Media problems with the Web3 – Il Post

In March the New York Times public an article that was presented as a “guide for the newcomers of crypto”, the sector linked to the blockchain and its applications, from cryptocurrencies to Non-Fungible Token (NFT). The author of the piece, the technology journalist Kevin Roose, specified that he had been following this sector for ten years now and that he knew how polarized the debate about it was between those who think it “is saving the world” and those who consider it a “scam” . What was missing, according to Roose, was “a sober and cold explanation of what crypto really is: how it works, to whom it is addressed”.

Despite the clarifying and neutral intent, the guide caused a lot of discussion. Some observers who are particularly skeptical of these technologies considered it imprecise in underlining the criticalities and risks associated with crypto. Molly White, programmer and author of the following blog Web3 is going greatwhere he collects news on the problems of Web3a hypothetical new version of the internet of which cryptocurrencies would be an important part, replied to the article with its version “Correct” in which more than twelve experts participated.

According to them, Roose’s article was “a thinly veiled advertisement for cryptocurrencies that does not appear to have received the right amount of fact-checking or editorial scrutiny”, ending up “uncritically repeating many questionable or utterly false arguments.” The reporter from the New York Times he had responded to the criticisms by emphasizing the importance of opening up to this sector, without preconceptions or excessive pessimism. In a now deleted tweet, he compared the crypto situation today to that of social media over the past decade, when “the skeptics” became convinced that social networks would never be successful, ignored them, “only to realize they had great problems”. The excess of skepticism and criticism, according to the author, would be counterproductive if we want to understand and solve the problems that afflict a nascent sector.

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The idea that the media has taken a blind skeptic attitude towards the sector is widespread among advocates of cryptocurrencies. On closer inspection, however, the media seem to have played an active, albeit often involuntary, role in their rise, fueling an interest and enthusiasm – hype, as they usually say in English – media which helped their dissemination. In June 2011, the site Gawker for example, he published an article on Silk Road, the “dark web” market which was then closed by the FBI in 2014, presented as “the place to buy every drug imaginable”.

Although his intent was purely journalistic, the author of the article, Adrian Chen, ended up introducing many curious to Bitcoin, the trading currency of the Silk Road, so as to raise its price from 9 to 32 dollars in a week. Among the people who got to know Bitcoin thanks to Gawker there was also Vitalik Buterin, future creator of Ethereum, today the second most used blockchain in the world.

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The whole history of Bitcoin and the crypto sector can be seen as a series of involuntary advertisements similar to this one, made up of articles and posts, often published on the basis of particularly triumphant and imprecise press releases, in a circle of contributing content. to increase curiosity around this world. Even in those cases where newspapers seemed unable to concretely and objectively explain the current and potential benefits of technologies such as blockchainvery often defined in rather vague and hypothetical terms.

This mechanism is not just about the media. In the last two years, for example, the entrepreneur Elon Musk has shown himself able to influence the market with his Twitter profile, causing the growth of the value of Bitcoin but also of Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency born as a parody of the sector but soon became the subject of speculation. That’s what the reporter’s Bloomberg Austin Carr has defined «Elon Musk’s hype cycle», which consists of: «Starting with incredible promises, followed by delays, a hellish phase of production, the anger of the shareholders and, finally, hopefully, redemption». A precious ally, in this cycle of attention, is precisely the world of the media, which has faithfully reported the ambitious proclamations of its companies, not always with the necessary amount of criticism.

Musk has also paved the way for a new group of celebrities, actors and musicians who have publicly endorsed crypto products in the last year, especially NFTs. Last January, Paris Hilton was a guest on the US television show hosted by Jimmy Fallon, during which the two talked about a recent passion they shared: NFTs, in particular the line. Bored Ape Yacht Club. The result was a surreal exchange that did not seem to thrill the audience in the room, and that was widely mocked online.

The list of famous people who have approached NFTs also includes Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Logan Paul, Eminem, and Keanu Reeves, among others. However, the interest is not always genuine: how rebuilt by the journalist Max Read, in fact, some of these personalities are represented by the management agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which has recently invested in OpenSea, the main platform for the exchange of NFT (Witherspoon is married to a CAA agent) . Actor Ashton Kutcher, another industry advocate, has also invested in OpenSea through his company Sound Ventures, which has financial ties to particularly successful NFT lines among Hollywood personalities, such as Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women.

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But if the conflict of interest between investors and public figures in the crypto sector mainly concerns the entertainment world, it also exists in journalism. Already in 2017 the journalist Adrianne Jeffries on the site The Outline he had argued that “probably everyone in the Bitcoin-related media sector owns Bitcoin,” a factor that alone undermined the independence of judgment of these sources of information.

Numerous sector publications have arisen around the blockchain and its applications, which in the majority of cases do not provide for deontological rules on investments. “Conflicts of interest between investors, advertisers, and sources,” Jeffries wrote, “are coiled in the unsupervised world of Bitcoin journalism, and nearly everyone has the same incentive. If Bitcoin grows, this whole mini-industry makes money ».

Roose himself, in 2021, had tried out directly with the sector by transforming one of his articles for New York Times in an NFT, sold for 300 ether, or about half a million dollars (today it would be worth $ 330,000), then donated to a charity fund of the newspaper. A few months later Associated Press, one of the most well-known and authoritative news agencies in the world, announced the sale of a “commemorative” NFT of a photograph by Anja Niedringhaus, depicting a ship of migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea seen from above. After much protest and criticism, the project was withdrawn from AP.

In this sense, the crypto sector seems to amplify and extreme the logic of another world which owes part of its success tohype media: technological and digital. In recent months, in which various companies starting from Meta – the one that controls Facebook and Instagram – have presented their more or less impressive plans regarding the metaverse, the virtual world in which they plan to transfer part of people’s work and private lives, it has frequently happened that the media took up these proclamations without contextualizing them and giving them the right proportions. In short, it may have appeared to many that the metaverse is imminent and inevitable, when at the moment, in reality, in fact it does not exist.

In an analysis published by NiemanLab, a site that deals with issues related to journalism, scholars Lee Vinsel and Jeffrey Funk explained how a certain type of enthusiastic and naive coverage ended up creating a “false optimism” capable of conditioning the market. One of the effects is company prices that are much higher than those of the 1990s, even if “the new companies are simply much less profitable than they used to be”.

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The media interest associated with the investment model of venture capitalists, which invest large sums running considerable risks, has given rise to startups with a great social and economic impact, but which are unable to generate profits. The symbol of this type of company is Uber, which has accumulated around $ 30 billion in losses in its short life. According to the two authors, “most of these companies will never emerge from the hole they dug,” but thanks to a strong narrative, an ambitious, albeit unsustainable mission, they continue to convince investors.

Thanks also to today’s economic context, particularly punitive for companies in the technology sector, “the machine ofhype technology has aimed at the saddest technologies of all: NFTs, Web 3.0 and the Facebook metaverse ». The crypto served, according to Vinsel and Funk, to divert media and economic interest towards new targets after other particularly enthusiastic innovations, such as self-driving cars and artificial intelligences, “had lost their luster” .

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Media problems with the Web3 – Il Post

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