Fired, but Not Canceled
After an abhorrent old tweet resurfaced, Brantly Millegan lost leadership roles but kept a key one at the Ethereum Name Service Foundation, demonstrating the limits of cancel culture in self-governing communities. That’s why he is one of CoinDesk’s Most Influential 2022.
Brantly Millegan is tickled that the increasingly popular Ethereum Name Service (ENS) still uses marketing terms he created. “The idea of, like, it's your ‘Web3 username.’ That was my idea,” he said. Millegan, who was fired from most of his leadership roles related to the ENS protocol, recently spoke to CoinDesk, giving his first interview since the controversy.
In fact, Millegan is still deeply entwined in the protocol – though many would prefer he wasn’t – after a five-year-old tweet resurfaced in February showing Millegan’s distasteful views on homosexuality, trans rights and abortion. Millegan, a church-going Catholic with seven kids, has repeatedly doubled down on his previous statements.
Read More: Presenting CoinDesk's Most Influential 2022
Crypto is not without its controversies, though the theoretically apolitical industry that creates tools to preserve individual digital rights and empower online communities has largely sidestepped the so-called culture wars. Millegan’s story demonstrates how censorship-resistant and self-governing Web3 platforms change the way communities may hold people to account.
Before he was “canceled,” as he sees it, Millegan had four jobs related to ENS.
He was director of operations on the core team developing the ENS protocol through a contract with the Singapore-based nonprofit True Names Limited. He was also director of the ENS Foundation, a separate entity based in the Cayman Islands that legally represents ENS DAO, the decentralized autonomous organization that governs the protocol.
Millegan was also one of the top on-chain DAO representatives, primarily through a process of delegation where DAO participants stake their tokens with larger holders to vote on their behalf. Finally, he co-founded a DAO working group, which has since been dissolved.
Many considered Millegan the public face of ENS. On Twitter, where he sports a CryptoPunk avatar with a blue headband, Millegan was a relentless advocate for ENS. He wrote blogs and hosted Twitter Spaces. He was often the first to share news of ENS developments. So it’s not surprising so many delegated their ENS tokens to him (and still do).
Hours after the offending tweet resurfaced, Millegan was fired from all the positions he could be fired from. His contract with True Names Limited was terminated. Then, in a situation unique to Web3, a public vote was opened to determine whether he should maintain roles he held democratically. He won with a five-point majority of the vote.
That Millegan was fired as a True Names director but still sits as ENS DAO’s second-largest delegater is problematic for some and something to be celebrated by others. The situation proves crypto can empower the unpopular, heterodox or marginalized. But it raises uncomfortable questions about inclusivity in Web3, and whose views are worth protecting.
“Many of you were hurt by Brantly’s comments over the past 24 hours, and we strongly believe that ENS should be an inclusive community. Going forward we’ll continue to do everything we can to ensure that remains the case,” True Names Director Nick Johnson said in a tweet at the time. Millegan’s exclusionary and discriminatory statements also presented potential legal problems for the company, legal experts have said.
Millegan said this month that he was disappointed in how the situation played out. “It wasn't nice that people I was friends with, you know, people I called colleagues for multiple years – I was just kind of instantly dropped in less than 24 hours. It was not very nice, with very drastic consequences for my life,” he said. “This whole thing kind of put a marker on me.”
But Millegan said even today his primary concern is the long-term viability of ENS. Despite boycotts, ENS has grown exponentially this year with several million people joining the protocol. The service has become a core piece of the Ethereum stack. Even Ukraine’s government created an .eth name for donations.
“ENS is not a company. It's not a product. It's a protocol,” Millegan said. “It is critical that it remains as much as possible non-ideological and neutral. I think everyone would agree on that.”
Indeed, ENS may be the world’s best chance at having a decentralized identity system. It enables people to turn alphanumeric blockchain addresses into human-readable names. It also allows anyone to create a resilient identity, giving them the ability to be who they want online without risk of being deleted.
While Millegan’s views may be personally abhorrent, the fact he is still able to contribute to the protocol may be the best way to show how ENS empowers vulnerable populations.
“The crypto parts of the system actually didn't fail me. I still have my tokens. I still have my crypto – no one took that away,” Millegan said.
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