Social media personalities charge thousands of dollars for video reviews, while research houses accept payments in the digital currencies they’re analyzing, casting a shadow on the transparency of the crypto industry, Reuters uncovered in a November 27, 2018 report.
Positive Coverage up for Sale
The practice of cryptocurrency issuers buying positive coverage for their digital coins is more common than one might think, according to a report from Reuters. After speaking with more than two dozen people in the crypto market and reviewing a slew of documents revealing the practice, the publication ran an extensive report on the impact such “reviews” had on the industry.
In fact, “influencer marketing” has become so much of a problem for the industry, that the SEC issued a specific warning about the promotion of ICOs in November 2017. “Any celebrity or other individuals who promote a virtual token or coin that is a security must disclose the nature, scope, and amount of compensation received in exchange for the promotion,” the SEC said in a public statement posted on its website.
Despite the commission saying that a failure to comply with the regulation is a violation of anti-touting provisions of federal securities laws, it has still not targeted outside promoters of currency offerings.
“The main reason why so many inexperienced individuals invest in bad crypto projects is that they listen to advise from a so-called expert,” Larry Cermak, head of analysis at The Block, told Reuters. He added that investors believe they can take this advice at face value even though it’s often intentionally misleading.
Expert Reviews, Five Star Ratings, and Professional Commenters
While expert and celebrity endorsements are easy to pinpoint, crypto issuers often resort to quieter ways to promote their digital coins. Reuters listed the example of ICObench, one of the most popular websites listing and rating ICOs, as being guilty of accepting payments for promoting certain companies.
Tim Glaus, a co-founder of Alethena, a Swiss-based startup, confirmed this and told Reuters his firm was approached by multiple individuals who said they could arrange paid-for ratings from ICObench experts after Alethena listed its coin offering on ICObench.
Some companies have also started offering research in formats mimicking the style of traditional Wall Street firms, which is paid for directly by the projects that are being reviewed. Henry Sit, the co-founder of Spero Research, one such company, confirmed this to Reuters.
An array of “ICO agencies” has sprung up, as well, offering crypto issuers active followers and posts on social media platforms such as Telegram, Reddit and Bitcointalk. Given the lack of conventional financial information on cryptocurrencies, online chatter has been a very effective way to attract investors.
One such agency, TGE.company, can provide 630 comments in a Telegram group at a rate of 45 comments a day for $800, all payable in tether. The company offered comments from “dozens of high-level” accounts on Bitcointalk, as well as posts on Reddit, at prices ranging from $950 to $2,900.
Another service on offer from ICO agencies is paying writers to publish stories mentioning their clients, or linking back to their clients’ websites, with prices ranging from as little as $100 to as much $10,000, according to interviews and messages Reuters received. A cryptocurrency data company showed the publication an email it had received from an individual offering an article on Forbes for $2,500.