This article originally appeared on VICE US
If you have a cryptocurrency investor in your life, you might have noticed some dour looks lately.
The price of Bitcoin crashed to roughly $3,000 from around $6,000 within a month, and other digital coins haven’t fared any better. The nascent industry is feeling the crunch. During such trying times, you’d expect the community to be fairly downbeat, but the memes… Folks, the memes are surprisingly decent.
During what investors call a “bear market”—when prices are going down, as opposed to a positive bull market—I selfishly turn to Reddit’s /r/bitcoin subreddit to laugh. It doesn’t feel like laughing at the poor Bitcoiners, really, but with them. Reliably, during harsh economic times one can find a buffet of popular memes ranging from the cringe-worthy to the admittedly hilarious all commenting on the downturn.
I began to wonder what purpose memes serve in this community during bad times, and so to find out I reached out to /r/Bitcoin mods and meme posters to ask, basically, what is the deal with all of these memes?
To understand why memes about losing money are popular, we have to turn to the beginnings of Bitcoin itself. Bitcoin was first described by an anonymous person or group of people in 2008, and from the start a large faction of its proponents were hobbyists and internet weirdos. To the extent that the gospel of Bitcoin spread somewhat organically through a global community of largely libertarian-leaning nerds, Bitcoin itself is arguably a meme. The first and only ad for /r/Bitcoin, where part of the community congregates, was a crappy MS Paint meme depicting a wizard in 2013.
“To me it serves as a reminder that Bitcoin is an open source, community-driven project, and that we should try not to take ourselves too seriously all the time,” an /r/Bitcoin moderator of four years, “BashCo,” told me in a message.
"I think [memes’ popularity] happened because it allows profit-oriented folks a means to talk about the price when we frown upon and discourage it"
In an obsession with memes and fake internet points, Reddit (upvotes) and Bitcoin (bitcoins) find synergy—for better, or for worse. BashCo told me that the moderation team has to try and limit the amount of memes on the subreddit due to the sheer volume that gets shared by users. Bitcoin memes are also usually about price, which some see as craven.
“I think [memes’ popularity] happened because it allows profit-oriented folks a means to talk about the price when we frown upon and discourage it,” an /r/Bitcoin mod of four years who goes by “frankenmint” told me in an email. “Memes are held near and dear to people because it's a means to poke fun at a topic that would otherwise be removed if it were posted as an entire thread.”
For the price-obsessed, memes do appear to provide some gallows humor and comfort when your investment isn’t panning out as you’d hoped.
“I spend a fair amount of time trolling through various subs and think to myself, ‘Shit, that’s so me,’ and, ‘Damn, guess I’m not the only one,’ followed by the occasional realisation, ‘I really am a dumbass aren’t I?’ especially when you stumble across one that completely hits the nail on the head,” a Reddit user who goes by “Hold-and-hope” told me in an email.
According to /r/Bitcoin mod of seven years “theymos,” memes during a bear market are partly a way for people to express their frustration, but not hopelessness. “Most people would rather joke about their misfortune than dwell on it,” theymos wrote me in a message, “especially when they think that things will eventually turn around.”
However, there is a point where things become so bleak for investors that memes no longer seem appropriate, theymos said. “In the 2014 extended bear market the memes did at some point start to give way to more blatant depression, though. (I've sort of been watching for that as a possible signal of final capitulation in this case.)”
Not all memes in the downturn are about losing money; some look towards a more positive price trend, while others encourage people to “buy the dip,” or purchase Bitcoin while it’s low in price. More buying than selling pushes the price up overall, but this can be a recipe for financial disaster if the price continues to tumble further.
“I feel like many many individuals work as manipulators trying to barrage sentiment so it can go further their way,” /r/Bitcoin mod frankenmint wrote me. “When you see memes and posts about, ‘price down—pickup,’ it's someone who has [a] bullish sentiment and wants to see the market go their way. Vice versa regarding someone who says, ‘You're all lunatics and the sky is falling.’”
According to theymos, these kinds of memes should be looked upon warily. Memes, he said, can encourage people to get caught up in the excitement of an upswing in price and invest unwisely. “You need to take your own situation into account and really think about risk, not just brush it off,” theymos wrote me. “In any case, you should laugh at memes, not learn from them.”
Not everyone who posts a price-related Bitcoin meme is a jilted investor screaming into the void with GIFs, or a slimy market manipulator. Like Bitcoin itself, some people just think it’s entertaining.
“I don't own bitcoin,” one meme poster on /r/Bitcoin wrote me in a message. “Staying away from that ponzi with a 50 ft pole. I just thought the video was funny.”
This article originally appeared on VICE US.