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Finding the Limits of Shilling in the Cardano Debates

Published 12.7.2023

Anyone who is active on social media and trying to talk about Cardano has probably encountered the argument that he just 'shills his bag'. Freedom lies in the right to one's own opinion and choice. So, accusations of shilling can be seen as denying the right to one's own opinion and choice. The world of cryptocurrencies is a bit different than traditional markets as the success of blockchains is dependent on adoption from the bottom up. It is therefore important to be more tolerant of the views of others.

Not only the purchase of cryptocurrency but also the time spent on social networks and all other similar activities (including using blockchain or DeFi) can be seen as a form of voting on the future of the project.

Finding the line between shilling and reality

Satoshi Nakamoto envisioned the creation of a new form of digital decentralized cash. But that has not happened yet. Unfortunately, the blockchain industry looks more like one big battlefield. Cryptocurrency communities compete on why one project is better than all others. Charts and market capitalization of projects are discussed excessively in the media. Buying cryptocurrencies is seen as an investment by a large portion of holders.

Debates often look like shilling. Fans might accuse each other of this behavior. The term shilling is well-known in traditional markets. It refers to the act of promoting a product or service for personal gain or financial incentive. Shilling is illegal and considered a form of market manipulation or fraud. Shilling can mislead investors or consumers by making false or exaggerated claims about the product or service, such as its quality, performance, or potential returns.

Shilling is a common phenomenon that involves advertising a cryptocurrency to generate hype and demand for it. The shilling in the cryptocurrency space is not as clearly regulated as in traditional markets. There are no universal laws or rules against it.

You may be surprised by our opinion, but maybe that's a good thing. At least to some extent. Sometimes it is very difficult to draw the line between shilling and a healthy debate about the future of a project. Let's illustrate this with an example. Read the following claim.

Bitcoin is a new form of money. Bitcoin is digital gold.

Is that shilling? Is that an exaggerated claim about the product? Is it misleading? Ordinary people who don't follow cryptocurrencies much would tell you it's nonsense and that it will probably never happen. To them, such a claim must seem like shilling. On the other hand, we have cryptocurrency fans who believe this claim and are trying to make Satoshi's ideas real. These people are on social media every day trying to push this idea on other people. These people can be described as either visionaries, fighters for a better world, or shills.

Why is it so difficult to find the right line between shilling and reality?

Blockchain is a disruptive technology with huge potential. People generally have a hard time estimating the potential of disruptive technologies. It is usually obvious that a particular technology can change the world, perhaps like artificial intelligence or the internet a few decades ago. What cannot be predicted in the context of blockchain is when disruption will occur (which may be gradual and perhaps subtle), how the technology will be used, and how it will change individual industries.

We believe this is the explanation for many misunderstandings between the crypto community and people from the outside world, but also for tribalism and hostility between crypto communities.

Let's try to bring another claim into our debate.

Cardano will be a global social and financial operating system.

For people in the outside world, this may be perceived in a similar way to the Bitcoin claim. That is, as nonsense and something that will never happen. The Bitcoin community (or any other) may also see this claim as a shilling. Similarly, members of the Cardano community (or any other) may consider the claim that Bitcoin is a new form of money to be shilling.

This behavior is again very easy to explain. Even in the cryptocurrency communities, there is no unified opinion on the potential of blockchain technology.

The Bitcoin community may think that the blockchain is only suitable for digital gold, so Bitcoin is the only meaningful project. The Cardano community may think that stablecoins, DeFi, tokenization, decentralized identity (DID), and other things make more sense.

Which community is right? It's impossible to judge objectively. All communities of relevant projects have their visions, arguments, beliefs, and plans for the future. Freedom lies in the right to one's own opinion and choice. Accusations of shilling can be seen as denying the right to one's own opinion and choice.

The community may try to lure newcomers to its side, as it may believe that victory will be measured by the number of users and market capitalization. To some extent, this is true. Behind tribalism is a struggle for users and capital.

Crossing the border and shilling in the crypto world

From a certain level, shilling can be considered unethical, dishonest, and damaging to the reputation of the industry. Everyone may have the threshold from which they consider the claim to be shilling set a little differently. This is everyone's subjective perception. The regulators will have their own view on this and can enforce it. We can expect regulators to focus more on the cryptocurrency industry and define rules.

For me personally, the imaginary line is explicitly inviting people to buy cryptocurrencies. I don't like it when someone advises people to go into debt to buy crypto or even sell real estate to buy crypto (or take out a mortgage).

saylor

Allow me one unpopular opinion. While I know that money is not a good tool for long-term savings due to high inflation, I don't think it's fair to advise people to dump USD and buy crypto. There are many investment opportunities including physical gold. People need to use a stable medium of exchange and unit of account. Cryptocurrencies are too volatile to be a good medium of exchange at the moment. I consider it a shill to say it is time to get rid of the USD or other stable fiat currency.

Over 95% of crypto holders don't even use their own wallets and hold crypto on centralized exchanges. Almost all view cryptocurrencies as an investment and continue to use fiat currencies. While I'm aware that adoption has to start somewhere for it to continue, so far only a few cryptocurrency fans routinely use crypto for payments. This is why I think blockchain technology has more potential than cryptocurrencies themselves (although coins and the public blockchain cannot be separated). Coins will definitely have an important role in the future, but not without the utility that blockchain offers.

Opinions on what is or is not shilling are subjective. I've been around the cryptocurrency industry for many years, so I'm very open to many opinions and mostly don't consider them shilling. Unfortunately, the argument about shilling one's own bag is used in cases where someone is comparing two projects with each other or simply is not a fan of the project that the opponent in the debate is rooting for. Anyone who cheers for a competing project can be labeled a shill, no matter what they say. This is, at least in my opinion, wrong, as there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting legitimate blockchain projects (which is legitimate, though?).

Debates in the blockchain industry are very often biased and misleading. Evidence-based objectivity is lacking. This is the reality we have to fight. I could list dozens of statements that I disagree with, or partially disagree with. I can give examples.

  • Proof-of-Work is the best consensus in the world because it uses a physical resource.
  • DeFi is nonsense. We just need an unconditional transfer of value.
  • Bitcoin is the most decentralized network in the world.
  • PoS will never work.
  • Tokenization is nonsense. All we need is a server and a regular database.
  • Web3 is nonsense. Nobody wants to own their data and identity.
  • Everybody in the world will use BTC for payments. States and their money will not exist.
  • Bitcoin, not blockchain.

I could consider these statements as shilling, misleading, or exaggerated claims. Whoever says that I would call a shill. Yet I don't do it because I know the other side may be convinced of it, or not understand the topic sufficiently. I could argue something like this.

  • Proof-of-Stake has been proven to work for several years and is more energy efficient than Proof-of-Work.
  • DeFi will replace some of the banking services.
  • Cardano is the most decentralized network in the top 10.
  • All digital assets will be tokenized on the blockchain, including money.
  • People want to own their identity and have control over their data.
  • Fiat currencies are here to stay. Some people will pay with cryptocurrencies. It may be possible to pay with ADA coins.
  • Blockchain may not only transfer BTC but essentially all financial assets.

Of course, some may consider these statements as shilling, misleading, or exaggerated claims. I can be labeled a shill.

I don't think either of those statements (all statements in the article) is crossing the line and can be considered shilling. I have my own opinion on all of them and I can share that with other people. From my point of view, it's perfectly fine.

From my point of view, it is important to have a substantive debate and to compare individual projects with each other. It is important that we find the best solutions for specific problems. We even need to think about which problems we can solve through blockchain. I dare say that we are not yet clear on this either, although some may think we are.

Blockchain is still too young and the technology is improving literally every day. How can we be able to gauge the potential of this technology today?

Possession of cryptocurrencies is a form of voting

The argument about shilling your own bag is nonsense because if someone is a fan of the project and uses it, it is logical that they must own the coins. I think it's completely fair when people talk about what they put capital, time, and effort into. It is necessary to talk about new technologies and the experience people have with them.

To some extent, I consider holding cryptocurrencies to be a form of voting. If people hold cryptocurrencies they increase the market capitalization of the project. If people use blockchain and DeFi, they increase the network effect and TVL. If people talk about a project, they increase awareness. All these activities make the project more attractive to new users.

In order to use the blockchain, it is necessary to have a coin project because it is necessary to pay fees for use. Coins are a ticket to the ecosystem and a necessary condition for use (in the case of Cardano, this may not be the case after the introduction of Babel fees).

Note that adoption does not necessarily take place only through the possession of coins, but also through the use of services on the blockchain. I even think the use of blockchain is more important. We can try to make all the people in the world (I'm exaggerating now) HODLERs, but surely it's better to make them USERs.

If you use fiat currencies, you necessarily use financial services such as value transfer, payments, loans, insurance, investments, etc. Are people using money HODLERs or USERs? Obviously, they are more USERs than HODLERs.

If the blockchain industry is to participate in the disruption of the financial world or even attempt to be an alternative to fiat currencies, the number of USERs must increase. So vote through use, not just through hodl culture. Cardano mainly needs users, not hodlers. This may be what makes it different from Bitcoin.

Holding ADA, using Cardano, and talking about this project should not be considered shilling a priori. It always depends on the context. Some people are irritated by the existence of certain projects and feel the need to fight them. That's unnecessary. People should try individual projects and stick with the ones that help them achieve their goals. People have the same right to choose Cardano as they have the right to choose Bitcoin. Or they choose both for different reasons.

Conclusion

From my perspective, cryptocurrencies will only succeed if they bring more freedom to our world. That will not happen if we consider as enemies all those who vote differently from us, i.e. use a different cryptocurrency than us. If cryptocurrencies are supposed to divide people, how is that different from, say, political parties, religions, or different regimes? Let’s don't label each other as shills of our own bags if we lack arguments. Let's tolerate diversity and see competition as the best way to find the best technological solution for our future.

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