While a few web3 proponents saw the identification (the purported “doxxing”) as justified, many others expressed strident belief that the only thing that mattered was that Solano and Aronow, perpetuating the fantasy at the heart of web3—the idea of a decentralized world in which the ordinary and the powerful alike will only be as accountable as they choose to be—had wished to remain anonymous, and that a journalist had not respected those wishes. Such anger around the issue of pseudonymity says a lot about what the next few years could look like. Tomorrow's culture wars will take place—are already taking place—in the world of web3. The term “web3” is often traced back to Gavin Wood, the co-founder of the Ethereum blockchain, who in 2014 wrote an online treatise in which he sketched out his vision for a “post-Snowden” web. In it, Wood stated that a core tenet of the web’s next generation would be privacy, including encrypted communication through “identity-based” pseudonyms. "Information that we assume to be public, we publish. Information we assume to be agreed upon, we place on a consensus ledger. Information that we assume to be private, we keep secret and never reveal," he wrote.
“I've been told on more than a few occasions that it's not okay for me to express my skepticism or opinions.” - Software engineer Molly White on the web3 and crypto community
“I have a particular meaning of trust that’s essentially faith. It's the belief that something will happen, that the world will work in a certain way, without any real evidence or rational arguments as to why it will do that,” Wood said. Today, Wood’s words could just as easily be used to explain the armies rallying around his web3 concept. In theory, web3 boils down to an internet “do-over,” as Brian Morrissey, the former president and editor-in-chief of Digiday Media, has succinctly put it. In it, users are the primary financial beneficiaries of their time, as opposed to the “Web 2.0” schema, in which mega corporations like Facebook and Google benefit from a system in which they “provide services in exchange for your personal data,” to use one description on the Ethereum Foundation’s website.
“What we have to do is activate the web3 community to become a vital source of money, media and votes so that if a member of Congress takes a negative approach, then they pay a price at the polls.” - Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang
To the extent they do exist, they mostly consist of centralized, monolithic institutions and ones that aspire to be. What is manifesting is not a world where middlemen are deprived of their share and data brokers are cut out of the action due to clever, privacy-protecting protocols, but rather a new online world in which seemingly anything can be financialized thanks to blockchain technology, which creates a digital infrastructure in which “every product is simultaneously an investment opportunity,” as Bloomberg’s Matt Levine has put it. Such a set-up, which places speculation at the core of digital life (itself becoming increasingly indistinguishable from real life due to various long-term trends accelerated drastically by the pandemic), has fostered an environment in which scammers are “luring people into bogus investment opportunities in record numbers,” as the Federal Trade Commission warned last year.
“There is no single site that lets you do anything useful or at scale. But you are supposed to believe in it like the Soviets were supposed to believe in a communist utopia.” - A Silicon Valley entrepreneur who emigrated from the Soviet Union
“What we have to do is activate the Web3 community to become a vital source of money, media and votes so that if a member of Congress takes a negative approach, then they pay a price at the polls,” Yang told the crypto news site Blockworks. Bitcoin advocates, though they often seem themselves as distinct from the web3 movement and even crypto more broadly, are nevertheless developing the political roadmap to follow.Predictably, web3’s rise has led to a commensurate number of high-profile skeptics long preoccupied with criticizing Bitcoin specifically. Numerous software experts, policy wonks, and artists have made similar arguments, not only about crypto but also NFTs (“how sweet, now artists can become little capitalist assholes as well,” Brian Eno recently said) and the concept of play-to-earn games so central to idealized visions for web3. There is an argument to be made that perhaps these people are being cynical and unimaginative, as are the many journalists who are prone to poke holes in new ideas. As Warzel recently wrote in the Atlantic, a video of David Letterman guffawing at the idea of the internet during a 1995 interview with Bill Gates (“what the hell is that, exactly?”) provides proof that the optimists can, in retrospect, be right.
“I worry about it de-humanizing our online world.” - A web3 proponent on her concerns about pseudonymity
The idea that it doesn’t end, ever, isn’t incidental to web3, but absolutely central, and will probably become more so as more pseudonymous founders nab hundreds of millions in funding and revenue. (As Notopoulos herself pointed out in her story, “It’s possible that pseudonymous companies could become our new reality.”) Yuga Labs offers a blueprint of where the internet economy is headed—a world of decentralized autonomous organizations and NFTs and cryptocurrencies in which people cannot be certain who benefits or what anyone’s true motivations are.web3 boosters say such pseudonymity is valuable. One venture capitalist argued shortly after the BuzzFeed story that “internet pseudonymity is a public good” and that journalists need to adapt to the new world. Another at a crypto-focused firm told Notopoulos it could help resolve the longstanding discriminatory issues that founders of color face. Female-led companies nabbed only 2 percent of venture funding last year, and Latinx and Black entrepreneurs received similarly dismal amounts. Considering the barriers women and people or color face, allowing founders to raise under pseudonyms could level the playing field, at least theoretically.
“The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a ‘toy.’” - Chris Dixon, a partner at the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz
Molly White, a software engineer, last year started documenting the issues she sees with web3 in her sarcastically named blog “web3 is going just great.” Over email, White told me that the animosity Notopoulos faced didn’t surprise her in the least. “I actually think the backlash is quite representative of the crypto space, which I've found to be so resistant and hostile towards criticism in ways I'm not sure I've seen before. Some proponents of crypto get enormously angry with those who so much as question the technology, much less criticize it, and I've been told on more than a few occasions that it's not okay for me to express my skepticism or opinions,” White said.Like many of web3’s loudest advocates, White can appreciate the value of internet anonymity and privacy. “[T]here are lots of very good and noble reasons people might want to stay anonymous: people living under oppressive governments, whistleblowers, journalists and researchers exposing extremists, for example,” White wrote. “I'm not sure if I'd put ‘want to run a multi-million dollar company without any accountability’ on that list. I am surprised that so many in the crypto space are so fiercely protective of the anonymity of the people behind these huge, multi-million dollar projects, especially when a lot of the reasons that people involved with them have chosen to be anonymous have turned out to be really shady.”
“Blockchain turned out to be the most rapid recentralization of a decentralized technology that I've seen in my lifetime.” - Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term Web 2.0.