The line between cryptocurrency education and self-promotion has blurred. Let’s take James Moreau’s experience. The founder of the Worcester Ethereum Meetup had a self-proclaimed blockchain expert interrupt one of his recent meetings focused on how to use cryptocurrency wallets by passing out flyers for a cryptocurrency accounting service. Thinking it was inappropriate, Moreau stopped the solicitation but was later horrified to discover the accountant didn’t actually have any experience reporting cryptocurrency assets. Yet, some of the more inexperienced group members had been quick to take the stranger at her word and Moreau felt some responsibility, not only for their potential wasted time but also the fact that should any of those members purchase her services, and then have problems later because she, in fact, didn’t know what she was doing. This experience displays just how difficult it’s become to run a Meetup group related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, and moreover to educate in any form in the space.
“Around a month or two ago, I started noticing the same type of spam you’d see on Twitter,” Moreau said, listing questionable exchange links, giveaways and phishing scams among the culprits he sees on Meetup. He said, “I’ve deleted the comments and blocked the users, but they keep coming.” Meetup’s policy currently forbids groups that offer “specific advice or services in areas that require a licensed professional,” including law and finance, as well as groups that promise “financial gains.” But when it comes to the nascent cryptocurrency space, it can be tricky to separate education from blatant scams and misinformation.
So far, Moreau has dealt with about a half dozen problematic posts and direct messages, but he can’t be sure how many scammy direct messages have been sent to the 97 members of his Worcester group. “I have people in my groups that are new and don’t know what a scam looks like in this space,” he said, describing newbies punch-drunk on headlines about quick riches as a ripe target for opportunists and what’s more problematic is when users directly solicit others via the comments section of Meetup groups.
For instance, a Meetup user calling himself “Stellar Lumens” promised users of the platform an “invite bonus” of lumens, the native cryptocurrency of the stellar protocol, even following up with people on Facebook before Meetup shut down the solicitor’s account. Zac Freundt, community manager at the Stellar Development Foundation, told CoinDesk the team at routinely reports such scams on Meetup and other social media platforms. While this bad behaviour appears far less common on Meetup.com, Moreau said reporting scams (which the company has encouraged him to keep doing) is taking up a lot of his time. As such, he isn’t sure whether he’ll keep using the platform if the problem persists. In his eyes, some of the responsibility lies with the platform itself.
“It’s a paid service, so I feel like there should be some level of service,” he told CoinDesk, adding: “I’m thinking about whether Meetup is a good platform for me to organize around anymore, then again, I don’t know what my options are otherwise.”