Last week, as I was celebrating a birthday week at the Crypto Bahamas conference put on by crypto giant FTX, there was no shortage of real news breaking.
For starters, there was retirement behemoth Fidelity announcing it was moving to let employers add bitcoin to the menu of 401K options later this year (and Sen. Elizabeth Warren just as quickly voicing her opposition.) Then, there was the famed NFT project Bored Ape Yacht Club dropping a much anticipated smattering of virtual land plots in its "Otherside" metaverse project to raise another mind blowing $320 million.
This post will not be focusing on real news. Instead, it will be focusing on the exact opposite -- if anything -- just to give a little flavor of the cesspool that is the stuff that intrepid crypto reporters must swim through to find the good stuff.
It began as I was onstage moderating a panel on NFTs at the aforementioned Crypto Bahamas conference. (I'll be writing about the biggest takeaways from the panel next week, including thoughts from the co-founder of NFT pioneering company Dapper Labs, which has surged past a $7 billion valuation on the heels of its NFL and NBA NFT partnerships.)
A former producer of mine sent me a picture of the feed in her control room shortly after the panel wrapped. Above the feed of me moderating at Crypto Bahamas was the feed from the Johnny Depp trial. In case you haven't followed, it's been a messy affair, including disturbing details of a fight in which Depp's ex-wife Amber Heard purposefully pooped on Depp's side of the bed.
Naturally, I thought to fire off a tweet trying to pair why me moderating a crypto panel and Johnny Depp explaining, well, what he was explaining, would ever be side-by-side on a screen somewhere. The only common denominator when it came to the substance of what we were speaking about seemed to be, well, sh*t. (In common crypto parlance, referring to a cryptocurrency as a sh*tcoin is a slap in the face that gets the point accross that it offers no real utility. A la, "Elon Musk can like Dogecoin, but Shiba Inu is a sh*tcoin.")
Now, I thought things would end there. Haha, kinda funny tweet. Maybe 6/10 material. Admittedly not my best work (but did I mention it was my birthday?)
Alas, it did not end there (no moderate 6/10 joke goes unpunished.) Lo and behold, the tweet attracted a comment from a project that was actually looking to use the Johnny Depp trial as a lunching point for its Johnny Depp-focused crypto token, dubbed Saving Johnny Inu, or $JINU token.
On a site riddled with typos, the project purports to seek to raise funds to help support the defense of both Depp and broader masculinity. In their words, "Inspired by Johnny Depp’s plight and his philanthropy, the $JINU project has decided to enter the fight for true gender equity, to raise awareness about the extremely unfair and destructive treatment of men."
The whitepaper also explains that 50%* of the funds raised from the project will be sent to a wallet that the team believes, to the best of their knowledge, "is Johnny’s wallet (or a wallet closely affiliated to him.)" Encouraging! I also flagged to this anonymous account that the whitepaper said 50% of the funds would go to this wallet that's supposedly linked to Johnny Depp, but the site said 25%, so which one was it, really?
"The % gifted to Mr Depp has been corrected in the whitepaper, thanks for drawing our attention to this issue, sir, much appreciated!" the account replied.
My job here was done. Until it wasn't.
Into my DMs slid a new user with a handle fittingly more closely associated with a BM. An account dubbed "Johnny Depp Inu ($AMBERTURD) Official" had taken issue with my recent back-and-forth.
"I see you Tweeted about a project called "Saving Johnny Inu", this new account wrote. "Just to warn you, they launched today, we have been following them as they are simply a copycat of our project which launched a week ago called Johnny Depp Inu/ $AMBERTURD."
Will the real Johnny Depp Inu/AMBERTURD please stand up?
The account went on to explain, "We have had many copycats as our chart literally went up 1000x in price in the first week due to media hype. Their launch was a catastrophic failure and barely anybody bought after the first couple of hours. Just saying, don't let them rope you into doing a story about them, it would really hurt Yahoo's credibility in the crypto space."
And yet, here I am talking about both of them. To be clear, the reason why is not an endorsement of either project. In fact, this anonymous account seems well versed on the ethics of crypto reporting. Indeed, I would never even mention any project that seems sketchy or employs weird kickback schemes in order to attract buyers.
Instead, I had to step back and think about what we're really doing here when a poop joke inspired not one, but two separate projects to hype their sh*tcoins. Even more, one felt proud enough as to defend the originality of their creation!
The reality is, the many critics of crypto are right to point out that there are a lot of projects out there that are -- for lack of a better term -- true sh*tcoins. Then again, part of the greatness of crypto is turning that around on its face and asking, "Who is the arbiter of what is sh*t and what is not sh*t?" In the end, the market decides.
Where sh*t becomes scams, however, is a very fine line. Unfortunately, the reason there are so many sh*tcoins in crypto is because they are increasingly easy to create. A team puts minimal effort into a site, some effort into a white paper that doesn't necessarily even deliver on its promises, and offers an exceedingly low cut to go towards some charitable goal, betting that somebody might come along and take a flyer on getting out at a higher price than what they bought in at. Rinse and repeat.
It's also why a lot of projects launch a new crypto, hold a lot of that crypto for themselves, pay for some advertising and maybe pay for an influencer to tweet about it, and then wait to see how many people buy on decentralized exchanges. Buying begets more buying, and just when the project looks like it's delivering on what it set out to do, the founding scammers pull the rug out from under all the people who bought in, and the price collapses. A classic rug pull.
You can see an example of this from Blu3Moon, a crypto project that paid the Island Boys to shill it before its price absolutely plummeted. (I put together this mashup of all the Island Boy crypto cameos -- it was kind of shocking.)
There isn't a good answer as to why there are so many projects like this in the space beyond that they still make money. It's just worth considering what might actually be accomplished in the space if some of that effort was focused toward some greater purpose. Then again, who am I to say what that greater purpose is? Maybe the market does need two competing Johnny Depp Inu projects (let capitalism work, you communist!)
At the very least, as long as no one is getting scammed, maybe it's fine. But the fact that the project's own whitepaper was overestimating how much of the funds were going to directed to a wallet that may or may not be truly linked to Johnny Depp until I inquired about it, seems dubious at best.
Can crypto do better? Probably. Are there more egregious examples of shady projects and scams in crypto? Absolutely. (I wrote about one anonymous 'Crypto Batman' doing a much better job policing them than I am here.)
I just implore you to maybe not be the guy taking a flyer on sh*tcoins. More often than not, sh*tcoins are like the ex you were right about: They are what they always appeared to be.