On Sunday, July 15th, 2018 a new account emerged on Crypto Twitter under the handle @Shillexed and the “ShillExed” name. Within 48 hours that account had gained over 5,000 followers. This account claims to be “dedicated to exposing those who do not disclose their paid shills” which is another way to say, they will attempt to find and report on anyone on Crypto Twitter who promotes a blockchain project in exchange for payment. The ShillExed operator is actively soliciting other Twitter users to report these account. The ShillExed account has already reported on a couple of people and at least one account that goes by @cryptomocho has said from now on, he plans to use the hashtag #paidpromo when promoting a project for a fee.
Interesting. Controversial. Increased transparency. A shift in the balance of power. But is vigilante justice like this ethical or unethical? Let’s take a look.
It is the Thought That Counts
Let’s start by assuming first, that ShillExed has noble purposes. Assuming that is the case, then this person is attempting to make Crypto Twitter a better place. Certainly, multiple statements on the ShillExed account appear to suggest the author has prosocial interests “undisclosed shills are very wrong…” “followers or not, I still love you” “projects need to encourage transparent sponsored tweets…” and even warnings such as “do not fall for this.” These are all statements that appear to express genuine interest in helping others. There is no way to know the motives of this person, and it is far more objective (the same intention of this the ShillExed account) to examine behaviors rather than guess at thoughts (and this coming from a guy with a PhD in Psychology), so let’s take an objective look at this.
What is Twitter Good for?
Twitter seems to serve three main functions.
(1) It is a place for readers to get news fast from short summaries put out by news outlets. Similarly,
(2) Twitter is a place for companies to make official announcements and reach a wide audience on their phones. Lastly, and most frequently,
(3) Twitter is a place for opinions.
The accounts ShillExed is “exposing” are not news outlets or companies, rather ShillExed is essentially saying the biased opinions being posted on Twitter are not the biased opinions we thought they were, but are actually biased for other reasons. I do not find that a compelling enough reason to justify the behaviors on the ShillExed account. What is my reasoning?
Two Wrong Don’t Make a Right
On the one hand, for ShillExed to have content there must be at least one person who does not want certain information to be made public. But withholding information is not automatically unethical. When we encounter secret information, is the ethical thing to do forcibly exposing that information to the world? The answer to that, morally, would depend on the information being withheld, who is being harmed by withholding the information and who is being harmed by exposing it.
In this case, it is not clear that anyone is being harmed by Twitter posts where payments are not disclosed. Do payments likely make the received biased? Yes. Do Twitter followers have a reason to assume the people they are following are objective? No. It is far more common for a famous Crypto Twitter account to have clear bias (e.g., Bitcoin Maximalist, ETH fan, MilitaryToken supporter) than to attempt to portray an objective viewpoint on all matters. In fact, Twitter is basically the land of news, company announcements, and lots and lots of opinions. So, exposing the bias seems to achieve little where bias is normal, acceptable, and should always be assumed.
Does exposing the hidden information potentially cause harm to anyone? Yes. First, it will probably cause harm to the person being shamed. The activities of ShillExed are likely an invasion of privacy, interference with private business dealings, and a form of cyber bullying which is unethical on numerous levels, least of which might be suppression of the freedom of speech.
Invasion of Privacy
In the United States and in many modern nations, people have a right to privacy. That is the reason the government needs a search warrant to come into your house. The right to privacy is a big deal. According to the Supreme Court, certain people wave that right such as politicians and celebrities. These are people who have intentionally thrust themselves in the public light. This is why it is ok for paparazzi and investigative reporters to expose politicians and take pictures of celebrities on the beach. So what about people who are famous on Crypto Twitter? Are they celebrities in the classic sense? No. I do not believe it is reasonable to conclude that anonymous Crypto Twitter accounts have waived their right to privacy.
Twitter is simply a collection of people who have chosen to follow each other. This means the only people famous on Twitter have followers because each of those followers clicked the follow button. That is the only way someone on Twitter gets followers. It is from thousands of decisions from thousands of people that thought ‘I want to read what this person posts.’ That is not how Taylor Swift, J.K. Rowling, or Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs became famous. An anonymous account on Twitter does not qualify as someone who has willfully given up his or her right to privacy and thus should be protected from public attacks via invasion of privacy.
Interference in Business
Impeding a person’s ability to make income is unethical unless that person is causing harm to others. In these cases, I do not see how harm is caused to Twitter readers who have willfully signed up to read that person’s biased Tweets. Is it moral to post what you want on Twitter? Yes, as long as it does not harm anyone. Is it moral to be paid to post something on Twitter? Yes, as long as it does not harm anyone.
Twitter Famous is Kinda Famous
Although I agree that being famous because of your Twitter account does not actually make you a celebrity who has lost the right to privacy, I do think that if you know 10,000 people are reading your posts, you have a moral obligation to be careful what you say. I also think that anyone who knowingly promotes a scam is acting immorally. But if the poster wants to post whatever they want, that is that person’s right and I support it. If I do not like what that person says, or I do not trust their word, I can mute (thank you Twitter) or block them. But I honestly think that stopping free speech is how the world becomes less safe not safer.
Continue to the discussion on Twitter @BitcoinCensus
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