Ethereum Name Service Backlash Puts Spotlight on Anonymity in Web3

Despite the promise that Web3 will tear down the old guard with blockchain and decentralized tech, some old problems from Web2 have dogged the crypto and NFT space.

Old tweets are resurfacing. Reputations and brands are being called into question. And, as happened on the centralized social networks of Web2, women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and LGBTQ+ people are being harassed by anonymous individuals—even on the blockchain itself.

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While harassment is not a problem unique to Web3, part of the rallying cry of crypto is that it can be more open and inclusive than the prior era of the internet, though to many that goal lives in tension with its co-aims of decentralization and anti-censorship.

The ENS aftermath

The latest example of the trend involves Ethereum Name Service (ENS), the blockchain-based domain name protocol that sells .eth names. Last week, an old tweet resurfaced from ENS Director of Operations Brantly Millegan in which he declared: “Homosexual acts are evil. Transgenderism doesn’t exist. Abortion is murder. Contraception is a perversion. So is masturbation and porn.”

As a result of the controversy, ENS removed him from his position—a move that met with backlash of its own among crypto people.

ENS delegate Chris Blec believes the “woke mob” is the problem. “I believe that ENS Domains is a critical public utility and I will fight to ensure that cancel culture does not take over,” he tweeted on February 6. In a February 9 Twitter Space Blec hosted, he condemned “thought policing.” (Blec did not respond to Decrypt’s request for comment.)

Many Web3 participants disagree.

In a Twitter Space on February 6 called “ENS is for everyone” that discussed Millegan’s termination, transgender Entropy.xyz CEO Tux Pacific said that transphobia and homophobia are a big problem and valid concern in Web3.

“People think that we shouldn’t exist still or that we shouldn’t belong in this space,” Tux said. “What is happening today is not identity politics… this is not a cancel mob.”

Dame, who identifies as non-binary and works as the head of community for Ethereum wallet app Rainbow, believes there is a difference between accountability and “cancel culture.”

“In my opinion, cancel culture is a term used to dismiss critics of people who receive natural pushback and consequences for their words and actions,” Dame told Decrypt via Twitter DM. “I’m honestly surprised we see so much complaining about ‘cancel culture’ in the crypto space… you would think that crypto people would understand better than anyone the power of markets and communities. If you say and do things that the market/community doesn’t support, then they will choose to go elsewhere or vote you out.”

But even some who share Dame’s views are frustrated with ENS. For example, the Deadfellaz NFT project’s head of community Mec removed the .eth from her Twitter name.

“To wake up this morning and not see a public statement from ENS makes me very uncomfortable,” Mec said in the February 6 Twitter Spaces chat. “I don’t want to be associated with the ENS right now.”

While some have ditched the .eth from their display names, other marginalized individuals are choosing to keep their .eth identities. Web3 community member Madamcultleader, who is trans, said in the ENS Twitter Space, “We are all figuring this out as we go together… I’m not taking .eth out of my name because technically, it’s a decentralized protocol. Brantly doesn’t own this, we own this.”

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Anonymous harassment

The conversations don’t always stay civil.

During a Twitter Space on February 7 hosted by Ashley Christenson, who parted ways with NFT platform SuperRare after past tweets containing the n-word resurfaced, a number of the Black speakers on stage reported receiving a barrage of hateful DMs during the Space from anonymous accounts using racist slurs and dehumanizing insults.

And Dame says they have faced more than their fair share of harassment as a non-binary person in Web3.

“Now that crypto is going mainstream, the culture of the ecosystem is changing for the better and becoming more welcoming,” Dame says. “Unfortunately there is a toxic cohort of anonymous DeFi/crypto twitter accounts who don’t like it and they’re willing to stir up harassment towards people who are trying to make a positive impact in the ecosystem.”

Dame recently posted about how they received on-chain harassment in the form of encoded messages sent as Ethereum transactions to their wallet address. One shared message was deeply transphobic and appears to be an internet “copypasta” aimed at harassing transgender people (even though Dame isn’t transgender).

In response, Dame published a guide on “How to deal with harassment from DeFi/crypto anons,” which lists a number of tools that enables users to mass-delete old tweets or mass-block certain types of accounts based on the content they “like” and engage with on Twitter.

But following Dame’s statements against Millegan, some have come forward criticizing Dame for tweeting about planning to “10x the level of psychological intimidation my enemies feel when they see me on the timeline.” Others raised concerns after Dame encouraged people to “block specific influential accounts and their fans” and posted a listRainbow says it is “working thru [sic] this internally.”

It doesn’t take “cancellation” or advocating for inclusivity to become a target. Sometimes just being a woman is enough, says YouTuber and TikTok influencer CryptoWendyO.

“If I was a man, I would be treated differently in crypto,” Wendy told Decrypt. “I know this because the insults, harassment, and threats I get are based on my gender as a woman.”

Most of the comments she gets on her YouTube channel are not about crypto, Wendy says, but her appearance. “On Twitter, I have been trashed for weeks straight regarding my appearance,” she said, “along with death, rape and violent acts being [threatened] against me and my child.”

While many in the Web3 space rejected BuzzFeed’s recent unmasking of two Bored Ape Yacht Club founders under the argument that they deserve to remain anonymous, many of the same people are discovering that anonymity may not be the best path to a more equitable Web3.


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