- Three months ago, Molly White urged the online encyclopedia to stop accepting crypto donations.
- Now, 71% of the Wikimedia community of editors voted in favor of White’s proposal.
- Concerns range from environmental sustainability to reputation risks.
On Sunday, the Wikimedia Foundation voted to stop accepting donations in the form of cryptocurrency. In a vote from the online encyclopedia and community’s editors, 71% of the group voted in favor of removing the ability to accept crypto as a payment option for donations to the site.
The decision came three months after Molly White, a longtime Wikipedia editor and a software engineer at HubSpot, who also blogs against Web3, submitted a request for comment that spelled out the case against crypto, saying “it is no longer ethical.” “Cryptocurrencies have been joined by a bubble of predatory, inherently harmful technologies,” White, known on the site by the handle GorillaWarfare, wrote in her original post.
As the pandemic played out, and as people spent more time online, crypto grew in popularity. Companies, such as Crytpo.com and Coinbase, promised passive income from digital assets, a way to get rich quick. Then came the marketing term “Web3,” which made the jump from decentralized banking to decentralized organizations, essentially a backlash of the conglomeration of users’ personal data by Big Tech, such as Meta and Google.
Last year, the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, brought in $130,100.94 in the form of crypto donations, the smallest source of revenue at 0.08% of its total revenue.
Wikipedia first started accepting cryptocurrency donations in 2014, in response to the requests from volunteer contributors and donor communities. “It was a very different time,” White told Insider in an email.
The birth of the crypto community promised privacy, anonymity, decentralization, and freedom — particularly for those who couldn’t afford traditional banking. “Those values don’t really seem so central anymore,” she told Insider in January. “Most projects are more interested in making a quick buck and are in fact very centralized.”
“I intended it to be just a starting point for discussion,” White said after three months of reflection. But her comments spurred debate and echoed the growing number of people in tech who think crypto hasn’t kept its idealist promises of freedom and anti-surveillance.
The 28-year-old said she was happy to hear that others shared her concerns. “Taking principled stances like this can help send a message,” she said. “Even when that message is competing against a very loud onslaught of hype and marketing money.”
Late last year, before she challenged Wikimedia, she began to take notice of the marketing around crypto. Celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Matt Damon, and Reese Witherspoon, endorsed it, and advertisements flooded social-media feeds — all while White heard of scores of people involved in crypto-related scams and hacks.
EthereumMax’s investors sued Kim Kardashian, accusing her of misleading people to buy crypto and causing an artificial inflation of the token. Recently, scammers impersonated finance influencers, luring followers into crypto scams.
“It really alarmed me to see people trying to mainstream this technology that is absolutely not fit for wide adoption, and not only that, they began to brand it as the ‘future of the web,'” White said.
This became clearer to White when Mozilla paused cryptocurrency donations shortly after announcing its partnership with BitPay. Jamie “jwz” Zawinski, Mozilla’s cofounder, responded, “Everyone involved in the project should be witheringly ashamed of this decision to partner with planet-incinerating Ponzi grifters.” Wikimedia also used BitPay, a bitcoin payments processor that charges a 1% processing fee.
“I realized that it was likely that the same sentiment existed among Wikimedians,” White said.
Yet her stand against crypto also came with virtual hate from crypto devotees. “I mostly try to ignore the hate rather than keep up with it,” she said. “It was definitely frustrating though.”
White isn’t new to Wikipedia. She’s been a Wikipedia editor since she was 13. She wrote articles, restored vandalized posts, copyedited, and mediated disputes between users, earning her an administrator’s title in high school, she said, adding, “And have remained an active editor and community member pretty much ever since.”
In line with Wikipedia’s revisionist nature, White said, if she were to rewrite her original plea: “I would’ve spent more time refining my original proposal. It worked out all right in the end, but I would’ve given it some more polish and perhaps tried to preempt some of the arguments that I knew were likely.”
For now, White hopes people will see beyond the crypto hype. “It’s very clearly preying on people who are in a really tough situation financially and looking for any way out,” she said, referring to the crypto industry. “It overwhelmingly seems like people are only digging themself into deeper holes of debt with it.”