When you think about Twitter and crypto, one of the first things to pop into your mind would probably be Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s infamous shilling on the popular microblogging platform. In recent times, simple tweets from accounts with large followings, such as Musk’s, have significantly impacted the price trajectories of various cryptocurrencies.
However, Crypto Twitter goes beyond these few boisterous accounts. It is a thriving subculture of bloggers, influencers, investors, speculators, startup founders, and developers who spend their days talking about all things crypto with the seriousness the nascent technology deserves.
Besides that, pretty much every self-respecting crypto and decentralized finance (DeFi) project has a presence on Twitter. It is one of the easiest ways to disseminate information regarding a project’s development to a broad and curious audience.
Another reason why many crypto enthusiasts preferred Twitter is because, in former CEO Jack Dorsey, they had an ally. Dorsey is a staunch crypto advocate whose Twitter bio simply reads “Bitcoin,” a not-so-subtle doffing of the hat to the grand-daddy of cryptocurrencies.
When he was CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey had a broadly libertarian view on free speech and the moderation of public discourse, in addition to his open support of cryptocurrency. This greatly endeared him to the Twitter blockchain community, which libertarian and anti-censorship thinking heavily influenced.
Dorsey has spent the last few years promoting and supporting the development of blockchains and crypto. The other company he runs, the $65 billion fintech firm, Square, found great success when it allowed the trading of Bitcoin on its platform at the height of the cryptomania that swept the globe back in 2017. The company, which recently changed its name to Block, added Bitcoin functionality to its mobile payment service, Cash App, allowing users to buy and sell Bitcoin, and even spend it using a debit card.
Early last year, Dorsey, in association with rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z, invested 500 bitcoin, then valued at around $23 million, to create an endowment fund called ₿trust. The fund, which was built as a blind irrevocable trust, was meant to spur the development of Bitcoin in India and Africa. The growth of Bitcoin in both these regions has been hampered by stifling regulations and government sanctions.
On Twitter, there was a fair bit of consternation from the blockchain community when Jack left, especially since very little was known about the stance on crypto of his successor, Parag Agrawal. Unlike Dorsey, Agrawal does not wear his crypto support on his sleeve or Twitter bio. But that is not to say that he is not fully on board the crypto train. According to industry analysts, the appointment of Agrawal as CEO was a signal that Twitter was seriously headed towards the development of a crypto-based platform.
These assertions were backed by the fact that Twitter created a team focused on blockchains, crypto, and other decentralized technologies earlier this week and hired Tess Rinearson to head it. She is a software engineer with a rich background in developing blockchain technology, having played key roles in projects like Chain, Tendermint, Interstellar, and Interchain.
Rinearson’s hiring comes on the heels of the appointment of Jay Graber, made in August last year. The former Zcash developer was picked to lead BlueSky, Twitter’s initiative to build a decentralized social media protocol underpinned by blockchain technology.
Decentralized social networks are tipped to fundamentally alter the balance of power in favor of users by giving them the ability to easily change their preferred services, while controlling their identity and personal data.
In addition to BlueSky and the Tess Rinearson-led crypto team, Twitter has shown its commitment to blockchain and its intention to make crypto integral to its product by rolling out a couple of notable crypto-friendly features.
The first of these features is the tip jar, which went on trial in select markets in May last year. Officially called Tips, the feature utilizes payment platforms like Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, Chipper, BandCamp, Patreon, and Razorpay to allow users to support content creators, nonprofits, and independent journalists with money. Currently available on iOS, the tip jar also includes a feature for tipping with Bitcoin. Users can either add their Bitcoin address or a Bitcoin Lightning wallet to receive Bitcoin tips.
Twitter is also exploring a way to certify the ownership of non-fungible tokens being used as profile pictures on the platform. NFTs have become extremely popular in recent times, and they even sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the emergence of a new breed of trolls, known as right-click savers, has made it difficult for people to understand the legitimate owners of NFT artworks on Twitter.
Right-click savers usually copy and paste proprietary NFT artworks and then flaunt them as their own. To add insult to injury, they often ridicule the huge amounts of money spent on the NFTs by their real owners while bragging about how they got them for free.
To stop this annoying practice, Twitter is developing a way to prove ownership of an NFT by linking it to a crypto wallet. An authenticated NFT profile will have a badge or a modified avatar shape to differentiate it from right-click savers.
The new BlueSky lead developer, Jay Graber, is also the brains behind a reputation attestation service called InterRep, that links Twitter and Web 3.0. The service will look to monetize stellar social media reputations and make them portable from one platform to another.
The initial version of the service will let users link reputable Twitter accounts to an Ethereum (ETH) address, and then mint an NFT badge on the blockchain that will symbolize the account’s reputation. These NFT badges could be loaned out to decentralized financial smart contracts as collateral in the future. They could also be used to access new social networks or receive airdrops.
Jack Dorsey’s departure may have felt like the end of a golden era for the Twitter blockchain community. But judging from the moves Twitter has made since 2019, with the key involvement of Parag Agrawal, it is safe to say that the company sees its future in cryptocurrency and decentralization, with or without Jack Dorsey.
Tess Rinearson’s Crypto Twitter team has been tasked with exploring ways Twitter could support the use of decentralized applications (dApps) to manage NFTs and cryptocurrencies. The tip jar and the NFT authentication protocol are just hints of the platform’s vast potential for blockchain technology.
But while Twitter’s BlueSky project holds a lot of promise for social networks and their users, there is an underlying issue that must be addressed. Decentralized platforms, which will be largely free of government and corporate censorship, will ultimately provide an easy route for extremists and hardcore hate groups to access a more mainstream audience for their harmful views.
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