It ended pretty much the same way it began, with a tweet. Discord founder and CEO Jason Citron yesterday went to reassure users that the popular messaging platform will not be integrating crypto after all. This comes after a period of public backlash, where users threatened to or shared screenshots of deactivating their paid Nitro memberships, over the possibility that Discord would lean into crypto.
Earlier this week, over Twitter, Citron seemed to suggest that someone at Discord was working on Ethereum functionality. A screenshot showed MetaMask and WalletConnect, a tool used by many mobile crypto wallets, among the possible integrations alongside existing YouTube, Reddit and Facebook widgets.
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“Probably nothing,” Citron said, the ironic phrase used by crypto enthusiasts to say something is a big deal. Indeed, it would be something. People read into the comment that Discord might soon add native tooling useful for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Already the chosen home for many Web 3 projects, it seemed like Discord was joining the decentralized legion.
But not everyone was pleased with this potential new direction – a move that would reflect changing consumer behavior and perhaps a value shift at the gaming-focused company. It’s a useful reminder that even as crypto surges, becoming a darling of venture capitalists and a significant cultural and economic field, there’s still a significant amount of people that just don’t like what the industry stands for.
Slacktivists responded to Citron’s tweet calling for others to ditch the platform and cancel their paid subscriptions, one of the main revenue streams for a company that has resisted advertising. Many regurgitated claims of Ethereum’s intense energy use and noted how crypto scams have proliferated on the platform. Others just noted how annoying “NFT bros” can be.
Discord listened. Citron said Wednesday evening the platform has “no current plans” to integrate crypto wallets into its app. Indeed, this was never a formal announcement, and the tooling was likely part of a hackathon.
“We’re excited about the potential for Web 3 technology and the positive ways these communities are coming together on Discord, especially those organized around environmentally friendly, creator-focused projects,” the company told TechCrunch. “However, we also recognize there are some problems we need to work through. For now, we’re focused on protecting users from spams, scams and fraud.”
Web 3, the generic term for a blockchain-based alternative to the internet where users can own their data and hold stake in the tools they use, is a positive development. Outside of legal challenges to monopolistic internet giants, crypto presents the best way to counteract “surveillance capitalism.”
But for those that haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid, crypto appears to be hyper-capitalistic, capitalism-plus. It prefers markets over the state to find solutions and protect everyday people. It’s an avenue for the already rich to make almost insultingly large amounts of money. It advances the “neoliberal turn” towards financialization, globalization and commodification of everything.
Even though crypto promises a lot – in a phrase, “digital sovereignty” – it hasn’t achieved much over its decade-long existence. (Discounting the $3 trillion market cap.) That was a point repeatedly made last month, when Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) supporters took umbrage that the nonprofit focused on digital rights took a stand against overregulation of crypto.
The EFF shared over Twitter an op-ed written by heads of Fight For The Future and the Blockchain Association, two technology lobbying groups, that argued for crypto users to “confront” the “existential threat” of regulation. People were miffed – again, primarily, over environmental concerns and rampant scams. Some vowed to never again financially support the EFF.
These are people who conceivably might support crypto from a digital rights and privacy perspective. But like the angry Discord mob, they seem to have already made up their minds about the industry. In both cases, these are likely savvy internet users and are not dismissing crypto out of hand.
There are legitimate reasons to be suspicious of crypto. Its current privacy issues (everything stays on a blockchain) and carbon footprint are solvable. It’ll be harder to reconcile crypto’s capitalistic aims – call it what you want, say Bitcoin is for all, but the money doesn’t lie – at a time when more people than ever are skeptical of the economic status quo.
Does crypto subvert the system or play into it? Is the discord it creates adding value? For now, as far most people are concerned, it’s “probably nothing.”