Far-right media outlet Breitbart is emailing readers with an ad instructing them to invest in high-risk niche digital currencies.
An email sent out to Breitbart mailing list subscribers on Tuesday, which featured the Breitbart logo and "advertisement" in tiny grey text at the top of the email, tells readers that "The cryptocurrency market is RED HOT" and that digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have seen massive gains recently. "But that's NOTHING compared to the lightning-fast returns seen from dozens and dozens of little-known 'penny cryptocurrencies,'" the email continues.
The ad directs readers to a page hosted by Agora Financial, which media watchdog MediaMatters says is a conservative financial publication "notorious for sketchy sponsored emails pitched through the mailing lists of media personalities." The email text itself is signed by Robert Williams, publisher of Wall Street Daily, an outlet with links to Agora Financial, literally—the "premium research" links on their site send users to Agora Financial. However, the same text appears elsewhere on the web under the byline of an Agora Financial analyst.
The email informs readers about AllSafe, a digital token without a working website, a Twitter account that's been dormant since June, and the same name as a fake company in the show Mr. Robot. The email notes that AllSafe "skyrocketed by 15,808% in a single day!" A digital coin called AMIS, currently worth about a fraction of a cent, "surged by 29,693%… OVERNIGHT!" the email says. The email also tells readers that some sort of cryptocurrency boom is expected to occur around November 15, and to invest before then, but does not source this claim.
To my knowledge—and I cover cryptocurrencies on a near-daily basis—there are no significant events planned for around this time except for a contentious split of the Bitcoin network that is unlikely to significantly affect unassociated currencies.
"If you're gullible enough to fall for this, you kind of deserve it," said Jimmy Song, a Bitcoin developer and prominent cryptocurrency commentator, in a phone interview after reviewing the Breitbart email. "If [Breitbart readers] think that this will get you rich, they've probably wasted their money on other stuff too."
While all cryptocurrency investing carries some level of risk, the ones being advertised to Breitbart's mailing list are particularly small, and, as Song said, risky. They're essentially penny stocks. Because we were unable to get in touch with either Agora Financial or Wall Street Daily, we don't know why they are so strongly encouraging people invest in these particular currencies. But historically, small cryptocurrencies show short-term spikes in price when they receive a wave of new investment, benefitting people who currently own a stake.
Breitbart woos advertisers with the promise of delivering bespoke "email blasts" to more than 675,000 subscribers.
Many conservative publications have huge mailing lists that they use to send emails linking to their stories. This is not unusual among publications of any political stripe. But conservative outlets in particular are notorious for using their massive mailing lists for advertising that plays on talking points familiar to readers.
Spokespeople for Agora Financial and the Wall Street Daily did not respond to emails sent Wednesday to their press lines. Breitbart was another story entirely. The website lists no contacts except for a contact form for prospective advertisers to fill out and a sales email address. Motherboard attempted to reach Breitbart through these channels on Wednesday, and also reached out to Breitbart editors over email and on Twitter. We also emailed spokespeople who have recently spoken on behalf of Breitbart to the media. We got no response to any of these communications, but will update this story if we hear back.
Cryptocurrencies and the right have a long and storied history. Bitcoin, if not intrinsically libertarian, has attracted many people who subscribe to anti-government conservatism. Far-right and explicitly neo-Nazi personalities also use cryptocurrency to fund their ventures after being dumped by more traditional payment systems like PayPal.
On investing in the digital coins advertised in the Breitbart email, "Don't do it," Song said.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .