Friday the 13th just couldn’t end without the social media equivalent of a bloody slashing attack from Jason Voorhees. As previously reported, Bitcoin maximalist John Carvalho has started a Twitter movement called #LookAtMeImNaval in order to mock the philosophical posts of the AngelList co-founder. Three of the members of the Magical Crypto Friends have participated in what seemed like a fun and light-hearted exercise of imagination, and Riccardo “Fluffy Pony” Spagni seemed to be the one who took the nastiest blow for his humorous voluntaryism.
Perhaps Bitcoiners on CryptoTwiter expected Naval Ravikant to have a good laugh about the entire hashtag saga and partake in the meme just for the sake of displaying humility, and to show an understanding of self-deprecating humor. However, the reaction of the Silicon Valley investor (also known in the crypto space for airing the development of CoinList) was defensive, as he pointed out that the hashtag directed at him isn’t just a joke, but a vendetta for his “free rider” comments in regards to coin holders.
It’s not a good natured parody, it’s part of an ongoing vendetta:https://t.co/65h5XCUTu7
— Naval (@naval) July 14, 2018
Mr. Ravikant has also expressed his approach to unwanted interactions on Twitter, as he mentioned how he blocks hostile commentators “early and often” for the sake of keeping his interactions meaningful and allowing his social media interactions to “scale”.
While this approach to responding to a meme might seem detached and indifferent towards the events – the events that followed have taken a pretty nasty turn. Instead of letting the short ideological clash fade and moving on with their lives, CryptoTwitter members have taken sides and continued the warfare with unexpected passion.
To reference the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, #LookAtMeImNaval was “nasty, brutish, and short”.
It seemed like all the mutual feelings of despise or superiority between community members surfaced, and ignited to unexpected proportions. On one side of the debate, Bitcoin maximalists expressed their disappointment with the reaction towards the tweets, and tried to explain that none of the actions were coordinated by mobs and the plan was never to bully. On the other side, supporters of investors from the blockchain industry have blamed the likes of Fluffy Pony and John Carvalho for organizing an immature display of hate.
They’re all angry because they believe (wrongly) that I’m disloyal to Bitcoin. And Carvalho just outright hates me.
Regardless, I block early and often. It’s the only way to scale on Twitter without your mentions getting destroyed by attention seekers.https://t.co/VEYbCio5rv
— Naval (@naval) July 14, 2018
When All Hell Breaks Loose: VCs Clash With Cypherpunks
There has always been a tension and despise between those who advocate for trustless systems which are governed by code (aka original cypherpunks who most likely advocate for Bitcoin) and investors who would rather have benevolent dictators run entire projects. Admittedly, the former camp is lesser profitable from VC’s point of view, and there is a lot more potential for innovation (and money making) on the side of centralized blockchain projects.
Then there’s the issue of tokens and the process of printing money out of thin air: Bitcoin purists (and supporters of sibling cryptocurrencies like Litecoin) claim that only the coins that have been mined via Proof of Work really have value due to the amount of consumed electric energy and hashing power that went into the process. Something that emerges on markets in a pre-mined state defeats the purpose of cryptocurrencies and is responsible for failures which sometimes pull down the entire market.
But theoretical considerations aside, #LookAtMeImNaval has led to a class distinction which Samson Mow pointed out in the clearest way: some people regarded Naval’s reactions as VC arrogance and snobbery of a man who takes himself too seriously. This idea made some inquire about a feeling of superiority that wealthy individuals in the space might have over developers.
If we can’t force cypherpunks and coders like @fluffypony to bend the knee to VC thought leaders, what kind of a community are we?
— Samson Mow (@Excellion) July 15, 2018
In Naval Ravikant’s defense, he really did apologize for the misinterpretations associated with the term “free rider” and went on to further explain the underlying economic thought. Maybe that his reaction to block hateful comments and call the #LookAtMeImNaval movement a personal attack from John Carvalho wasn’t the best way to respond, but the negativity, name-calling and conflictual behavior certainly didn’t come from his account.
I don’t think we really disagree but it’s really hard to communicate all of this on Twitter. I’m sure we could work it out with a whiteboard. Apologies if “free rider” came across as pejorative. I was using it in the economic sense. Anyway, we’re on the same team. Be well.
— Naval (@naval) July 15, 2018
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “Hell is other people” – but in our case, other people except for the main actors have turned into revenge-seeking hellhounds. As a matter of fact, even the Coinbase CTO Balaji S. Srinivasan has joined the discussion in order to call the movement “organized public harassment by hundreds of accounts and sockpuppets.”
Yours faithfully has also tweeted a dozen of humorous posts using the hashtag, and none of it was the result of somebody else’s encouragement or remunerated influence – as a matter of fact, it just seemed like a funny meme which allows participants to write short insightful pieces which resemble Confucius’ “The Analects”.
Hey Udi, good q. Answer over a few tweets.
1. First, remember Alinsky’s rules? “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon” and “Freeze the target, personalize it”. This wasn’t a joke between friends, it was organized public harassment by hundreds of accounts and sockpuppets.
— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) July 15, 2018
Needless to say, the situation got much more heated and some commentators tried to look beyond the words of Mr. Srinivasan just to find conspiracy theories in regards to their preference for the more centralized and optionally-private ZCash and their rejection of Monero. Once again, business people would have fractious interactions with developers, and the tension rose even higher.
It somehow seemed as though this divide has been there for a very long time, but required a minor incident to release all the negativity which people felt towards the other camp. Just like in the days of SegWit2X, we noticed discussions where partcipants would take ideological sides.
In an attempt to release the tension, FluffyPony tried to suggest an equal response through a #LookAtMeImFluffyPony movement. However, it didn’t go as planned and the posts using this hashtag are few and unoriginal.
— Riccardo Spagni (@fluffypony) July 14, 2018
Conclusion: Why Did It Have to Be Naval?
As I’ve previously stated, the heated arguments which CryptoTwitter members have presented suggest that the conflict was just a shot away.
Everyone needed a reason to jump at each other’s throat and express their disillusionment with the approach. We’re still in the middle of a bear market yet somehow the ICO bubble hasn’t burst and there are hundreds of projects with questionable prospects getting released.
Perhaps Bitcoin maximalists feel like these tokenized businesses are detrimental for the reputation of their digital gold, as the speculative nature of ICOs might keep individuals and businesses away from the crypto market. Or maybe that the token proponents feel like Bitcoin’s conservative community stunts the development of the blockchain technology.
There are plenty of reasons for VCs and cypherpunks to be at each other’s throats and present arguments belonging to the fields of computer science or economics. And in my opinion, Naval Ravikant was just the scapegoat because of his distinct tweeting style and philosophical approach to tweeting. As we could see in the case of #LookAtMeImFluffyPony, some people just aren’t consistent enough or don’t have a clear trademark of their own which easily allows others to parody them.
#LookAtMeImNaval was successful not because of some kind of mob-like mobilization, but because of the similarities between Mr. Ravikant’s tweets and Eastern philosophy.
I can’t speak to John’s motives, but fwiw I didn’t even know about @naval’s hodler Tweet as I’d been blocked by him for over a year, & nobody in my timeline retweeted it or commented on it. I thought we were poking fun at the srs bsns Tweets, not trying to make some grand point.
— Riccardo Spagni (@fluffypony) July 15, 2018
Even in my case, as a guy who’s posted a few clueless tweets under that hashtag, it seemed like a fun meme or contest to come up with maxims and wise words that relate to blockchain. And while I can’t speak on behalf of the entire community, I’m honestly don’t think there was hate involved (though I’m not entirely sure about John Carvalho, who often seems passionate in his iconoclasm). I condemn both blocking as a way of impeding free speech and being mean to people online, but I also fail to see how any of this resembles bullying – it wasn’t about name-calling or insulting, it was more like a series of impersonations to which public figures should probably be accustomed.
There honestly wasn’t any serious reason for this to become such an issue, but this joke has brought to bear older conflicts that weren’t as visible to the public eye. Our takeaway from this affair is that this space is unpredictable and hides many secrets, and sometimes it takes just a little push to get the worst out of some people. Now can we move on and find more productive ways of spending our time?