Molly White Tracks Crypto Scams. It's Going Just Great

Molly White Tracks Crypto Scams. It's Going Just Great<br />
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May 2023

Molly White Tracks Crypto Scams. It's Going Just Great

As cryptocurrencies rise and fall, there's one number that just keeps going up. Whenever somebody loses money to a crypto scam or hack, the Grift Counter on Molly White's blog, Web3 Is Going Just Great, spins higher and higher. Recently it ticked over $12 billion.

White started the blog in December 2021 out of frustration with the mainstream coverage of crypto, which she says paid too much attention to rags-to-riches tales and not enough to its dark underbelly. Her goal was to paint a fuller picture, to chronicle the thefts and failures, debunk the marketing spiel, and underline the risks in the process.

A software engineer by trade, White coded Web3 Is Going Just Great over the span of a few weeks. It was only a side project, designed to "entertain me and me alone," says White; she never imagined it would gain any traction. But within a few months, the blog had become a viral hit, earning White a reputation as an authoritative crypto pundit.

When she first learned about crypto at a conference in college in the early 2010s, White admired the pro-privacy and anti-censorship principles on which it was founded. She was enthusiastic, she says, about its potential to shield dissidents and whistleblowers from financial surveillance and to help women confined to abusive relationships by financial dependence.

However, by the time crypto reappeared on White's radar a decade later, those ideas had been all but erased--replaced with an emphasis on maximizing personal profit. Online, the rocket ship emoji was being cast about as an instrument of hype, and "no coiners" were being told to "have fun staying poor," as record numbers of people were drawn into crypto. As a result, examples of the technology being used for good are "eclipsed" by the number of people who have lost money, says White. "It's moving the web and society in a really negative direction."

When White started Web3 Is Going Just Great, crypto was on a hot streak and people were making a lot of money, which meant she found herself "raining on the parade of people who weren't willing to be rained on," she says. Threats, slurs, and personal insults began to tumble into her inbox.

As a long-time Wikipedia editor, White had experienced abuse before, including threats of doxing and violence toward family members over entries she had authored on the American far right. Nonetheless, it still "really sucks," she says. "That's why this type of behavior happens: to discourage people from being critical. A lot of people decide it's not worth it."

But in 2022, White and her fellow critics had their moment. A calamitous year for crypto was punctuated by a series of collapses, each dealing a cumulative blow to trust in the sector. In May, the failure of the Terra Luna stablecoin prompted a chain reaction that took down hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, crypto lender Celsius, and others. In November came the implosion of crypto exchange FTX, whose founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, has been charged with 12 criminal offenses, including fraud and money laundering.

White says she felt somewhat vindicated by what happened, but that "it's not a good feeling" because regular people lost billions of dollars. At best, the fallout acted as a "useful example" of the risks White had been trying to highlight--examples she hopes policy makers will take heed of.

In the wake of the FTX collapse, efforts to regulate the crypto industry have received increased attention. The chief goals are to prevent people from losing money to fraudulent projects and to give legitimate crypto businesses a clear set of boundaries within which to operate.

White, who gave a statement in July to the US Treasury's Financial Stability Oversight Council, says the events of last year will help politicians realize that crypto is not something that can be simply ignored. Although she is "not necessarily optimistic" about the trajectory of efforts to regulate the industry, because of the strength of the crypto lobby, White hopes her work can still make a difference.

Occasionally, White resents the obligation to think, write, and speak about crypto when she could instead be doing something that drives in a positive direction. But then she reminds herself: "Sometimes, the most important thing is to not let the wheels turn in reverse."

This article first appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of WIRED UK