Sockpuppets, Bots, and Crypto: Oh My!

If you spend any significant amount of time on crypto twitter, especially as a contrarian or a skeptic, you will inevitably come across accounts that seem less than genuine. These bots, sock puppets, or intelligence deficient accounts are a nuisance, but their role in crypto is more complex than their limited speech will convey.

Often while on Twitter I will get angry replies from @firstname12345678 or similarly constructed accounts. Often these accounts will never tweet themselves and will only tweet in response to others. They are frequently irrational, angry, and seem to fail to grasp the nature of reality. Where do these accounts from? While often they seem to come from our friends at Digfinex, the parent company for Bitfinex and Tether, and investors in Blockstream.

In 2019 the Bitfinex skeptic Bitfinex’ed posted evidence that suggests that Bitfinex was likely funding some of these accounts to help control the sentiment surrounding them on the internet. The screenshots that he provided seem to suggest that Bitfinex had partnered with a firm who would then pay other people to manipulate social media by downvoting critical materials, and trying to post their own positive materials to drown them out.

There is other evidence to suggest that Bitfinex would be willing to do something like this. In 2019 I noticed that it seemed like the Bitfinex/Ethfinex executive Ross Middleton seemed to have a bot that was programmed to like a seemingly random set of crypto related tweets approximately every 25 minutes. Bots like this are a more subtle way to increase your following than follow/unfollow bots, and have the benefit of helping you appear active on Twitter.

Kyle Gibson, a writer and fellow Bitfinex skeptic, once looked into a bunch of accounts that were regularly replying to tweets critical of Bitfinex. What he found is that many of them seemed to return to a certain small set of points, use recycled phrases, and in a variety of other ways seem less than genuine.

This above tweet certainly reads like Bitfinex intended to switch to a sockpuppet account and then forgot, but it is of course impossible to be sure. Perhaps, this is just the kind of well-oiled professional operation that Bitfinex funds.

Update 7/1/21: More recently Stuart Hoegner made a tweet where he came very close to admitting that Bitfinex pays for bots.

This problem is of course not unique to Bitfinex, they are just the company with which I am most familiar. Geoff Golberg has done network analyses that suggest a variety of crypto companies, including Ripple (archive), have a large number of inauthentic accounts which help make sure a certain narrative is spread. For a long time these bots and sock-puppets have been an open secret in crypto.

So why does this matter? While first of it all it matters because the CEO of Twitter owns a bunch of crypto and has an incentive for it to succeed. Second, it matters because this is a form of dishonesty from these companies that we should not tolerate. Third, it matters because you deserve to know that often on Twitter the person you believe you are interacting with is not who you are interacting with.

Peter Steiner’s famous cartoon from the New Yorker

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