Dirt: Long time passing
Our biweekly recap from Eliza Levinson.
Eliza Levinson returns twice a week to tell us what is going on in streaming and the metaverse.
This week, as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, activists around the world eagerly demonstrate their support of the smaller nation as it fights for democracy and independence. Many have taken to the streets, with demonstrations across Europe and in Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Tokyo, Tehran, and around the US. Many have also donated, perhaps using resources compiled from sources both verified (legitimate news outlets) and not (Instagram infographics). And many – and I mean many – are standing with Ukraine via unusual contributions: cryptocurrency.
As of Sunday, the government of Ukraine received over $10 million in cryptocurrency, though, according to “blockchain analysis firm” Elliptic, the combined crypto donations to the Ukrainian government and local nonprofits is around $16.7 million. Why?
[ASIDE: Readers, I did so much research for today’s dispatch. Like, so much research. If you are overwhelmed by the ins and outs of the metaverse, it may be heartening to hear that cryptocurrency was once described by theorist Adam Greenfield as “just fundamentally difficult for otherwise intelligent and highly capable people to understand.” While writing this piece, I found myself falling into a trap that frequently ensnared me during my journey: namely, a mess of incomprehensible jargon cloaked as intellectualism. I’ve tried to avoid that as much as possible. * deep breath * Ok, here goes.]
Since the advent of Bitcoin, it has been heralded by its strongest proponents as the radical tool for challenging existing power structures (the state / the man). Its most vociferous supporters tend(ed?) to be libertarians and so-called anarcho-capitalists, who are into Bitcoin because they want to do business without intervention from the state. Since all currency and transactions are mediated by some state enterprise, the most radical solution is to put an alternative, stateless currency in the hands of the people, so that they can buy shit without a bank or corporation getting involved. Ergo, cryptocurrency.
If you’ve also fallen into a dystopian fugue state watching massive corporations eat up the internet without any regulation from the government, web3 – the catch-all term given to the world of cryptocurrencies – offers itself as a solution. If web1 was the earliest days of the internet and web2 was the explosion of social media sites, web3 takes us back to starry-eyed visions of a “Wild West” online,
where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts we have privacy, both from corporations and governments.
In actual fact, the sheer amount of money raised by Ukraine through cryptocurrency is, perhaps, sweet vindication for longtime crypto idealists. Crypto donations offer anonymity to both donors and receivers, meaning that no one risks repercussions from the Russian government for offering support. Crypto discourse – which relies heavily on scrutiny of the power of the state – is simply logical when applied to their circumstances: the peoples’ effort to protect themselves against erratic, repressive and dangerous leadership. Plus, as Elizabeth Lopatto explains in The Verge, the Russian invasion has prompted Ukraine’s central bank to “suspend[...] digital cash transfers and limit[...] cash withdrawals,” making crypto (“alongside the dollar, gold and silver”) a legitimate possibility for donations.
Ukraine has been legitimizing cryptocurrency predating Russia’s invasion. In 2021, the Ukrainian parliament voted to recognize cryptocurrencies, meaning that the government would regulate it to prevent fraud and back off from scrutinizing “companies and exchanges” using the digital currency, which had “attracted legal attention” in the past. When interviewed by Elizabeth Lopatto, Illia Polosukhin (who cofounded NEAR Protocol, “a competitor to Ethereum”) explains that, aside from real estate, crypto is basically Ukrainians’ “only other opportunity to invest.”
So, in sum: crypto idealists boost the digital currency as a means of avoiding state control. When a state is actually, indisputably dancing with totalitarianism, cryptocurrencies theoretically offer anonymous donations, thus protecting the people – what we’re seeing in Ukraine. And, when the internet isn’t going through rolling outages, it’s helpful. Very notably, after an entire article touting the great altruism of donating to Ukraine using cryptocurrency, Lopatto concludes:
It’s easy to send crypto, [Polosukhin] notes, but it’s not necessarily easy for people to receive it if the internet or power is cut off. When we spoke, the only thing working in Kharkiv were mobile providers, and Polosukhin wasn’t sure when they’d fail too. For those who had it, cash was still the best strategy.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only fly in the ointment. Because, while crypto may offer the people safe, anonymous recourse to liquidity during times of crisis, it also offers the very same protections to oppressive regimes.
Last week, Emily Flitter and David Yaffe-Bellany wrote a piece for the New York Times explaining that “Russia could use cryptocurrency to blunt the force of U.S. sanctions.” Sanctions, they explain, are primarily enforced through banks, which “see where money comes from and where it’s bound, and anti-money-laundering laws require them to block transactions with entities that are under sanctions and report what they see to authorities.” This is exactly what the libertarians and anarcho-capitalists who originally pushed crypto in the first place want to avoid: skirting the power of banks and other state apparatuses, crypto pares down transactions to their barest essentials: one user passes currency to another user. No intervention, just all freedom, all the time, baby. But what if the user is the authoritarian government? Could the brilliant Adam Tooze be right, who once surmised that “Crypto is the libertarian spawn of neoliberalism’s ultimately doomed effort to depoliticize money”?
It’s also worth noting that crypto – because it’s not regulated in the same way that traditional currencies are – is subject to wild fluctuations and rampant fraud. However, to give a point to crypto, scammers run amok with traditional currencies, too, and humanitarian crises aren’t exactly dissuading them.
In a recent article for Input, Taylor Lorenz described a swath of “scammy Instagram ‘war pages’” that rack up massive followings through claiming to post on-the-ground footage of the crisis in Ukraine, but are actually rife with misinformation and reposted videos from unrelated military actions, sometimes from years before. The makers of these accounts – which use deliberately misleading handles like @livefromukraine – monetize their pages through ads.
This is the part of this particular Dirt dispatch that makes me want to hide under my desk instead of writing the rest of this piece. Because if you’re on social media, you’ve probably noticed that just about any time there’s a crisis, your feed is overtaken by unsourced infographics, devastating IRL footage, and navel-gazing “Create mode” IG stories that aren’t really about anything.
While it’s true that the internet does offer unprecedented awareness for global crises, if you’re watching from far away, you’re probably somewhere between empathetic panic and dazed overwhelm: all worked up with nowhere to go. It’s also important to note that a lot of misinformation has been spreading through social media, with misleading or categorically false content “[running] unchecked and unchallenged” on TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
Also running rampant on social media? Celebrities, like AnnaLynne McCord, who posted a video I’m still unable to watch with the sound on: a slam poem imagining herself as Putin’s mother, loving him away from being a dictator. Andy Cohen posted a “powerful Wordle message to Russia and Ukraine” and Joy Behar wondered if the conflict meant she couldn’t go on vacation in Italy this summer. Average citizens also wilded out, like this Twitter user, who shared photos of bombs detonating in Ukraine and wrote: “might get cancelled for this one but the aesthetic feels so special. i get that you might worry about this situation if you are russian or ukrainian but the rest of the world should just enjoy the apocalypse vibes … ^-^”
Unrelatedly but similarly, the Associated Press caught fire this week after putting an NFT up for sale that was literally an image of refugees “drifting in an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean.”
It makes me think about Bo Burnham’s brilliant film Inside, specifically his song That Funny Feeling:
stunning 8k resolution, meditation app
in honor of the revolution, it’s half-off at the Gap
deadpool, self-awareness, loving parents, harmless fun
the backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun
the surgeon general’s pop-up shop, Robert Iger’s face
discount Etsy agitprop, Bugle’s take on race
Finally, I wanted to uplift one NFT project by a Kiev-based artist. House Plants are a cute, colorful collection of pixel art potted plants. They cost 0.02 ETH per mint and are trading on OpenSea, Etherscan, FeltZine, and myk31.com.
Go Beyond the Infographic
material ways you can help Ukraine
If you’re looking for ways to help out, here, here, here and here are verified compilations of nonprofits (both international and Ukrainian) as well as Ukrainian independent news outlets you can support. Equally as important? Fact check your social media feed. If you see something that really surprises you, double check that it’s true by cross-referencing it with official news outlets before sharing it on your own page. As Joan Donovan told Taylor Lorenz, “People will search a hashtag and expect some spammy content, some true content, but one thing they don’t expect is misinformation, disinformation, or propaganda.” (More information on misinformation on social media sites during this crisis here).
fact check ur feed
— “Property Values” by Richard Woodall for Real Life (I liked this piece so much I thought about writing Woodall an email lol) — “Adam Tooze on Macrofinance and ‘Fully Political Money’” in The Crypto Syllabus — “Beware the FOMO Bullies of Technology” by Charlie Warzel for The Atlantic — “Cryptocurrency Might Be A Path To Authoritarianism” by Ian Bogost for The Atlantic — “Russia Could Use Cryptocurrency To Blunt The Force of US Sanctions” by Emily Flitter and David Yaffe-Bellany for the New York Times — “Scammy Instagram ‘war pages’ are capitalizing on Ukraine conflict” by Taylor Lorenz for Input — “Propaganda, fake videos of Ukraine invasion bombard viewers” by Amanda Seitz and David Klepper for ABCNews.com
~Catch up on Dirt~
— Tyler Watamanuk on Mike Mills as a self-archivist
— QuHarrison Terry answers the question: What’s In Your Wallet?
— Daisy Alioto on “context collapse”, or, why the poor timing of an Applebee’s ad made us so uncomfortable
— Applebee’s is “concerned” about a poorly-timed ad that aired on CNN adjacent to news coverage of the Russian attacks in Ukraine — following Putin’s unwarranted invasion of Ukraine, Russia is barred from participating in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, meaning that we will, tragically, not have an upgraded version of Vitas’ surreal and silly 2002 performance — the Ukrainian Film Academy is petitioning for an international boycott of Russian film — never one to interrogate his aims for inserting himself into the heart of dangerous conflict (see: the time he met with “notorious Mexican drug smuggler” El Chapo) Sean Penn has officially arrived on the ground in Ukraine to film a documentary on the subject — rapper Megan Thee Stallion is suing her record label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, for the second time. The lawsuit will center around the contract terms of the rapper’s “Minimum Recording Commitment,” and whether her latest album, Something for Thee Hotties, meets those requirements — the Wendy Williams show has come to an end, after a season where the eponymous hostess has been likely dealing with severe health issues — Mick Jagger and Questlove are producing a documentary about James Brown for A&E
Dispatches from the Metaverse
— Facebook and Twitter took down “two anti-Ukrainian ‘covert influence operations’” associated with Russia and Belarus — as of February 26, Russia has blocked its citizens from accessing Twitter through most major Russian internet providers. Twitter is temporarily taking down ads on its sites in Russia and Ukraine “to ensure the visibility of public safety information,” while users in Russia circumvent the state by logging on using VPNs — Ukraine experiences rolling internet outages as Russia’s invasion continues, prompting concerns about virtual or physical efforts to silence Ukrainians — Facebook bars ads from Russian state-run media — among the Russian elites targeted by US sanctions is Vladimir Kiriyenko, whose company oversees VKontakte, Russia’s leading social media site — QAnon acolytes are rallying behind Putin, with some citing conspiracy theory that attacked sites in Ukraine are “US Biolabs funded in part by the NIH” — researchers at Middlebury’s Institute of International Studies used Google Maps to follow the Russian army’s movements into Ukraine — Mark Zuckerberg debuted new AI generation in Meta, allowing for viewers to describe what they’d like to see and the tech to quickly present it for them. But over at Dazed, Thom Waite sounds the alarm about “Meta’s built-in aversion to beauty and its bleak implications for online life”
— “осколки” by Электроптицы — “Пляска Святого Вита” by Delirium — “ШУМ” by GO_A — Bo Burnham: Inside (2021) — “That Funny Feeling” by Bo Burnham — “That Funny Feeling” by Phoebe Bridgers (Bo Burnham cover) — Wendy Williams wishes death on Britney Spears’ family — Wendy Williams can’t figure out what Dua Lipa’s name is — she’s an icon, she’s a legend, and she is the moment. Now, come on, now — the Las Culturistas culture awards reveal, wherein Wendy Williams is, along with hosts Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers, the frontrunner — Eliza Levinson
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