Four Corners “Cryptomania” episode: balanced portrayal or too critical of crypto?
This week, the premier Australian current affairs program, Four Corners, ran an episode titled “Cryptomania”. On the whole, the reporting team certainly did not paint a rosy picture of the crypto industry, instead choosing to largely focus on scammers and fraudsters that utilise crypto for nefarious purposes.
Related reading: How the Four Corners segment also highlighted the issues with crypto marketing.
The report is symbolic of the “five steps forward, two steps backward” approach that so often the crypto industry faces. While the crypto naysayers may be loud, the true believers are louder. Unfortunately, if your sole exposure to the world of crypto was by virtue of Four Corners, you would be liquidating your wallet quicker than you can say Ethereum.
The program gave a large platform to the very vocal, anti-crypto crusader Molly White. White is a Software Engineer who writes a blog facetiously titled “Web3 is going just great.” In the Four Corners program, White describes how when she started to research cryptocurrencies she saw, “a lot of scams and fraud and hacks of major platforms.” She said, “it felt like people were being just taken for a ride day after, day after day, it was like, one scam, one day, two hacks the next day.” Undoubtedly there are scams in crypto, but what White fails to mention is the prominence of scams and bad actors in the traditional finance world too.
Four Corners reporter Stephen Long then spent a great deal of time explaining the involvement of celebrities in the crypto space. Here he explained how in some instances celebrities have been utilised to promote cryptocurrencies in what has in some cases resulted in a classic pump and dump scenario. It’s worth remembering that these kinds of schemes are not unique to crypto and were around long before the blockchain. In simple terms, a pump and dump involves the prolific spruiking of a financial product with the aim of spurring a buying frenzy and pushing up prices, and then the subsequent off loading of the security at its peak.
This occurred with a crypto project called EthereumMax which was promoted by celebrities such as boxer Floyd Mayweather and Kim Kardashian. Stephen Long explained that, “Amid these endorsements, there was a buying frenzy, which pushed up the value of the cryptocurrency. And then, according to the lawsuit, founders cashed out and made a fortune.”
Despite the predominant focus on the likes of pump and dumps and fraud, some time during the broadcast was dedicated to how crypto can be a “force for good.” Professor Ellie Rennie of the RMIT Blockchain Hub, spoke of how blockchain and Web3 could disrupt how heavily dominated the Internet is by big tech firms. She said that in her research she “was just completely captured by this idea that maybe one day we wouldn’t have an Internet that was dominated by four large corporations.”
Another voice praising the potential of crypto was Jonathon Miller, Managing Director of the Australian arm of crypto exchange, Kraken. Miller detailed how Web3 could lead to a world where “individuals who own their data and can monetise that as opposed to organisations owning data and monetizing it without you realising.”
The brief amount of time the program dedicated to crypto’s positives saw harsh criticism on Twitter. One user replied to a Four Corners post promoting the episode describing it with:
“Utterly one-dimensional story, only the slightest hint (and glossed over) that digital assets have the ability to provide tangible and significant gains in efficiency and security for industry and commerce (as well as individuals).
Crypto is for criminals and gamblers – gotcha.”
The resounding view on Twitter was that the program was simply not balanced enough with some users going so far as describe the program as a “hatchet job” and “TV’s version of the Daily Mirror”.
Despite the overwhelming opinion that the program was far too focused on the negatives of crypto, perhaps solace can be taken in the fact that enough is happening in the space that it warrants reporting in the mainstream media. If there was ever conjecture that crypto was not tracking toward mainstream understanding and adoption, surely reporting on the topic by Australia’s public broadcaster suggests that we are getting close to a point when everyone is interested in crypto.