How to learn about crypto (without getting scammed)

While YouTube is inadvertently turning a blind eye to dodgy crypto ads, here are a few places where learning doesn’t leave you empty handed.

If you’re trying to learn about crypto, you’ve likely already stumbled across zillions of examples of a very Internet, very crypto breed of hustlers — influencers, shills, ‘news’ outlets, morally compromised celebrities, you name it, all claiming to possess the lamp of knowledge, but really just trying to relieve you of your hard earned dollars, pesos and cryptos.

But don’t fret, little one. We at Decrypt are here to guide you, lovingly, through these murky waters and help you filter out the few grains of truth from the sedimentary bedrock of questionable advertising.

First, the stuff you should be wary of:

The bad stuff

‘Training courses’

You might have seen a YouTube ad for a thing called “Genius Wealth Secrets,” a crypto trading course run by Iman Shafiei, the self-proclaimed best-selling author of “Bitcoin: Intelligent Investor” — a book that appears exactly nowhere on the Internet — and a singularly brilliant crypto mogul who has been featured on such esteemed news sites as CBS, NBC, and ABC. (Upon closer inspection, his NBC credit is nothing more than an advert on a local news channel inside NBC’s sprawling network.)

But Shafiei, like many other supposed gurus, urges would-be customers not to interpret his “exclusive” lessons on how to “how to start inveseting [sic] profitably” as “financial advice.” Neither can he promise that anything he reveals in his courses is “accurate,” despite claims in his one-hour-plus introductory video. Shafiei didn’t respond to Decrypt for comment.

According to Preston Byrne — a partner at the law firm Byrne & Storm, P.C., and co-founder and former COO of blockchain company Monax — these ad hoc statements are in no way legally binding. So you’ve been warned. 

Celebrity shills

We love John McAfee because he’s a leathery old man and even though leathery old men sometimes tattoo brand names on their backs and are paid $105,000 a pop for shilling dubious crypto companies on Twitter to their billions of impressionable followers, that’s ok because they had a good run and who the hell else is going to fund that latent bath salts habit?

Nevertheless, if you see that John McAfee is indeed using one of his leathery body parts to promote something on Twitter, probably give it a miss. Lest we forget, McAfee is the guy whose “unhackable” bitcoin wallet was hacked literally immediately upon release. We would have thrown DJ Khaled and Floyd Mayweather under the bus here, too, but they’ve already settled over securities laws violations with the SEC, so they’ll probably be putting their burgeoning ICO promotional careers on hold, for a while.

Pay-to-play

Investigations by both Reuters and Breaker unearthed the venal interests of news outlets and so-called “review” sites. Breaker, for one, found that 12 out of 22 sites that it contacted under a Russian pseudonym were willing to take kickbacks of up to $4,500 to write up glowing ICO reviews without marking them as “sponsored content.” For its part, Reuters uncovered a “pay-for-play hype machine” in which startups seek self-proclaimed “experts” to favorably rate them on trusted review sites like ICO bench. The same reportedly goes for many “impartial studies.”

Fake bull-market hype

A report by Decrypt found that “bullish” headlines from popular crypto news sites often bear zero relation to actual market movements. In one particularly embarrassing set of headlines, NewsBTC proclaimed twice in the space of two weeks, using the exact same language, that the cryptocurrency Ripple was headed for a bull-run, even as the currency’s consistently downward trend continued unabated. (October 2: ”XRP/USD bullish above 0.5520.” October 16: XRP/USD bullish above $0.4250.”)

The good stuff

Gee. You might feel as lost as Dante when he was stuck in that forest right now. However, this is where we tell you where the good stuff is. And we promise you — it’s out there.

Twitter people

First, some wonderful ladies and gents to follow on Twitter. Lawyers Stephen Palley and Preston Byrne, for a start, offer insightful, clear-headed crypto analysis from a legal perspective that’s also, somehow, often pretty funny! By lawyers’ standards.

Ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin brings occasional biting wit and unintelligible but nevertheless interesting crypto insider stuff to the table, and it’s worth also following the rest of his coterie of friends/fellow devs/sworn enemies if you’re into the gossipy internal drama of one of crypto’s most spirited communities.

Similar figures on the bitcoin side of things include Jameson Lopp, Dogecoin inventor Jackson Palmer, Tezos co-founder Kathleen Breitman, Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, Coinshares CSO Meltem Demirors, and, bizarrely enough, some guy called WhalePanda. Also try Reddit’s r/Cryptocurrency and r/Buttcoin—at your peril, though.

Blogs/Magazines

Breaker Magazine, CoinDesk, Bloomberg Crypto, The Financial Times’s Alphaville blog, Nieman Lab, and The Block (though we are loth to admit it) all write news that isn’t paid for by its subjects, a rare and wonderful thing in cryptoland. Also Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times and the occasional piece from Wired are good. 

Meanwhile for a daily hit of strong freelance investigative reporting try Bitfinex’ed and David Gerard. Bitfinex’ed, surprisingly, largely focuses on the ever-confusing unfolding intrigue at crypto exchange Bitfinex, and was one of the first to put forward the Tether-is-manipulating-the-market hypothesis. David Gerard, meanwhile, just really hates blockchain. Also Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine’s daily newsletter, called Money Stuff, often has a crypto section, and it’s wonderful. Truly.

For more encyclopaedic stuff, try Messari for smart insights and trends, Litepaper for its vast, highly readable educational resources (Litepaper, full disclosure, shares editorial staff with Decrypt. But if it’s good it’s good, right?), and Everipedia, which is crypto wiki, essentially.

Well, that’s all folks! Now, we pray, you can go merrily and learn all about peer-to-peer consensus mechanisms and zero-knowledge proofs without getting yourself defrauded.