On anti-crypto toxicity

On anti-crypto toxicity

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by Molly White on Monday, April 18, 2022

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Some of the more ideological people who are advocating for cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based technologies are asking a lot of the right questions. Despite crypto’s unquestionably right-libertarian roots, and the continuing prevalence of those politics in crypto today, we’re also seeing people asking questions like:

How can we create a more equitable financial system, where everyone has access to banking services?
How can we reduce the power that a small few currently hold over the web?
How can we improve data privacy and ensure that people have control over their personal information?
How can we create reasonable privacy in the financial system?
How can we make information more available to everyone?
How can we fix a society where so many people are in untenable financial situations?
How can we reduce the enormous wealth disparity in today’s society—both in the existing distribution of wealth but also in access to new opportunities to earn it?
How can we enable creatives to make a fair living from their art?
How can we address inequities on a global scale?
How can we create self-governing communities around shared interests or goals?

Outside of this group of people with ideological hopes for crypto and what they see as its potential to create a more equitable society, many more people are asking very similar versions of these questions in hopes of changing their own circumstances. How can I get access to financial services I need? How can I improve my own untenable financial situation? How can I make a fair living from my art? How can I get access to financial opportunities that I can’t access as a result of where I was born or where I currently live?

I think it is clear to most people who are familiar with my work where I stand on cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based technologies as a potential solution to some or all of these questions.

But I also think that these proposed solutions are enormously attractive to people who see them as a tangible option in a world where these problems are not being solved—where we are being failed by our political establishments in so, so many ways. I don’t think they are a feasible solution, and in fact I think they will worsen many of the problems they ostensibly aim to solve, but they are certainly being sold as the solution, and a solution that people desperately need.

And I really can’t fault someone for deciding to hitch their wagon to crypto and web3 because they are hopeful that those salesmen might be on to something. I can disagree with them, I can explain my point of view, I can think that their engagement is in some small way enabling something I fundamentally disagree with and believe to be harmful—but I can’t believe that buying some crypto, collecting an NFT, or joining a DAO automatically make someone a bad person.

Now, of course there are other people involved in crypto projects, too, who are asking other questions. Questions like, “How can I make myself massively wealthy, even at the expense of others?” or “How can I take advantage of the pseudonymity of crypto to evade accountability for my actions?” Even, “how can I use this to destabilize society even further?” or “how can I become the lord of my own Bitcoin citadel?” These people may be truly evil, and should be held to account for it. But when you come across someone on Twitter with a hexagon-shaped profile picture, your chances are at least as good that you’ve come across someone in the first bucket than in the second. I would like to think there are far more people in that first bucket.

I’ve spoken before about the toxicity of the pro-crypto crowd. The people who flood into replies on Twitter if someone says they don’t like their project of choice, to tell them to “have fun staying poor”, that they’re “not going to make it”, or often much worse. They relentlessly attack those who speak out against crypto, and even those who just dare to ask questions or express a little skepticism. Many have actively embraced this toxicity—indeed, Nico ZM said on stage at Bitcoin Miami 2021 that “Not only do I think bitcoin toxicity is important, I think it’s absolutely necessary.”

It is enormously tempting, particularly when one has been on the receiving end of this toxicity themselves, to engage in it right back. Tweets have gone viral about how it’s morally correct to “cyberbully” people with NFT profile pictures, and I’ve seen my fair share of outrageously hostile replies to crypto advocates that are solely based in the fact that the person holds crypto. I know I have in the past fallen to the temptation to be more hostile towards or poke more fun at a person who disagrees with me than their behavior might justify—which I regret.

I don’t think anyone should be pressured to be nice to evil people. But I think the belief that anyone who engages in crypto is evil has become rampant, and has been used to justify hate towards people who don’t deserve it. There is no doubt that there are plenty of evil people in crypto, but there are a lot of people in there too who, should you care to dig deeper, are after a lot of the same goals that you might be. It saddens me to see replies ranging from dismissive (“silence, hexagon”) to outright hostile against people who have become involved with crypto because they felt they had no other option, or because they have hope for solving the same problems I want to solve. I will disagree with them—often vehemently—but I try to reserve my hostility for those whose actions have actually warranted it. And I hope that through my disagreement I might change a mind or two—a mind that may otherwise be very aligned with my own beliefs or hoping to work towards similar goals; something I don’t think is likely to happen with a dismissive snub or a “go fuck yourself”.

Some might argue that there is value in ostracism, and that by “cyberbullying” crypto or NFT holders they are helping to discourage would-be participants from buying in. This may well be the case. But I know crypto’s toxicity and cult-like atmosphere alienates reasonable people who might otherwise be tempted to engage with it, and I don’t think there’s any reason that the emerging behavior from anti-crypto advocates wouldn’t result in similar outcomes. I also strongly question the usefulness of such behavior. If the broader goal is to diminish the negative impacts of crypto on society, targeting our ire at the individuals who casually engage with it seems like poorly-spent energy.

If you feel the urge to “cyberbully” someone in crypto, direct it at the powerful players behind crypto projects that are actively taking advantage of the vulnerable. Or, just as reasonably, direct it at the powerful tech executives, venture capitalists, elected representatives, and lobbyists who have contributed to the untenable situation we find ourselves in. Or the policymakers and governmental agencies who have failed to uphold their duty in regulating crypto and enforcing existing regulation that would protect people from rampant fraud. But not the artist who hoped to earn a few bucks selling their digital art in what is otherwise an extremely difficult field, or the person who hoped that maybe a lucky crypto buy could help them dig out of crushing debt just a tiny bit faster.

Disclosures for my work and writing pertaining to cryptocurrencies and web3 can be found here.

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