Blockchain: The New Wild West

14 Billion dollars. That is how much cryptocurrency scammers were able to collectively get away with in 2021. This does not even include how much scammers were able to get away with through NFTs and other streams. The blockchain world is the new Wild West. As folks try to learn about blockchain, there is a barrier of entry, vultures (scammers), and scattered information. Without proper guidance, it’s a free for all in this world.

A hook sits on a red alert symbol with coding in the background to represent a common scam method known as phishing.
In 2021, cryptocurrency scammers were able to get away with 14 billion dollars. The most common scam was phishing, where individuals are tricked into providing sensitive information. (Image: Andrea Danti, 2022 — Shutterstock)

Barrier To Entry

Learning about the blockchain network, the technology behind cryptocurrencies and NFTs, can be difficult. Blockchain is not only hard to understand, but flaws in existing tech algorithms make it hard to access different reliable resources and information. Starting from the top of the funnel (software engineers and other decision makers) to the end of the funnel (tech platform users), users are left to experience every feature that may be wrong with algorithms — even if they don’t know it.

Today, algorithms are put in place in order to curate an experience for every unique user. This often leads to echo chambers and filter bubbles — where content they watched, liked, commented, or spent time on creates a funnel of similar content to be delivered. With this, the user may find it hard to use technology to learn profitable skills and instead continue to be stuck in an entertainment loop. Since algorithms are tailored to provide entertainment, those who are targeted may not even be exposed to information revolving around blockchain or other opportunities. This is the same for those who could be learning about other investment methods such as real estate or stocks. These algorithms do not have the best interest in mind for its users, and instead are designed to captivate users attention to simply spend the most time the platform through being entertained. It is known that algorithms such as those from Facebook, have negatively impacted and targeted minority groups, especially people of color.

In “Algorithms of Oppression”, by Safiya, it mentions “companies must pay attention to the needs of people of color and demonstrate respect for consumers by offering services to communities of color, just as is done for most everyone else”. So the main question is, how are people, especially minorities, supposed to escape a virtual bubble that algorithms have and continually trap them in? Instead of targeting them with posts, videos, or links on entertainment and biased politics (throwback to Trump’s Campaign using Facebook’s influence to target minorities), they should be helping to promote resources that can help people learn about finances, investing, and opportunities such as blockchain technology. Since blockchain technology is recently gaining traction, there is plenty of room for innovation and creativity that could lead to a life changing opportunity. Big technology companies are making swift and strong moves to incorporate blockchain technology behind the scenes, but have yet to promote learning on the user’s end. Like Eubanks mentions, in her “Automating Inequalities, “The digital poorhouse denies access to shared resources”. These companies are looking to profit by staying on top of new tech (blockchain network), but make it hard for users to put themselves in a position where they learn new, valuable, and potentially life-changing information.

Blockchain Vultures

Although not highlighted enough in the news, 2021 was the “Golden Age” for scammers. As you may or may not know, Phishing doesn’t refer to catching actual fish, but refers to creating an interface or facade that tricks a user to input credentials or other information into the hands of a scammer unknowingly. Landing on the top 3 scams of 2021, phishing scams took the lead on those interested in blockchain technologies. Usually, the person being scammed believes they are using an official website or communicating with someone who is legit. Sometimes, complete websites are replicated to perform this, even using similar looking domain names.

Moreover, scrolling on the comment section on Instagram posts, YouTube videos, and Facebook, and other platforms, you may have come across a message like “Thank you Sarah for introducing me to Bitcoin investments. I was able to make $5000 with little risk. If you are interested I can make the effort to connect you with Investor Sarah”. Now, some of these bot comments are written better than others, but to a user who recently became exposed to blockchain technologies, this is an easy trap for them to fall in.

image displaying inequality with two people sitting on an inequality math sign on different spectrums
Lower income communities are often left out of potentially life-changing information. (Image by: Eamesbot 2022 — Shutterstock)

In “Automating Inequality”, by Eubanks, it states “The digital poorhouse raises barriers for poor and working-class people attempting to access shared resources”. These scams target groups that may be having difficult financial times and are seeking ways to make some extra income — yet nothing is done by these tech companies. To this day, comment sections are flooded by bots used to scam people who may not know any better, especially with cryptocurrencies or NFTs. Like Eubanks mentioned, “Poverty in America is not invisible. We see it, and then we look away”, which is exactly what tech companies are doing. At the end of the scam, the user may end up associating blockchain technology with being fraudulent and losing interest in learning more about blockchain or investing overall. With this, a loop is reinforced that keeps the rich getting richer while the lower income communities lose out on opportunities. Until companies have the best interests in mind of their users, many will continue experiencing a free for all, a wild west, in these realms.

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