Despite your best efforts, it’s likely you will eventually become caught in the snare of a conversation with that (likely) guy who’s super into cryptocurrency—perhaps a cousin who you see once a year or a colleague from another department. It’s a conversational trap that you didn’t see coming and escape will prove futile.
Resigned to nod along to the spew of jargon coming at you, soon you can no longer muster the illusion of interest. Eventually, your daze is interrupted by an accusatory, “I feel like you’re just not getting this,” and a smartphone is produced.
Then, there he is. He wears a well-kept beard—which somehow doesn’t have an impact on the cherubic roundness of his face— a muted flannel, his crew cut is perfectly gelled. This man, staring back at you from your cousin’s cracked iPhone screen, seems excessively approachable. He is Ben Armstrong, better known by his YouTube tag, Bitboy_Crypto. The title of the video reads, “Don’t Fall For The Hype (Dead Coins of Crypto).”
Armstrong, the Atlanta-based YouTuber who your social graces-averse cousin believes is the last word in digital currency, is one of many who have come to be classified among the growing rank of social media finance gurus known as “crypto influencers.”
Part financial advisor and part social media personality, crypto influencers provide viewers and subscribers with advice on how to navigate the byzantine world of cryptocurrency. They offer tips on which specific digital currencies may be smart investing moves. Most crypto influencers, including Armstrong, are self-taught.
While Armstrong told the Washington Post in an interview that he is just trying to “help people” financially with his videos, critics question his credibility and authenticity as he gives that help to millions of viewers, many of whom are novices with a case of FOMO who are wading into a highly volatile and largely unchecked financial space.
As the Post reports, Armstrong told his nearly 900,000 Twitter followers in June that, “you can’t possibly EVER support Celsius Network or [CEO Alex] Mashinsky in any way,” after Celsius, a cryptocurrency lender, froze billions of dollars from depositors before going bankrupt. The thing is, Armstrong had previously been one of Celsius’ most vocal supporters and had advised his loyal followers to deposit their assets with Celsius.
In fact, Celsius CEO Alex Machinsky had glorified Amstrong just two weeks prior, stating “Atlanta is famous for Bitboy, no longer for CNN,” in a promotional video for Celsius in which Armstrong also appears.
Armstrong has since claimed that his confidence in Celsius was an honest mistake and that “we were as fooled as everyone else.”
Yet, this is not the first time that Armstrong has led his “bit squad” to bet on the wrong horse. In fact, Armstrong is now swathed by controversy and has been accused of fraud.
In 2021, a blockchain investigator known as ZachXBT conducted an undercover sting in which he uncovered Armstrong’s “rates”—which included $35,000 for a “dedicated review” and $20,000 for a “live stream mention,” as the Post reported.
More recently, another user uncovered that Armstrong had hyped up seven crypto projects to his subscribers, all of which turned out to be scams. “[Armstrong] has deleted all the videos of scam projects he shilled to his community. I have no idea how this person has over 1 million subscribers,” the user who conducted the investigation notes.
Still, Armstrong claims he has never been involved in a scam and that he and his team were simply misled. He has learned from his mistakes, he insists, and to prevent more people from falling victim to the scams, the videos have been taken down.
So, after such a misstep, why does Armstrong still have 1.45 million subscribers? The amplification of videos via algorithmic virality, it seems.
This viral popularity of certain videos coupled with the public’s lack of understanding of the maddeningly complex crypto space came with a gold rush mentality and FOMO; this perfect storm is allowing crypto influencers to gain trust with few credentials—or scruples, for that matter. Based on Armstrong’s YouTube channel, the recipe for a successful video seems to be a mix of hyper-specific jargon and constant reassurance that there are plenty of opportunities to make money in cryptocurrency.
Armstrong’s affable disposition and boyish enthusiasm add to his appeal, setting him apart from any stiff-collared bankers or too-nerdy financial advisors. He walks the line between being a crypto expert and being “just like you.”
“The word I use is authentic: I’m the same person on-camera as off-camera,” Armstrong said while describing his “honest Joe” personal brand.
Armstrong, who did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article, maintains that his videos merely supply information and that his subscribers should make their own decisions about how to handle their assets. He also claims that his channel has helped people make millions of dollars. What he fails to mention, however, is exactly how many millions his videos have helped people lose.
In a recent study, the Federal Trade Commission found that since the beginning of 2021, 460,000 Americans have lost over $1 billion to crypto scams, with the median individual loss reported to be $2,600. And these are only the cases reported. The FTC predicts that the actual total losses may be much higher.
Even so, the reported losses were 60 times higher than those recorded in 2018, partially due to the bandwagon effect of crypto consumption. This is what makes crypto so attractive to scammers. Additionally, the FTC points out that since most people don’t actually understand how crypto works, they are much more likely to fall for scams.
The study also found that most crypto scams are rooted in social media platforms, with the largest percentages coming from Instagram (32%) then, Facebook (26%), WhatsApp (9%), and Telegram (7%). Of all the social media crypto scams, investment fraud represented the largest chunk, racking up $575 million U.S. consumer dollars since 2021.
Of course, not all so-called “crypto influencers” on social media are scammers. But with thousands on the internet and more popping up, it’s becoming difficult to differentiate between the expert and the charlatan in this particular brave new world.
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