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.