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Influencers outshine traditional media on coverage of FTX implosion
A group of online creators has skyrocketed to fame by covering every aspect of the meltdown, but some optimize for attention over accuracy.
A story I wrote a little while ago is out. Here’s the gist:
The story of how Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old founder of the crypto exchange FTX, misused billions of dollars while charming the media and becoming a darling of Washington, hasn’t upended just the crypto ecosystem. It has also served as a watershed moment for the business-news landscape, making a group of internet influencers go-to sources for people hungering for news of FTX and SBF, as Bankman-Fried is known.
Online creators including software engineer and crypto skeptic Molly White and Stephen Findeisen, a content creator who goes by the pseudonym Coffezilla, have emerged as powerful independent news sources, cataloguing and exposing some of the biggest instances of alleged fraud in the crypto industry.
Substack publications including Dirty Bubble Media and Doomberg have beat out mainstream outlets by calling attention to alleged wrongdoing and adding analysis. Anonymous Twitter accounts like @AutismCapital post nonstop updates, some of them inaccurate, on the meltdown. The entrepreneur Mario Nawfal has become famous for his highly publicized Twitter spaces discussing FTX.
A YouTuber named Ben Armstrong, who goes by the name BitBoy Crypto and has referred to himself as “the Alex Jones of Crypto,” even flew to the Bahamas in an attempt to track down Bankman-Fried in person and speak to him.
All this coverage of the FTX implosion is the most prominent example of how so-called “citizen journalism” is battling legacy publishers for online attention, catapulting a fresh class of independent journalists into the mainstream while also giving rise to a group of social media influencers who optimize for attention rather than accuracy.
For years, drama channels and tea accounts — so called because the word “tea” is slang for juicy information — have been first to break news related to pop culture and influencers. Business news is late to undergo this trend.
The term “citizen journalism” first rose to prominence in the late ’90s, during the early days of blogging, when the internet promised to give everyone a voice, and usage of the phrase peaked in July 2004. But recently, billionaires and members of the Silicon Valley elite, and their fans, have sought to revive it and position so-called citizen journalism as an alternative to traditional media.
The FTX story, “feels like a turning point for citizen journalism,” Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong said last month. “The end of corporate journalism is now in sight,” investor Balaji Srinivasan tweeted on December 18th. “... Citizen journalism will win.”
Many of these men have a well documented hostility toward legacy media, which often reports critically on them. Srinivasan, for instance, once suggested doxing a “vulnerable” reporter in an email to a far-right blogger. But the shift toward an online creator-driven media world is a broad, technological shift, not a singularly ideological one.
In the entertainment world, a big celebrity scandal or influencer breakup might be enough to skyrocket a channel to fame. For the finance world, FTX has proved to be that kind of story.
“The FTX financial scandal is taking drama and commentary in this new direction,” said Angèle Christin, an assistant professor at Stanford who studies drama channels and influencer culture. “Drama channels are seen as a very feminized area. They’re associated with things that a lot of men don’t want to be associated with — beauty, makeup artists, celebrity — not doing serious objective data gathering. So you see them trying to distinguish themselves from the world of drama channels by calling themselves citizen journalists. It raises really important questions about power on social media.”
Many drama channels and tea pages have evolved into full-fledged media operations that out-earn and outperform some traditional media brands. DramaAlert, for instance, a YouTube channel founded by Daniel Keem, is often called “the TMZ of YouTube.” It has a cadre of staffers and has amassed over 1.2 billion views on YouTube. The Shade Room, a popular digital media brand that grew from an Instagram gossip and news page, is now a multiplatform media powerhouse.
While most drama channels and tea pages operate on YouTube and Instagram, in the business world, Substack and Twitter are the preferred platforms.