the organizers of the MH370 campaign were both contacted for comment and did not respond. We will update this story with any response they provide.