Caroline Ellison, hate, misogyny, FTX, and the media – Making sense of it all
There is something unequivocally spellbinding about the bear market. It reveals investors’ prudence and flushes out faint-hearted tourists. You can look at it as a catharsis of sorts. Above all that, it also reveals a lot of character. Both good and bad.
In a hawkish environment, you see retailers spewing hate at bear-mongers. And, in most cases, the hate is somewhat justified. The SBF-Caroline Ellison case is no different.
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You see, towards the end of October, some analysts suspected that the bottom was in. No more drama, they said. Alas, thanks to the FTX saga, what followed thereafter has been a piece of painful, unforgettable history now.
Down the rabbit hole
The fall of FTX from its lofty heights has sent a ripple effect across the entire crypto industry. There’s a good reason why Sam Bankman-Fried (Founder and former CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX) and Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison are receiving Satanic hate on social media platforms, particularly Twitter.
Consider this – The FTX debacle led to more than $180 billion being wiped out from the crypto-market in a matter of a few days.
Unsurprisingly, the latest domino to fall might be the digital-asset brokerage Genesis, which is struggling to raise fresh cash for its lending unit. In fact, it is even warning potential investors that it may need to file for bankruptcy if its efforts don’t materialize.
However, amidst all the chaos, one thing has been pretty constant – HATE. After the FTX case came to light, there was a korero that someone is “funding a media campaign to influence the narrative around the FTX crew.”
I believe someone is funding a media campaign to influence the narrative around the FTX crew – who should be seen as nothing short of supervillains.
Here is a Forbes reporter seeking favourable comments from "supporters" instead of reporting on the actual facts. pic.twitter.com/GJ700FAIjS
— FatMan (@FatManTerra) November 19, 2022
This followed after a couple of journalists paid attention to the difference in the kind of treatment both SBF and Ellison were receiving on social media platforms. According to Fiona Smith, the founder of The Millennial Money Woman,
“While it’s understandable that both SBF and Caroline are getting the heat on social media and other online platforms, it seems that Caroline is getting more negative criticism than perhaps SBF.”
Investors’ dislike towards both the culprits is pretty justified given their criminal actions. However, it is clear that much of the criticism directed at Caroline Ellison is becoming less and less constructive with every passing day. In fact, it now ranges from being patronizing to being simply sexist and misogynistic.
Caroline Ellison is the Quasimodo of Ghislaine Maxwells
— Darren J. Beattie ? (@DarrenJBeattie) November 18, 2022
There’s something just viscerally repulsive about Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison. I don’t just mean their physical appearance.
— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) November 18, 2022
Even when people have pointed out the disturbing overtones of this recent criticism, some have simply doubled down. Consider this tweet, for instance.
I’m very worried that the misogynistic blowback against Caroline Ellison is going to stop other talented young women from entering the crypto space and running massive scams that ruin millions of lives
— Daniel (@growing_daniel) November 14, 2022
On the contrary, there are some who claim that the media, in general, is refusing to condemn SBF and Ellison because there was some sort of a political angle to it. What the truth is, however, is unknown as of now.
The full facts of this case are yet to be brought to the fore. And yet, each and every little nugget of info related to Caroline Ellison’s personal life is already a part of the crypto-discourse.
FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried bankrolled the Democratic Party's midterms war chest to the sum of $40,000,000 using funds from his now-bankrupt crypto exchange…imagine being worth $16bn and this is the best you can get ? #CarolineEllison #SamBankmanFried pic.twitter.com/rXfHu5dIuf
— Ahsan (@ahsanmeister) November 13, 2022
With FTX filing for bankruptcy, most in the crypto community are in the dark about what happens now. They long for closure and want to put this whole episode behind them.
However, while they wait for that closure, it would seem that Ellison’s personal life is being exploited to satiate the anger and voyeurism of the community.
A similar opinion was shared by Fiona Smith too, with the exec claiming,
“The scrutiny should be focused on what led to the downfall of both FTX and Alameda. It’s important to understand the context of why people like Caroline and SBF made the decisions they did – and why no one else decided to intervene or at least question their decision-making skills. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to exploit someone else’s personal information as long as that personal information does not contribute toward making a verdict in the investigation itself.”
Well, she is right.
Prima facie, it does look like Caroline Ellison has a lot to answer for. An investigation is likely to prove so too. That is enough. There should be no excuse for the sexist, misogynistic abuse she has been facing from many over the last few weeks.
Needless to say, her case has somewhat empowered those who question ‘financial feminism.’ Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that the entire trolling campaign against her harks back to the question – ‘Why are there so few women in crypto?’
Houston, we have a gender problem
The gendered socio-technical relations surrounding blockchain, as exemplified by discourses and practices at meet-ups and conferences, is really a matter of examination.
Like many other technological spaces, blockchain and crypto have a gender problem.
Even so, more women are awakening to the utility of blockchain and crypto. According to BlockFi’s survey, for instance, conducted ahead of International Women’s Day in 2022, the number of women investors in cryptocurrency is on the rise.
While 33% of the women surveyed were keen to buy crypto-assets in 2022, around 60% of them intended to do so within the next few months.
Why aren’t women disrupting crypto in numbers yet?
Here, it’s worth pointing out that the aforementioned survey looked at women only through the prism of cryptocurrency investing. What about women in executive roles? What about women who are actively engaged in their roles as disruptors in the higher echelons of the crypto and blockchain space?
“According to a recent study of 100 blockchain startups, only 14% of employees were women, and among those just 7% were in leadership roles (Custer, 2018). In its short history as the decentralized technology beneath cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (Nakamoto, 2009), blockchain’s male-dominated sphere has fueled stereotypes such as the ‘Bitcoin Bros’ (Bowles, 2018).”
The paper also went on to divulge one ‘extreme detail’ to point out this gender disparity, one associated with a Bitcoin Conference in Miami a few years ago,
“In one extreme example of crypto culture at its worst, at a recent North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, three of the 88 speakers were women and the event concluded with a party at a strip club (Primack, 2018).”
Similarly, a Quartz study from 2018 found,
“Of the 378 venture-backed crypto and blockchain companies founded globally from January 2012 through January 2018, only one (0.3%) had an all-female founding team and 31 (8.2%) had a combination of male and female founders, according to Pitchbook. During the same period, 17.7% of all tech companies had at least one female founder.”
In response to such inequities, advocacy groups and social networks like Crypto Chicks, She256, Black Women Blockchain Council, and Diversity in Blockchain emerged.
Not just that, women such as Cathie Wood, Elizabeth Stark, Kathleen Breitman, and Laura Shin, among others, have emerged too. They have been educating female crypto-holders about financial freedom and due diligence before investing in higher-risk alternative assets like crypto.
Hence, the question – Has anything changed in 2022? Well, probably not.
Consider this – While women’s employment in the technological sector has grown steadily over the years (20% for all positions), fewer than 5% of cryptocurrency investors, developers, and entrepreneurs are women. Simply put, the disparity we discussed previously still exists and it’s a wide one.
Why are there so few women? Well, the answer might lie in the nature of the crypto space and how people use social media these days.
The crypto-sector is unlike other technological spaces, or any other space really. What makes its community different is that it exists, almost entirely, virtually.
Apart from a minor few, most in the community are comfortable working behind an anonymous name and a colourful avatar. Now, for some, that is the beauty of the crypto space. However, that very nature comes with its own limitations, with women often finding it out the hard way.
Historically, anon-dominated spaces have been very hostile towards women. Whether it is Reddit or 4chan, anonymity has often been a shield trolls have used to target women. Since spaces and platforms don’t exist in a vacuum, the same can be said about crypto’s online community too.
Now, there will be those who say that the crypto space is friendlier than most. And, there is an argument to be made there. However, the nature of the backlash Caroline Ellison has received over the past few weeks would suggest otherwise.
And, that is the whole point. The FTX episode is evidence of gross mismanagement and perhaps, even fraud on SBF and Caroline Ellison’s part. However, the community’s reaction to the same is evidence of how misogynistic discourse in the crypto-community can be too. Nothing highlights it more than how different the nature of abuse directed against Ellison is, in comparison to SBF.
At this point, it would be easy to dismiss these reactions as ‘knee-jerk’ or as anomalies. However, that is not the case either.
For instance, an Amnesty International report a few years ago found that over 45% of the surveyed women had been the target of cyber harassment of a sexist or misogynistic nature. In fact, 36% of these respondents in the U.K. went as far as claiming that they felt their physical safety would be harmed.
“… women who have been harassed online are more than twice as likely as men to say they were extremely or very upset by their most recent encounter (34% vs. 14%). Conversely, 61% of men who have been harassed online say they were not at all or a little upset by their most recent incident, while 36% of women said the same.”
Simply put, the misogynistic and sexist hate directed at Ellison isn’t something that was born out of the blue. Instead, it’s a product of where social media is right now. Despite everything, the crypto-community isn’t immune to those tendencies either. And, those tendencies have reared an ugly face over the last few weeks.
What’s the way forward for women in crypto?
While the FTX debacle is still unfolding, it’s important to note that women in the crypto space have a long way to go. Fiona Smith perhaps put it best when she said,
“Women, even more so than men, need to make sure they cover all their bases before they invest their hard-earned money in crypto. That’s because women live longer, they often earn less due to the wage gap, and they also are often left with health care expenses from taking care of their kids, elderly parents, or spouses. For these three reasons, it’s even more critical for women to do their research before investing in cryptocurrency.”
“However, I think women will likely continue investing in crypto, but perhaps with some more apprehension and diligence. I also think that women will likely aim to diversify their crypto investments across multiple platforms because SBF and Caroline’s empire was the broker, the trader, the lender, and the custodian all in one.”
It is in this regard that some crypto analysts say, “Cryptocurrency is freedom. Banking is slavery.” Undoubtedly, the DeFi industry since its inception has promised participants benefits such as financial freedom, security, privacy, and wealth accumulation. Lowering financial barriers and women’s empowerment have been the most-advertised vision of the crypto industry.
But, woefully, cryptocurrency-based approaches to development have majorly relied on foundations that are gendered.
The current circumstances explicitly show great similarity in the new model of decentralized finance to the old problematic trends of traditional finance.
Statistics and data sets reveal how the crypto industry has so far failed to deliver on the promises of participation, lowering financial barriers, and empowerment, in women’s cases particularly.
And yet, the situation can surely be expected to change. And, in the name of #WAGMI (We are all gonna make it), we shouldn’t give up on hope.