Web2 'Delenda Est,' You Say?

Talking about censorship resistance isn't enough. Web3 proponents should use the applications they advocate for.

AccessTimeIconAug 11, 2022 at 6:37 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:37 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconAug 11, 2022 at 6:37 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 4:37 p.m. UTCLayer 2
AccessTimeIconAug 11, 2022 at 6:37 p.m. UTCUpdated May 11, 2023 at 4:37 p.m. UTCLayer 2

Decrypt reported that email service provider Mailchimp has kicked two crypto-related newsletters off its platform, the latest in a long string of suspensions dating back to at least 2018.

Ryan Selkis’ Unqualified Opinions, a daily roundup of insights gleaned from his crypto data firm Messari, and a marketing/announcements newsletter by wallet provider Edge, have been deplatformed.

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"Thank you for [d]eplatforming some of crypto's most reputable brands in the past 48 hours," Selkis tweeted at Mailchimp on Wednesday. "You're proving our point. Mailchimp – and all speech censors – must be destroyed."

Crypto occupies a perilous position within mainstream thought. On one hand, it’s the frontier of finance and technology, the new “disruptor” that can shake up our old sclerotic institutions.

On the other hand, it’s an industry that is rightfully vilified as an abyss of scams and scammers. It empties pockets, devours electricity and spreads like a virus. It has promised much, but delivered little beyond increasingly convoluted buzzwords and self-justifications.

And so, the public understanding of crypto is all over the place. Media coverage of the industry is downright schizo – the same publication that could publish a headline like “This mom quit her job to focus on crypto full time and build ‘generational wealth” will turn around and call crypto dead the next month.

It’s never exactly surprising when companies like Mailchimp, which is owned by the tax software giant Intuit, take a stand against crypto. Especially when some of the industry’s loudest promoters have become its harshest critics, with shifting allegiances seemingly based on bitcoin’s price.

Selkis criticized Mailchimp for the abrupt about-face, and from a business perspective he is probably right to say its action was unprofessional. He’s sent an email just about every weekday for the past four years using the email service, and now cannot even access his subscriber list. He says he was given no forewarning or justification.

Others also booted

It’s a similar story for others – including NFT (non-fungible token) artists Jesse Friedland and Ocarina as well as Greg Osuri, founder of Akash Network, a cloud computing platform – who were also recently booted by Mailchimp.

In the interest of objectivity, however, Mailchimp’s acceptable use policy clearly lists “cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies and any digital assets related to an initial coin offering” as “prohibited content.” And it has a history of enforcing that policy. It has denied services to media companies Decrypt, Breaker and Blockworks as well as to crypto exchange ShapeShift.

People in crypto often use those examples of “censorship” as justification for the work they’re doing or support. If anyone can get thrown off of an email service, or “shadowbanned” by Twitter, then the need for freely accessible, permissionless systems is self-evident. Or as Selkis said, recalling the great battles of empire between Rome and Carthage, “Web2 delenda est” (it must be destroyed).

Moments like this can certainly act as cautionary tales, but they are also useful reminders that crypto isn’t really owed anything by anyone. An industry that is often rightfully accused of writing its own rules can’t really call foul when caught cheating another man’s game.

True, it’s depressing that anti-crypto slacktivists can scuttle crypto projects at places like Wikipedia or the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), two organizations that ought to stand with crypto’s open-source ethos. But can you fault other companies for wanting to mitigate risk and limit their associations with crypto?

Web3 apparently has a fix for all of Web2’s flaws. There are crypto-native publishing platforms, competing social media sites, etc. Legacy brands that see an actual business case in crypto are moving in that direction, testing the waters. (Tiffany, Reddit and BlackRock all recently announced major blockchain initiatives.)

I see little benefit in defending the view that crypto has to “Trojan Horse” Web2 – taking advantage of these already established networks while seeking to undermine them. It is, to my mind, at least part of the reason why people are so confused about what crypto is.

Is crypto just this abstract thing you talk about on podcasts or emails or Discord? Or is it truly a seismic shift between powers? It would probably be clearer if crypto’s proponents actually used the platforms they proclaim to support.

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Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.