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Brandfluence Drops Claims Against Journalist, Three Others in Defamation Lawsuit

After alleging this journalist led a civil conspiracy, the middleman marketing agency's made a significant revision to its December lawsuit.

Brandfluence CEO Matt Pfaltzgraf

Brandfluence CEO Matt Pfaltzgraf, left, at Atlanta-area software company meetup (Photo via Atlanta Ventures)

Brandfluence, the Atlanta-based for-profit marketing agency formerly known as Softgiving, voluntarily dismissed four defendants from a lawsuit it brought in December.

That lawsuit, filed on Dec. 14, sought to prevent the publication of a story published the following week by The Jacob Wolf Report about how Brandfluence collected more than 42 percent of donations for charity campaigns led by some of Twitch’s most popular influencers.

Brandfluence voluntarily dismissed its claims against Jacob Wolf, the co-author of the December story, and three others—Tiltify CEO Michael Wasserman, former Tiltify engineer Joshua Belkin, and former Twitch global program manager of social impact Alyssa Sweetman. Brandfluence’s dismissal was without prejudice, meaning that it could bring future cases over similar allegations against any of the four dismissed defendants.

Brandfluence filed the dismissal on Tuesday, March 26, just two days before a deadline set by a Fulton County, Georgia, judge to serve all five original defendants with the original complaint. After filing its suit in December, Brandfluence did not serve any of the defendants. In January, it told Wolf’s attorneys it was amending the complaint with new information following the publication of his December article. By late February, Brandfluence had not served Wolf or the other four defendants, so on Feb. 29, the Fulton County judge ordered it to serve all defendants by Thursday, March 28, or the court would dismiss the case altogether. Brandfluence perfected service upon Tiltify at 2:05 pm on March 28.

With the voluntary dismissal, Tiltify—a competing software company that allows influencers and others to easily set up charity campaigns—remains the sole defendant in the case. Brandfluence’s attorney, Larry H. Kunin of Morris, Manning & Martin, said in the Tuesday filing that the company would amend its complaint to reflect allegations specifically against Tiltify.

In its original complaint, Brandfluence alleged that Tiltify and its CEO Wasserman defamed the company with the intent to create an unfair competitive advantage. It alleged that Tiltify and Wasserman conspired with Wolf, Belkin, and Sweetman. Wolf denies these allegations. Wasserman and Sweetman went on the record for Wolf’s story in their capacity as charity industry experts but were not given access to records, transcripts, or any other source material obtained during the reporting of the story.

In December, The Jacob Wolf Report published two-and-a-half years' worth of findings that showed Brandfluence, then known as Softgiving, collected $2.6 million of a total of $6.2 million in charitable donations in campaigns led by a who’s who of Twitch and YouTube in 2020 and 2021, according to tax records.

During 18 months of those two years, Softgiving did not prominently disclose to donors how it split donations with charities and influencers, according to web archives of its donation pages. In some cases, it proposed contracts to charities that entitled it to 50% of donations after expenses for its marketing work, contracts obtained by The Jacob Wolf Report showed.

Following the release of the December article, the IRS published additional tax records for the Givinga Foundation, the passthrough non-profit Softgiving worked with, for the 2022 fiscal year, which showed Softgiving collected $1.65 million of $3.65 million—roughly 46 percent—of donations that year. In subsequent requests for comment by The Jacob Wolf Report, Brandfluence and Kunin said that the company did not do anything improper.

Since December, many influencers who worked with Softgiving, including some of Twitch’s most-watched streamers, Félix “xQc” Lengyel and Ludwig Ahgren, said they were unaware of how Softgiving earned money during their time working with the company. Other influencers, such as Charlie “MoistCr1TiKaL” White Jr. and Jeremy “TheQuartering” Hambly, covered the story on YouTube, calling Softgiving’s cut “outrageous.”

In January, Brandfluence laid off more than 15 employees and contractors, and in an email sent to those employees, said its board had decided to discontinue the company’s work fundraising for charities on Twitch, according to a copy of that email obtained by The Jacob Wolf Report.