Episode #53: 👨‍💻 Are We Crypto Influencers?

👴 Old tweets, altcoin hypocrisy, and the slippery standards we hold crypto thought leaders to. Plus: 🌶 TI-82 hot takes.

Coin Talk
Coin Talk
Nov 15, 2018 · 37 min read

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COIN TALK is produced in partnership with Medium and hosted by Aaron Lammer and Jay Caspian Kang. Press “Listen to the story” above to play the episode. (You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, download the MP3, or email us at hi@cointalk.show)

Aaron Lammer: Jay, I want to talk to you today about crypto influencers.

Jay Kang: Are we crypto influencers?

Aaron Lammer: I think that’s a question we should keep coming back to. I think we should try and answer that question last, is what I’m saying.

Jay Kang: And this is not even in a self-deprecating sense, but I’m gonna go with a hard no right now, but perhaps by the end of the show, I will be convinced that maybe we are influencers in crypto.

Aaron Lammer: I always like to take the opposite tact as you because it makes the show more interesting. So I guess I’m arguing that we are crypto influencers. But let’s try to unpack what that means and think about what influence in the cryptosphere really entails, because I feel like we are witnessing the twilight of the idols, this first generation of crypto in which the big names really held a lot of weight. And you could really make a lot of money and go to a lot of conferences. Some of that stuff’s getting interrogated. Have you been keeping your eye on any of that stuff?

Jay Kang: This is the first I’ve heard of this thesis, but, yeah, I don’t think you’re wrong. Let’s name some names. You’re talking about people like Roger Ver, Charlie Lee.

Aaron Lammer: That’s to me like first-wave ska. I guess I’m really talking about second-wave ska. So you have these ascendant people. And, yes, ska is coming back.

Jay Kang: You’re speaking my language here.

Aaron Lammer: Exactly. So first- and second-wave ska aren’t contradictory or opposed to each other. But no one would mistake first-wave ska for second-wave ska. The second-wavers I’m thinking of are people like Meltem Demirors, who’s a ascendant crypto conference personality, or even people like Mike Dudas, I hope I’m pronouncing his name correctly, who runs a new-ish publication called The Block. And these are all people who have come under fire for conflating their crypto influencer status with also criticizing things within crypto and I think are either being accused of something on the spectrum from hypocrisy to a secret agenda.

Jay Kang: Okay. So in your mind right now we’re in sort of the Two-Tones, Specials phase of crypto-

Aaron Lammer: Yeah.

Jay Kang: … and the early Jamaican roots are gone.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah.

Jay Kang: So we are-

Aaron Lammer: And I’d also put in a little, Roubini’s a little bit in that camp, Bitfinex’ed is in that camp in terms of the strongest critics. I’m talking about people who’ve built a career out of thinking things about crypto. Roger Ver built a career out of putting $300,000 into Bitcoin. I don’t think it’s really his ideas that blew minds so much as his early actions.

Jay Kang: I think that’s unfair. I think that he was a tireless advocate for crypto in the way that somebody like Andreas Antopoulos is now perhaps.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah, first wave.

Jay Kang: Yeah, you can argue that one is better than the other, one is more eloquent and less unhinged than the other. But I don’t think you can argue that one is more dedicated than the other. And I would say that of the two, I would say probably Roger Ver had much more to do with the blossoming of crypto than Antopoulos. So, yeah, it’s not, those guys aren’t really being heard anymore.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. And it’s not necessarily a competition, but there is a lot at stake. So let’s take Meltem Demirors because I feel like this is the conflict where these ideas have been most clearly articulated. So she’s written a lot about crypto. She’s appeared at conferences. She did early work. I think she was originally involved in oil something or other and then moved over to both being employed within and writing and thinking about crypto.

Aaron Lammer: And one of the things that she’s written and thinks about crypto is that most altcoins are shitcoins and that shitcoins are a scam, not a hugely controversial viewpoint.

Jay Kang: Yeah. It’s something that is espoused on this show from time to time. So-

Aaron Lammer: Jay, this show is pro shitcoin, just for the record.

Jay Kang: So just to clarify then, what you’re talking about really is a generation of people who came up trying to parse out this mess that was happening about five, six years ago. And now their job, for better or worse, is to go to crypto conferences, more or less, and talk or to go on CNBC and talk or to have an influential Twitter following or something like that. That’s what you’re talking about? That’s the new wave of influencers?

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. I think so. I think that there are people who are trying to take all of the craziness that is crypto in 2018 and make sense of it for an audience. And that can be everyone from someone who’s legitimately a journalist to someone who’s running a coin to someone who’s an analyst and is making calls. Everyone is trying to say what they think. If there’s one thing that is clear across crypto it’s a place where people want you to know what they think about it, except the whales, who are quietly living in Puerto Rico.

Jay Kang: Okay. So yeah. Then I agree that Meltem is one of those people, and she is part of a class that I would say that has tried to professionalize and put a good almost corporate face on crypto and to popularize it through being, “Hey, I’m a reasonable person, and I have made other types of investments in the past. I’m not like a crypto fascist or a narco-capitalist. I’m just a regular person like you who thinks this stuff is cool,” right?

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. And in terms of where she is on the spectrum, I’d say she’s closer to the big financial services company version of crypto than she is to a narco-capitalism view of crypto. However, she has advised shitcoin-ish projects before. She has bought and encouraged other people to buy shitcoin-ish projects. And she is now decrying many of those projects at places like conferences and in pieces of writing, and as a result was called out but many, many crypto men for doing so.

Aaron Lammer: And it struck a bit of a nerve for me because I was like, “How dare you call out someone’s shitcoin past.” First of all, let he who has never dabbled in altcoins cast the first stone. I hear a lot of Bitcoin maximalists out there, but no one’s playing with their hand totally up. And I would be very surprised if crypto is your whole life that you never dabbled in any other coinage.

Jay Kang: Well, and just what’s the complaint? What are people mad at her about?

Aaron Lammer: I think the complaint is hypocrisy. Basically you did and profited things that you are now discouraging other people from doing. And we’ve done the same thing on this show. We’ve done things-

Jay Kang: Yeah, but we haven’t profited, but, yeah, we-

Aaron Lammer: Yeah, no one’s shitting on us because no one shits on you when you lose money. Everyone’s just like, “Sorry, bro. You’re terrible at this.”

Jay Kang: We have tried to profit, and now are warning the public about it.

Aaron Lammer: Basically if we had sold the top, we would’ve been guilty of this. In fact, we’ve actually just been the suckers who lost money in the shitcoin ecosystem to sharks like Meltem Demirors. But I would say we knew what were getting into. When we started this show, we were like, “We’re gonna go some dark places, buy some crap, and if we lose money on it, we’ll deserve to.”

Jay Kang: Yeah. We have a purity of vision. You cannot take that away from us.

Aaron Lammer: And at the same point in that purity of vision, I don’t think I’d feel guilty if I had made a bunch of money in shitcoins, because clearly I wanted to or I wouldn’t have bought them in the first place.

Jay Kang: So-

Aaron Lammer: I wanted Sumokoin to moon. I’m not happy that Sumokoin is worth 10 cents now. It was once worth over $10.

Jay Kang: Is that how bad it is?

Aaron Lammer: Literally. That is not an exaggeration.

Jay Kang: That’s so bad.

Aaron Lammer: I think the top was maybe more like 8.90. The top was 8.90, and now it’s trading for 10 to 12 cents, depending on when you’re listening to this.

Jay Kang: So it’s less than 2% of the top. That’s horrible.

Aaron Lammer: I should start … You know at this top of the show we announce the Bitcoin index price? I should just have the price of Sumokoin in the outro each week.

Jay Kang: Okay, so I think that I have a sense of what’s going on then, which is this woman who journalists call when they need a quote from somebody who they can trust within the crypto space is now going around saying, “Hey, all shitcoins are bad. This was a bad idea.” But in her past, she also did some shitcoining. It’s similar to the story that ran this morning in The Times about Beto O’Rourke at some point was paving the way for an El Paso developer to make a shitty development that was gonna displace people. And the implication was, “Hey, in your past, you sort of participated in shitty neoliberal politics. Why are you so holy now?” Right?

Aaron Lammer: Yeah.

Jay Kang: It’s that sort of base hypocrisy charge.

Aaron Lammer: To put it in another terms, there’s a lot of people who are Ethereum purists who are like, “Everything was ruined by all these trashy ICOs.” And it’s like, yeah, also your Ethereum went from $5 to over $1,000 as a result of all these shitty ICOs at one point. It’s not a system where these things aren’t interdependent.

Jay Kang: And tell me if I’m wrong, but the general idea is that she has a lot of influence and that she should not be shitting on shitcoins if she had some in her past and that doing so is harmful to crypto?

Aaron Lammer: I think it’s something like that, or that at least she should be more transparent about it. I think transparency is always a weird double-edge sword because the way that people know about this past she has is having a open public Twitter, in which she’s got these tweets from the past about it.

Jay Kang: Yeah, she is transparent.

Aaron Lammer: So actually just not deleting your tweets is a form of transparency. If people are active enough to go look, and they have, now they know.

Jay Kang: Yeah, look, I did see the tweetstorm about this I think that a lot of people were linking to. And it was just endemic of a type of logic I think that works on the internet, especially in tweetstorm form, where you just quote tweet a bunch of stuff that the person said in the past and then point out how that does not align with the thing that the person is saying right now. It’s actually something that people do almost every single second of the day to Trump, like take a tweet from the past and be like, “That’s what you said about Obama.”

Jay Kang: And I just find that as a discursive debating technique that I find it to be quite lame. And I don’t really … Look, the president is something completely different. We can not have him as part of the conversation. But in general, it seems to say that your public record on Twitter must be immutable for all times. You can’t change your mind about anything and that if you do, then you’re a hypocrite and nobody should take what you’re saying now with any sort of seriousness, right? And that seems to be the type of argument that happens a lot in crypto. So I don’t know, I was not particularly receptive to this.

Aaron Lammer: Anyone who tells you that they fully understood crypto in 2015 and had reached every conclusion that they were gonna really in 2018 in 2015 is lying to you. A lot of this stuff we have got to see play out before we can say anything absolute. I feel like every three months on this show we totally reset our opinions.

Jay Kang: Yeah.

Aaron Lammer: We were Bitcoin maximalists for a while there. I think we’re maybe gonna let that one go because I don’t know how long I can be a Bitcoin maximalist. But-

Jay Kang: Wait, why? Why is there a time limit on [crosstalk 00:13:30]?

Aaron Lammer: I don’t know. It’s just making me feel sad.

Jay Kang: Yeah, I think the politics around it are not … I don’t think they’re [crosstalk 00:13:37]-

Aaron Lammer: Also, honestly, if the entire appeal of crypto is just gonna be Bitcoin maximalism, there’s just not that many more places to go. We’ve sort of talked about this. Why did Meltem Demirors experiment with altcoins? Why did I experiment with altcoins? Because I was curious. Because I wanted to know. And maybe I was driven by a profit motive. Clearly I was. Clearly she was. But that’s everyone in crypto. I have yet to meet someone in crypto who a profit motive had nothing to do with their involvement. Sorry, [inaudible 00:14:05] out there.

Aaron Lammer: Another person who’s gotten criticized in the last few weeks is that guy Bitfinex’ed, who is raising the alarm. And people are like, “Lock him up!” And I don’t understand why individuals who are critical of elements of the crypto apparatus are suddenly wide open to being locked up or canceled, yet giant exchanges that act without transparency, Roger Ver says insider trading should be legal. The power players are in any way acting this way, so it feels weird that individuals, particularly individuals’ conduct in 2015, 2014, even two years ago, pre-bull run is suddenly a total hypocrisy. We didn’t know then what we know now.

Jay Kang: Yeah, and also with this Meltem thing, I think we would be remiss to not discuss the fact that there aren’t that many women in this space. And you and I have been around the internet and journalism and I guess the ways in which these things develop, these sorts of-

Aaron Lammer: I’ve traveled all over the internet.

Jay Kang: Well, no, but seriously, I think that you and I and certainly past guest Adrian Chen and our friend are qualified to talk about are how these sub-communities like crypto on the internet operate. And a big part of it I think is finding if there are women in that space and there aren’t that many of it, then they’re held to a completely different standard. You see it as well in sports writing as well or sports TV where a woman who mispronounces someone’s name on ESPN gets hammered for three days about it. And meanwhile, you have dudes who don’t know a thing about the sport they’re talking about except for the fact that they played it for a couple of years getting everything wrong and it doesn’t matter.

Aaron Lammer: I was gonna say that everyone I can think of has been hypocritical in crypto. I’ll say, there is one person who’s been entirely transparent and has not gone back on his word. And that’s Adrian Chen.

Jay Kang: Yeah, that’s true.. He will never own a Bitcoin. He does have-

Aaron Lammer: He was like, “This is bullshit. I would never want to own this.” And not only has he not done it. He has not said, “I wish I bought Bitcoin.” I’ve never heard Adrian say, “I should’ve bought Bitcoin.” His beliefs in politics have been static across it, and this program solutes him.

Jay Kang: Okay, but how would you feel if I told you that Adrian does have some Dogecoin?

Aaron Lammer: I feel like Adrian owning Dogecoin is actually on brand also-

Jay Kang: Yeah, me too.

Aaron Lammer: … so I’m gonna allow it.

Jay Kang: To your second point, which I found interesting, is that, well, why does the opposition to this sort of stuff, why does the panic, why does it organize around people who are more or less powerless or who are just people with Twitter accounts? So for example, I think Meltem is a little more than a person with a Twitter account, but Bitfinex’ed is just a guy with a Twitter account saying shit that you can agree with or disagree with. But the idea that he’s somehow responsible for everything shitty that [Bitfinex 00:17:18] and Tether did or everything that they weren’t transparent about that it would’ve been all fine if it wasn’t for this guy who kept pointing it out, I don’t know, I just find that to be incoherent logically.

Jay Kang: And also it’s just weird. If you are into crypto and you want crypto to be good, why aren’t you mad at Tether? Why aren’t you mad at Bitfinex? Why are you mad at this dude with a Twitter account? It’s just weird to me.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. It feels to me like there’s a weird ethical shading that favors Trumpian attitudes and worldviews and hurts you if you try to act reasonably openly or rationally. So you have a McAfee type is doing everything that Meltem Demirors is doing except 10,000 times worse.

Jay Kang: Way worse. Lying. Lying about taking money, too.

Aaron Lammer: Basically extorting people who are doing ICOs, just wild, wild pay-for-play shit. And whenever that’s called out, it’s like, “YOLO! That’s exactly what you’d expect from me! Craziness! I drank a guy under the table on a Bitcoin cruise.” It’s like people who your moral ceiling is very low are [inaudible 00:18:30] within this ecosystem, and people who actually think about their ideas and the effects of them and how this whole system works or potentially people who inject any nuance or subtlety into their understanding are disadvantaged within that system.

Aaron Lammer: So what I see in crypto is a ton of people who are just like, “Decentralized capitalism, you can do whatever you want,” and then other people who are like, “Maybe people are getting ripped off who are retail investors.” And what the core crypto people, I don’t mean Bitcoin core, I just mean the fanatics, the fanatical wing of crypto is like, “You shouldn’t try to blow the whistle on Bitfinex’ed Tether fraud because that could cause a Tether panic, which is bad for my bags. Everyone’s basically like, “But what about my bags?” And if someone else does something that in any game theory sense is bad for their bags, they feel comfortable attacking them even if in the case of Meltem Demirors, what she’s accused of is basically acting in the interested of her bags in 2015 and acting differently in 2018.

Aaron Lammer: And I haven’t heard anyone from that fanatical crypto zone try to do something that was bad for their bags.

Jay Kang: There’s something about the structure of social media, especially Twitter, that leads to just the same structures of arguments being repeated over and over and over and over again. And this sort of pointing out of really easily explainable and not even particularly troubling hypocrisies, quote/unquote, is really the thing that I think fuels Twitter more than anything else. And it’s not surprising that it would show up in this sort of crypto space because most of the messaging is on Twitter.

Aaron Lammer: When you were in high school, was there ever a cheating scandal at your high school?

Jay Kang: No. We didn’t get caught.

Aaron Lammer: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Okay. So there was a massive cheating scandal in the AP physics when I was a senior in high school.

Jay Kang: Yeah, okay. So I cheated throughout AP physics.

Aaron Lammer: Okay, so if you’re too young for a TI-82 story, just zoom ahead now. But if you know what a TI-82 is, first of all, Ali Wong’s jokes about, long stand-up set about TI-82 is one of the funniest things I’ve ever fucking heard. And it’s only funny if you had a TI-82. So you could copy between the TI-82s. So kids in the first one got the answers to the test, put it on the TI-82. By the end of the last period, literally hundreds of people in the school had the answers to this test, more than 50 … So they asked everyone to put down their calculators. And more than half of the class had the answers on their TI-82, not Aaron Lammer. Aaron Lammer was in period one. Would’ve had it. Would’ve liked to cheat on it. But because of circumstances, I was prevented.

Aaron Lammer: So-

Jay Kang: Someone please fact-check that, because I’m not sure if Aaron Lammer was in period one.

Aaron Lammer: Some of my friends from high school listen to this show, so send an email. You know where to find me. Okay. So what do you do in that situation? The penalty for cheating on the test could be suspension, even expulsion. But they’re not gonna do that to half of the class, right? So in some ways, people are protected by group bad faith. This is what I think is happening here in these situations. If we actually look deeply enough into the majority of people in crypto’s past, we’re gonna find this kind of stuff. We’re gonna find the dirt on their TI-82. The smarter ones have probably deleted their Twitter history. The even smarter ones than that maybe weren’t tweeting about it.

Aaron Lammer: But I would be very surprised if there’s truly no shit on a lot of the shoes that have been walking around these woods. So in a situation like that, I think it becomes totally subjective who gets taken down, who gets crap for it, because we know we can’t give everyone crap. If everyone who had to own up to owning some shitcoins and then saying shitcoins are a problem for the ecosystem, there’d be no one left in crypto.

Aaron Lammer: So in these kinds of situations, we target the people, we target women, we target people for various reasons that they slightly stand out of the pack rather than just reckoning with this as a whole, which I think is the larger thing that needs to happen is that the media within crypto is just a hopium feedback cycle in which no one can really raise the alarm, no one can really say anything negative. Everyone has to collectively believe. And there’s varying levels of hypocrisy, but my take is that almost everyone’s a little guilty.

Jay Kang: Yeah. Okay. So to play devil’s advocate a little bit, right?

Aaron Lammer: Sure.

Jay Kang: Although I want to back to your TI-82 cheating scandal, which is, okay, Meltem’s job description is to be basically an advocate, right?

Aaron Lammer: I think she actually has a job at some [inaudible 00:24:59]-

Jay Kang: No, no, but her professionalization within crypto is somebody who talks about crypto and is supposed to be an actual authority on the issue, right?

Aaron Lammer: I believe the term you’re looking for is thought leader.

Jay Kang: Sure. She is a thought leader in crypto. And that’s not deniable. I think that maybe she in a self-deprecating moment would say that that’s not true. But that is true. You and I are not thought leaders in crypto, and we say the same things that Meltem says. And we have no stake in whether or not people trust us about our crypto beliefs because our show is about how you shouldn’t trust us on the crypto beliefs.

Jay Kang: So I guess my devil’s advocate argument or question to you would be, does she have some responsibility as a crypto thought leader, as somebody who does put herself out there quite a bit in the press as somebody who should be listened to on this, should she just be a little bit more transparent about this stuff, and should she perhaps not hit shitcoins with such a heavy bludgeon, if that makes any sense? Because her statements about the ICO world and [fringier 00:26:10] crypto projects is pretty absolute. She just says that she doesn’t think that there’s too much hope for any of these things right now.

Aaron Lammer: No, no, and no. First of all, no, we are crypto influencers. And more on that later. Number two, I think we believe that you should not pontificate about crypto but never buy crypto. This is the fundamental divide that we’re gonna get to here, Jay. We’re gonna leave behind our friend Meltem Demirors, who is not our friend. We don’t know her, but she should come on the show and talk about this.

Jay Kang: Yeah, we like her.

Aaron Lammer: I like her. Yeah, if for no other reason, I like her because other people are attacking her. And I don’t like the people who are attacking her. So, therefore, I like her.

Jay Kang: That’s exactly my reason, too.

Aaron Lammer: But I argue we are crypto influencers and that every single person when they do anything in crypto their first fundamental choice is, “Should I buy Bitcoin? Should I just write about Bitcoin? Or should I buy Bitcoin and then write about Bitcoin?” And the journalistic establishment … I’m making giant air quotes when I say, “Journalistic establishment.” In fact, every time we use the word “journalism,” it should have giant air quotes around it.

Jay Kang: Yeah, that’s really true.

Aaron Lammer: But if you work at The New York Times, if you work at The New Yorker, like our guest from a couple weeks ago Nick Paumgarten just wrote a huge story in The New Yorker, which I recommend, you are expected to not hold coins. And if this show has one animating idea, it’s that you learn a lot more about crypto if you actually try it yourself and that in some ways, understanding it without ever touching a coin is a thin and flawed way to understand it. So the minute you buy a coin, you’re worse off buying say Sumokoin than Bitcoin, but the minute you start experientially experiencing crypto, you are putting yourself under the same hypocrisy lens that Meltem Demirors did. And every single action you take could be construed as hypocritical.

Aaron Lammer: I for one think Bitcoin is dangerous. I truly believe this. I think it could undermine the very anchor of society and culture. However, I hold Bitcoin. That’s hypocritical. We gotta be able to talk about this. We can’t have this totally divided world where there’s no-coiners who are against Bitcoiners and fanatic Bitcoiners who believe that you shouldn’t ever criticize Bitcoin because that would be hypocritical if you have Bitcoin. There has to be room for the crypto moderate, Jay.

Jay Kang: Yeah. I agree. I do think that there is a crypto moderate take in here that would be a little more critical of her, which would be that she didn’t just own shitcoins in the past. She worked for some of these companies as an advocate. And my argument would be that that’s not disqualifying. She just had a different level of involvement in these things. And the fact that she was a advisor for them, who the fuck knows what that means? It doesn’t mean that you’re trying to pump that thing for everybody. It could just mean that she’s helping with the tech or with PR strategy or whatever.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. I agree with you. I’d feel differently about my Sumokoin past if Sumo had given me those coins rather than I bought them at $1, they went to $9, and then went to 10 cents. I did that like a retail investor.

Jay Kang: But your general point still stands because in the crypto space, there is nobody who is totally pure in the same way that The Times would ask their reporters to be pure or Bloomberg or any of these financial institutions that have strict, strict guidelines on how much exposure their journalists can have in … So, for example, if you hold Apple stock, you can’t write about Apple. That’s a strict rule. And it ensures that you have full transparency but also that you don’t have these types of conflicts.

Jay Kang: In crypto, that doesn’t exist anywhere. The thing that you were talking about where journalists have to do that, yes, that is true at The Times and at The New Yorker and at Bloomberg. But that’s about it, I think. Everywhere else, if you go to Gizmodo, if you go to any of these very, very highly-trafficked places, even Forbes with Laura Shin, who in all of her pieces discloses that she owns crypto, I think that there is that acknowledgement that you do have to own it to really understand it. There was even a genre of crypto type of piece, which was like, “Hey, I’m just a zany guy in Brooklyn who’s a tech reporter, and I’m gonna buy my first Bitcoin and trade it and write about it.”

Aaron Lammer: Yeah, sure.

Jay Kang: But I agree with you that once that’s gone, for you to have any type of … It’s not true if you’re just a reporter, but if you’re a commentator, like you and I are, I think you have to have some sort of exposure into it to understand how it works. I agree with that. And if that opens up any type of hypocrisy for what you’re saying now is completely invalid, then I would just say, “Okay, well, critic, person with a Pepe avatar on Twitter who’s yelling at me, let’s look at your bags.” And I don’t think it would hold up to any sort of scrutiny.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah, if you are interested in crypto right now, you are embracing the contradiction. If you hold Bitcoin right now, you are holding a coin that simultaneously is funding the fascist right in America and is a tool for people in Venezuela to get their life savings out, and is burning tons of electricity, and is … And the list goes on and on and on. And if you want to come up to me and go, “Hey, you’re a hypocrite, you’re a Jew funding a coin that fuels antisemitic violence,” I would go, “You’re right, you’re absolutely right.” But I also don’t want to just walk away from that. I don’t want to say I can’t participate in anything that is contradictory and still an open question in a war in way, because if you walk away from those things, then you’re just simply saying, “I have no power over them.”

Aaron Lammer: If everyone who is worried about some parts of Bitcoin just can’t participate in this system without feeling like a hypocrite, that’s basically just seeding the ground to the YOLO ethics, McAfee world, which is the people who never claim to not be hypocrites just get it. And I personally feel like as a American right now, I don’t feel like giving up all the ground. I feel like wrestling the narrative a little bit rather than simply saying anytime there’s a gray narrative, I’m just walking away and washing my hands.

Jay Kang: Yeah. That sort of purity testing, again, is something that’s very popular on social media. And I don’t think it is really congruous with the world that we live in where these things will always … If something is a new idea in the tech space and if something is a new way that people are congregating online, like Bitcoin, like Joe Weisenthal, our friend at Bloomberg, I think he said this first to us, which is that Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general is you should think of it as a social network. And I think that that’s true.

Jay Kang: The thing about any new type of social network is that at the very beginning, it’s going to be occupied by these dudes. It just is. There’s no way around it. It will always be occupied by fringe groups and people who are trying to find ways to get around censors and people whose usual spaces of congregation have been wiped out. If you have a subreddit that is gone because Reddit banned it, you’re gonna be immediately interested in a decentralized form of social media and a decentralized form of chat apps basically because you feel like they can’t come after you there.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. Our guy Tony Sheng … I’m just gonna talk about every Tony Sheng newsletter on this program, because I think they’re fucking great. I recommend them to people all the time. So we had one pretty recently about basically all of these exchanges, you’d mentioned Coinbase, are trying to come up with their own stablecoin, A, because Bitfinex’ed is probably not completely wrong in that Tether is wildly shady, and it’s always better to have your own stablecoin and then use someone else’s stablecoin. The history of stablecoins has been that one becomes dominant and Coinbase wants the Coinbase stablecoin to be dominant. I think Circle is the Coinbase one, and I think Gemini is also working on one.

Jay Kang: Sure.

Aaron Lammer: So why do they want to do this? Well if you need a stablecoin to buy Bitcoin, if the only fiat on-ramp is through that coin, basically if you have the dominant fiat coin, which I think is a good chance that it would be whatever Coinbase comes out with, you basically capture the audience in exactly the way you just described, the social network-y way.

Jay Kang: Yep.

Aaron Lammer: Right? You have to know your customer to get in with Coinbase. You have to go through Coinbase because they’re the ones selling that fiat coin. So basically in that scenario, Coinbase has created a social network, which is all of the crypto buyers in the world, massively valuable. So he was saying, I think this was from a Ben Thompson article in Stratechery, which is he says in zero-marginal-cost businesses, of which the internet is full of them, it’s a winner-takes-all mentality where you aggregate the audience. That’s what Coinbase is trying to do right now. That’s what Gemini is trying to do right now. And that may be the true victory in crypto land. It’s not gonna be some ninth-degree DApp. That will be the beneficiary of all this work.

Aaron Lammer: But the biggest winner is gonna be the person who becomes the Facebook of crypto. And we’ve talked about this many, many times. This is the chair you want at this table.

Jay Kang: Yeah, yeah. And we talked about both the pluses then the minuses of that and whether or not it’s congruous with the theory of decentralization and crypto. Somebody is building something like that right now. And this week, after the horrible news in Pittsburgh, a lot of the news has been about Gab, which is a company that tried to do an ICO.

Aaron Lammer: They basically, as I understand it, correct me if I’m wrong, Gab was gonna be a decentralized Twitter clone. They were gonna do an ICO. And then they were like, “Oh, wait, this is way too much work and too hard. Why don’t we just do a crowdfunding? People pay for us to do this.”

Jay Kang: And this is the place where the shooter in Pittsburgh would post a completely reprehensible Nazi propaganda, Nazi posts. And the idea of Gab of course is that because it was decentralized and sensor-proof that you could do that without being banned the way that you would be banned on Twitter. And so this morning, the news came out that GoDaddy was dropping Gab, Gab.com, and that PayPal I think yesterday stopped allowing money to go through Gab. And I think that for all those people, their first thought right now has to be, “We need to go to a cryptocurrency-based system here or a blockchain-based system that’s censorship proof.”

Jay Kang: And I think you’ve answered this in part, but we all read those stories. We talked about them a little bit in our telegram group. Does it make you uncomfortable at all? Because that clearly is what’s gonna happen, right? I don’t think that that’s debatable.

Aaron Lammer: Let’s talk about the actual history here, because we talked about this early on. Could’ve been a basement tape, but I’m gonna say I think it was a released tape. And my take was, of all of the Alex Joneses in the world, have you noticed that you don’t hear as much about Alex Jones now that he’s not on any of the major platforms?

Jay Kang: Yeah, or Milo. Milo is a great example of that.

Aaron Lammer: Or Milo. Where is Milo now? Milo may have changed his identity and be a presenter on TV in China for all I know. I haven’t heard a thing about him. I don’t know what he’s doing. Once these people are off major platforms, you never hear about them. And one of the reasons that I think you don’t hear about them, you would think that Alex Jones and Milo would be the massive stars of the breakaway, no-platform, start-our-own-platforms movement. But they’re actually not. They’re just kind of go quiet and silent.

Aaron Lammer: And my take is that no one really wants to deal with these people. If you think that you’re gonna start some massive decentralized move away from Twitter, but your foundational people are asshole trolls, good luck with that. Those people need to connect with a mainstream audience. The reason they were powerful on Twitter and Facebook isn’t that they’re hardcore people there. It’s the window shoppers. It’s the “I’m a little interested in conspiracy theory” people. And once you get the hardest-core people, it’s just an echo chamber. And it’s a sausage party. And it’s not pleasant. And they’re all fighting with each other.

Aaron Lammer: So the only people who really want to run something like that are amateurs. So my take would be that Gab seems to be run by amateurs. The fact that they’re on PayPal and that they’ve got their DNS secured on-

Jay Kang: GoDaddy.

Aaron Lammer: … GoDaddy, this is very like, “Ah, I bought the makings for this bomb at Home Depot on my own credit card.” It’s very amateur league stuff. If they had thought through what they were doing and the fact that they would probably eventually be at the center of a shitstorm, they would not have done something in this way. If they can’t pull that together, they’re definitely not gonna pull off a totally decentralized … As far as I know, no one’s really pulled off a fully decentralized social network. And if I’m wrong, please don’t send us email. I don’t want to know.

Jay Kang: Yeah, yeah.

Aaron Lammer: I’ve never heard of a decentralized project that has anyone except crazy people on it.

Jay Kang: Yeah. But right now that solution clearly hasn’t worked. Nobody has been able to say, “Hey, you don’t like me. You kicked me off your platform. I’m building my own platform. And all my fans will follow me.” And the problem is probably just because they don’t have any real fans, first of all. Alex Jones and Milo were both only popular because the media wouldn’t stop fucking talking about them. And the way that the media accessed what they were saying was through Twitter and through other social networks, YouTube, whatever, right?

Jay Kang: Now that the media has to actively seek those guys out, everyone is too lazy to actually do that. Nobody is gonna type in some, is gonna sync a blockchain to read Milo’s tweets.

Aaron Lammer: I want to just clarify one issue there, which is it’s not that I don’t think a decentralized social network will never happen. All I’m saying is it’s not gonna get started by a bunch of castaways from regular Twitter. I don’t believe that the people who got kicked off Twitter are the right foundational generation for a new form of culture and media. I think there has to be optimism, and there has to be something beyond, “I’m an angry person who was too angry for Twitter.” I think if you look at early Bitcoin or any of these things, it has to have a narrative and mythology that appeals to a broader portion of the population than the people who are just worried about getting kicked off of Twitter for being Nazis.

Jay Kang: Yeah, I agree. Do you remember this happening about a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, where somebody tried to start a version of Twitter that was just for journalists to talk to one another without having the intrusion of the public? So it was basically Twitter but all your @ replies would be other journalists, which is basically what media Twitter is anyway.

Aaron Lammer: You basically just invited me to the worst possible party.

Jay Kang: It was so bad.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah, people have tried a gazillion different takes on the social network. They’re not valuable.

Jay Kang: To your point, yeah. I think that you go on there and it was like three people taking it seriously. And then there was 50 people like me who signed up just to troll. And I think your point that it’s really hard to create a social network that is an alternative based just on the idea of, “Don’t you find this current network annoying?” it’s just not enough incentive for people to get out.

Aaron Lammer: I think that there’s a widespread what I consider a misperception, and I’ll probably get shit for this, but the idea that crypto is basically censorship-proof or censorship-resistant, I think the way that people take censorship in that context is very literally, like censoring speech. And I take it more broadly as meaning can’t be shut down. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s that its fundamental design is to prevent itself from being shut down.

Aaron Lammer: So when I hear that Bitcoin is censorship-resistant money, I don’t really hear it’s for a social network where you can say whatever you want. I hear it as its life force is not something that the state can cut off. And that is a bigger and more profound idea of censorship resistance. But I think that we keep coming back to this idea of censorship in the sense of 140 characters of text. And that doesn’t make quite as much sense to me.

Jay Kang: Okay. Let’s play our favorite hypothetical game on this show, which is What Would Brian Armstrong Do?

Aaron Lammer: Yeah.

Jay Kang: If you remember when Toshi launched, Toshi being the DApp that Brian Armstrong was behind that was the precursor to Ethereum World, there was a Twitter clone on there, right?

Aaron Lammer: Sure, yeah. They almost all have at least a messaging feature. It’s so easy to make Twitter in a box that everyone tacks it on whatever product they’re making.

Jay Kang: So here’s my question. What would happen if that thing did get sort of popular and it became like Gap? What do you think Brian Armstrong would do? Do you think he would shut it down? Because that would certainly be a problem for a lot of reasons behind Ethereum, and I think Vitalik probably wouldn’t be behind that either. Or do you think he would just let it go and be this breeding ground for people to have crazy QAnon theories and do crazy shit eventually?

Aaron Lammer: If Toshi Twitter actually worked now, it would be a huge fucking catastrophe. It would be full of crazy shit. It would not work very well. It would be too soon. And Brian Armstrong would be on the news explaining why a decentralized Toshi Twitter user did something terrible, potentially.

Jay Kang: Yeah. No, I agree.

Aaron Lammer: I feel like that’s a headache he doesn’t want. And that’s why when people bring up these decentralized Twitter things, I’m like it may be for the best for your project if it’s not even gonna come out for two or three years.

Jay Kang: Okay, but here’s the thing, though. There’s the time between now and three years from now when this thing might work, the world isn’t gonna change. The internet behavior might change a little bit, but the people who are gonna be drawn to this are still the same people. Do you think that at that time, if you’re Brian Armstrong or whoever is behind this, do you think that at that point, you can’t really censor it? You can’t take actions to ban trolls. You can’t stop harassing and threatening behavior. You can’t stop people from sharing Nazi memes because it’s antithetical to the entire idea of the project.

Jay Kang: So I guess I was just thinking about that this week because I was just like, well, these people will try to go to decentralized options. And the people who are running these places can’t do anything about it.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. That’s the point, right?

Jay Kang: Yeah. Yeah. But it’s discomforting. I guess I’ll just put it that way.

Aaron Lammer: I have to be honest. I think overall, you probably ride slightly deeper in the free speech camp than I do.

Jay Kang: Yeah.

Aaron Lammer: But this idea doesn’t actually bother me that much. But I hold fast to this isn’t the right time for it. We need to get more people onto DApps before this could possibly work, because the only people interested in doing this in the present are exactly the people you describe.

Jay Kang: Maybe people here will be surprised to hear, but I have pretty strong free speech feelings. You are right about that. And I don’t really see a problem with the … It’s not a bad thing that the technology for this sort of stuff is not around right now to support a full ecosystem of this type of behavior. I generally don’t think that you should ban subreddits, for all the general usual free speech reasons.

Aaron Lammer: I actually agree with you on all that.

Jay Kang: Yeah. I’m glad that as somebody who is interested in crypto that a gigantic flood of people aren’t occupying the crypto space and that all the messaging and the things that you and I find interesting to discuss, like things like Tony Shang’s newsletter, aren’t all just talking about, “What are we gonna do about all this fucking crazy hate speech and all these crazy people who are doing horrible things?” and communicate it purely through blockchain-based apps. I think it would be disqualifying for me to be interested in the space.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. And I honestly just don’t think it’s gonna happen. It’s not even something to particularly worry about. We have a pretty good test here at Gap, which is they looked at crypto and were like, “Too hard. PayPal and GoDaddy.” [crosstalk 00:48:43]-

Jay Kang: They tried to be this thing, and they’re just like, “No.” Yeah.

Aaron Lammer: Yeah. So will someone actually do it? Yes. Someone will eventually do it. It’s just like, hey, remember when two months ago, three months ago when Augur came out? And it was like, “There’s gonna be decentralized assassinations.” And then it was like, “Also this is really hard to use. I can’t sync the chain.” It’s like, “Okay, we gotta make this work better before we can get the assassination market going.”

Jay Kang: That is true. It’s true. Okay, so just full circle now, what is your thought? Make your case to me that we are crypto influencers.

Aaron Lammer: I didn’t realize it until this month, but I was reading Nick Paumgarten’s story in The New Yorker, and he was talking about the most laughable projects, and he mentioned that Banana Plantation in Laos and Dentacoin both long-time Coin Talk targets. Then I was reading an article in Breaker I think by David Z. Morris, and he also referenced us talking about Dentacoin on the first episode. So I think that we have been part of the overall laughening of Dentacoin, and that makes us influencers.

Jay Kang: Okay. I would argue that Nick Paumgarten, who I believe has probably been on your other podcast, right?

Aaron Lammer: No, no. My first interview with him was on Coin Talk. He is your-

Jay Kang: Really? Why is he-

Aaron Lammer: He is your former colleague, though.

Jay Kang: He’s my former colleague, yeah.

Aaron Lammer: For-

Jay Kang: And why has he not been on Longform? He’s great.

Aaron Lammer: He admitted that he thinks he agreed to do it and then failed to follow up several times four years ago.

Jay Kang: Okay, that makes sense. Okay. Yeah. Nick Paumgarten I think is-

Aaron Lammer: He’s fantastic

Jay Kang: I won’t embarrass him too much here, but I think he’s one of the best, if not top five I think, really, really good. But he is somebody that, yeah … I did do some work at New Yorker with. And the people at Breaker, the people who are sort behind Breaker, people who are in the magazine world as well, so I don’t know. I would say that the examples that you’re citing are the people who would most likely listen to an episode of Coin Talk.

Aaron Lammer: I know, but doesn’t that mean that we’re the most powerful because we’re the ones who are whispering in the ears of all the journalists?

Jay Kang: We’re like the soundtrack of the crypto media Illuminati.

Aaron Lammer: If I had a coin project and I was looking to get great value in sponsoring a show, wouldn’t I make that show the show that all the people covering crypto listen to? I think that’s where I’d put my money.

Jay Kang: Does that mean, though, that we’re only catering to the media elite then? Because I don’t like that

Aaron Lammer: No, no, no. It’s like why you might put ads in the Hollywood Reporter. It’s like the people who make the stuff listen to it. You get extra value because it’s people who then write about you and re-beam out your message. Jay, just agree to this and agree that our email is hi@cointalk.show, and there’s lots of sponsorship opportunities.

Jay Kang: Yeah, yeah email us.

Aaron Lammer: We’re totally transparent. I think-

Jay Kang: Oh yeah. I forgot about that part. Yes, we are definitely influencers. We are extremely influential. I will say here, Aaron, you and I are generally skeptical of every single crypto publication that comes out partially because we’re haters, but also because we can read. And Breaker is pretty good.

Aaron Lammer: It’s really excellent. It’s the crypto magazine I would’ve made.

Jay Kang: It’s funny. It’s irreverent. It’s not all no-coin gloom and doom. And they seem to pick good angles on stories. It is consistently something I haven’t already read about. And there is none of it that feels like it is a press release for a coin or something like that that is being repackaged. And they never talk about the market or resistance points or stuff like that, which is great because I find all that stuff to be incredibly boring.

Aaron Lammer: Unless it’s our friend Ledger Status talking about it.

Jay Kang: Yeah.

Aaron Lammer: I agree with you about Breaker. I like that they don’t just say things like, “People are doing pay-for-play.” They run very, very simple tests, which is sending out a fake funny email to people that’s like, “Will you publish this story for money?” And they’re like, “Here are the publications that said yes.” I feel like that stuff is totally needed. I’m a big fan. I have one thing to say. And maybe we can just tie up on this point. I know you gotta get outta here.

Aaron Lammer: So this only happened this week. I was reading a bunch of Breaker, and I was finally like, “Who are these people?” And I was like, “Okay, here are the people who work here. Okay, I know some of these people’s names. That makes sense.” And then I was like, “But where’s the money coming from?” It’s all put together by, or it’s under SingularDTV, which I then see is a blockchain media company that also is doing that documentary that I think they sent us a copy. I think it’s called Trust Machine. It’s directed by Ted from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Jay Kang: Oh yeah.

Aaron Lammer: So I’m not gonna say it’s a shitcoin, but it’s some kind of a token-y project. It’s interesting how anytime you peel back the layers of anything on crypto, there’s some kind of weird crypto scheme behind it.

Jay Kang: Sure.

Aaron Lammer: And no shade on Breaker. I’m actually curious about what it means that Breaker is under SingularDTV and they’re also doing documentaries. What is the editorial control? What does it mean to start a publication in that way? So maybe we’ll have on someone from Breaker to ask about that.

Jay Kang: Yeah.

Aaron Lammer: But I am very sensitive to, in crypto no matter how much you think you’re getting something that’s either objective or someone who doesn’t have any bias or any coins in the game, almost everything in crypto is run on crypto money, run on the crypto machine in some way, whether it’s something like CoinDesk throws massive crypto conferences to it appears Breaker is part of this SingularDTV thing. I don’t think I can think of a single other niche where it’s all under the same umbrella so much.

Jay Kang: Yeah. Except for our podcast, which has no tokens or profit.

Aaron Lammer: We’re so decentralized that we don’t even tape in the same location, though we are in the same city.

Jay Kang: Yeah. We’re in the same borough.

Aaron Lammer: We so against centralization that we never speak to each other in person.

Jay Kang: Yeah. Our audio tracks are also decentralized, so, yeah, we’re the most decentralized and the most transparent and the most honest crypto product out there.

Aaron Lammer: I’ve been actually a little bit unhappy with our tagline on iTunes, which is something like “Two amateurs who know nothing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I feel like maybe we just want to go with “The most decentralized podcast on the internet.” How do you feel …

Jay Kang: Yeah, I’m into it.

Aaron Lammer: Okay, excellent. There’s only two of us, and we make it a point never to see each other. That’s our podcast.

Jay Kang: Yeah.

Aaron Lammer: Oh, and also our editor, we’ve never met him and don’t know anything about him.

Jay Kang: We do like him. He also does not live in the United States.

Aaron Lammer: I went to pay him and realized that I don’t have his email address. I’ve literally only communicated with him on telegram.

Jay Kang: Yeah. let’s change it. Write iTunes right now.

Aaron Lammer: Okay, very good.

Jay Kang: Great.

Aaron Lammer: Cool. All right. See you next week.

Jay Kang: Okay, cool. All right.

Coin Talk

About this PODCAST


Come ride the crypto rollercoaster with hosts Aaron Lammer and Jay Kang (and guests) as they laugh their way through the week in Bitcoin and beyond.

Come ride the crypto rollercoaster with hosts Aaron Lammer and Jay Kang (and guests) as they laugh their way through the week in Bitcoin and beyond.

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