For years, crypto has floated along in its own bubble, replete with risque anime characters, profane observations, and lots of provocative opinions about politics and society. There was little concern about offending others and definitely no worry about crypto leaders being jettisoned from projects because of something they said.
That appears to be changing.
On Feb. 6, True Names Limited (TNL), the non-profit behind Ethereum Name Service (ENS), terminated Brantly Millegan, the project’s director of operations, after a 2016 tweet surfaced in which he said “homosexual acts are evil” and “contraception is a perversion.”
After discussion with the ENS team, Nick Johnson, the project’s founder and lead developer, made the final decision to remove Millegan from TNS, according to a tweet by Makoto Inoue, also a developer at ENS. There has been a separate action taken which removed Millegan as a ENS community steward, a position which manages one of the project’s four working groups.
As of Feb. 7 and according to Inoue, Millegan still holds a director position at the ENS foundation, a legal entity separate from TNL meant to provide limited liability for the DAO.
Millegan stood by his remarks. “Not really anything to address?” he tweeted. “I adhere to the world’s largest religion and apparently that’s not allowed in web3?”
“I tweeted some unacceptable and derogatory comments in my past and I am deeply ashamed,” Christensen tweeted. “I apologize for the harm and hurt I caused and am stepping down from my role at SuperRare to reflect and learn from my mistakes.”
Last month, Cooper Turley, an advisor to blockchain-based music streaming platform Audius according to his LinkedIn, stepped down from leadership roles he held in the numerous other DAOs. Old tweets of his surfaced that used “rascist and homophobic slurs,” he said in an apology. Some of Turley’s tweets were 10 years old when the influencer was in high school. He, too, apologized.
The flurry of resignations and ousters shows that crypto is beginning to reflect the mounting ostracism of people who make sexist, racist, and homophobic statements. Critics decry the trend as cancel culture while supporters say it’s high time the intolerant be held to account for their prejudices. No matter how the debate shakes out, this is a new look for a space that took pride in a freewheeling culture liberated from the strictures, and often the laws, of the conventional world.
There was no shortage of sarcasm in reaction to this week’s drama. “Alright CT [Crypto Twitter] who’s getting cancelled today,” tweeted Lucas Cambell, senior editor at Bankless, on Feb. 7.
“The crypto gods demand blood sacrifices in the form of cancelling 1 person a day for 1 green candle a day,” tweeted Degen Spartan, one of DeFi’s most well known “anons.”
Make no mistake. Even now, crypto is still largely a lawless badland where eight-figure hacks are ho-hum news and pseudonymous people behind Twitter accounts control hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth.
Yet as the space expands and absorbs more newbies it’s bound to be shaped by a greater set of mores that can jeopardize jobs and other positions in crypto. Recent events suggest that crypto has crossed a line and people will be under more scrutiny based on their past social media behavior.
The clash may be particularly intense because blockchains are championed as permissionless and censorship resistant, meaning no authority can ban access to their use or determine how the technology is used.
In a sense this means anything goes — blockchain idealists believe that one of the big draws of the technology is people can plug into these networks regardless of who they are, what they have said, or what they believe. People leaving positions based on past social media posts seems at least to some degree at odds with crypto’s permissionless and censorship-resistance ethos.
Others reject that argument. Banteg, one of the most prominent developers in crypto, tweeted that he sold all his ENS tokens in response to Millegan’s termination. “I’ve been deep in anon communities and they’ve all been super inclusive, people felt heard for the first time in their lives,” he posted earlier. “Resurrecting identity politics is such a backwards move.”
On the other hand, Hudson Jameson, who worked at the Ethereum Foundation and more recently Flashbots, says leaders must be inclusive because they represent projects with important aims and members.
“The situation with Brantly has a lot of layers. I think there were people who yelled ‘mob’ & ‘cancel culture’ too early when the facts are much different compared to previous cases,” Jameson tweeted. “This wasn’t a case of being cancelled for religion or beliefs. It was accountability.”
Crypto does provide people new opportunities to express themselves beyond posting on social media — they can vote, or change their vote delegation in this case. Governance is a bedrock issue in crypto, and users are supposed to be owners with power over the platforms and products they use and distribute.
At 41,000, ENS has the largest number of Snapshot members in all of crypto, according to the voting tool’s website, indicating the high degree of engagement the naming service has.
To some degree, people appear to be removing their delegation from Millegan. According to a Dune Analytics query, delegation to ENS’ former director of operations have been dropping since his controversial tweets resurfaced.
In a nutshell, this means that Millegan will have less voting power over ENS, though he is still the leading delegate for the project, according to Tally, a governance tool.
Others like Dean Eigenmann, co-founder of Dialectic, a digital asset fund, have put in their bid to receive ENS delegations, with the additional incentive of donating 1% of the value of the delegations to LGBTQ+ charities.
Crypto proponents are encouraging others to vote with their tokens, rather than by posting. “It’s almost like people don’t realize that they can change their ENS voting delegation and don’t even get the power of how web3 works,” tweeted the anonymous purplehat.eth who works at Art Blocks. “If ‘cancelling’ ENS is more effective than individuals stripping Brantly of voting delegation, it’s bearish web3 ngl.”
Like any group, crypto is prone to idiosyncrasies and prejudices, perhaps sustained by the presence of high profile, but anonymous participants. There may be some who argue that crypto should be so unbound by prevailing norms that speech of any sort, even discriminatory, bigoted speech, should be permissible. If crypto supporters truly want the industry to scale to billions of users and upend the old order, it will face mounting pressure to adhere to external values and rules of behavior.
Don’t be surprised if there is resistance to that trend. “I don’t need to think beyond the village level and I’m the tribal chief,” tweeted Tetranode, another of DeFi’s biggest anon personalities with over 172,000 followers. “We are free when we acknowledge that we are tribal creatures at heart.”
Tetranode is also known to be independently wealthy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, a degree of wealth which makes holding on to employment essentially irrelevant, making it easier to speak one’s mind.