Meet Molly White, the Mass. software engineer who takes care of the crypto industry

Bitcoin’s price surged to an all-time high near $70,000 in November. Ads for crypto companies were shown during the Super Bowl. Celebrities have changed their Twitter profile pictures to non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Some of White’s friends started leaving their traditional tech jobs to work for crypto firms.

So White, a longtime part-time Wikipedia editor, began researching the technology. But the more she learned, the more She realized that crypto was being marketed as something everyone should get into, despite a history of scams, scams, and predatory marketing.

“[I was] seeing people getting screwed over and over again,” White said. “There was no permanent record of what actually happened and how badly many of these projects ended.”

Her first instinct was to write Wikipedia articles about crypto and the related field web3.But she quickly realized that Wikipedia would not be the best place for her work – among other things, it would have required her to adopt a neutral stance.

“I have pretty strong opinions,” she said.

Late last year, White created a website called “Web3 Is Going Just Great” while working full-time at HubSpot. (The name is as sarcastic as it sounds, with the longer version ending with “…and definitely isn’t an enormous handle pouring lighter fluid onto our already smoldering planet.”) On the site, you chronicles sometimes multiple times a day – bad things happen in crypto.

“There’s a narrative that has become so loud and pervasive that everyone should be a part of it,” she said. “It feels like I have an obligation to talk about it.”

And others listen.

She is quoted regularly by national news outlets, has been a visiting professor at Stanford University and has advised US senators, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, on blockchain and cryptocurrency.

As White has learned over the past year, criticized Crypto is not easy. In a space known for unwavering optimism and “bro culture,” she’s the outspoken adversary who points out her problems.

White has been the victim of online harassment, doxxing (when private information about someone is revealed), and threats of violence. As a result, she doesn’t reveal much identifying information about her family or where she lives.

White, who grew up in Maine, began editing Wikipedia around the age of 13. “My family knew I was doing it, and to a degree my friends knew,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh, that’s one of Molly’s weird hobbies.'”

Even though she started writing through her favorite bands, White now focuses on controversial viewpoints and male-dominated spaces, including right-wing extremism and “involuntary celibacy” or incels. she has also served on the site Arbitration Committee that governs his toughest arguments.

Andrew Lih, a Wikipedia veteran who has known White since she was a teenager, said most editors are focused on topics in which they have a personal interest. White, he said, tackle Things that “she absolutely doesn’t like.”

“She wants to make sure the record has the best information,” he said.

Lih credits White’s rise to her ability to present information in an easily digestible manner. On her crypto website, she writes succinctly and to the point, using hashtags like #yikes, #badidea, and #hmm. Nor is she condescending or alarming.

Contrary to some critics, White does not consider all cryptos to be scams. Rather, she believes there has been an explosion of “truly fraudulent projects” that downplay the risks. She worries that crypto will be seen as a “ticket to financial freedom” for people who have no money to lose.

According to data released by the Federal Trade Commission, more than 46,000 people have reported losing over $1 billion in crypto to fraud since the beginning of 2021.

In the long term, White believes Crypto will likely exist as a niche speculative vehicle for risk takers.

Most people would agree that regulators need to address crypto fraud for the industry to be viable. More controversial is White’s skeptical view of blockchain, the underlying technology of crypto, which has been hyped in recent years as a potential panacea for problems related to internet security, privacy and financial systems.

Blockchains are public, electronic databases distributed across a network of computers. It should be the technology immutable (i.e. records cannot be changed) and decentralized (meaning data is stored across the network and not held by a central party.)

Proponents believe blockchain technology could eventually transform everything from financial systems to social media, creating a digital world where individuals have more control over their own Data. Many people refer to this blockchain-based vision as “web3”.

There have been a variety of venture capitalists, startups, and politicians touting its potential, including a growing cluster in Boston. Late last month, hundreds of people attended a day-long summit on web3 on the top floor of MIT’s Media Lab hosted by venture capitalist John Werner. It attracted industry heavyweights, including cryptographer Stuart Haber, who co-invented the blockchain.

But White doesn’t believe blockchain is a revolutionary technology. Last month, she and a group of about two dozen computer scientists, researchers, and academics signed a letter to US lawmakers to express their concern about the field. Among the signatories were well-known personalities from the technology industry like Harvard lecturer and cryptographer Bruce Schneier, a Boston-based entrepreneur Miguel de Icaza and software engineer Grady Booch.

“Blockchain technology, by design, is ill-suited for almost any purpose currently touted as a current or potential source of public benefit,” they wrote, calling it a “solution in search of a problem.”

White’s critics say the technology is in its early stages and will improve. But she disagrees and notes that the two most popular cryptocurrencies have been around for more than a decade. She also thinks that blockchain is inherent in nature Errors – like the inability to edit or delete data – that make it difficult to use and potentially even harmful.

Greg Raiz, CEO of Techstars Boston – which ones has just launched a crypto acceleration program with Boston-based blockchain firm Algorand – contradicting White’s claim that crypto is past its beginnings. In fact, he said it feels like “we’re still in the first inning of this game.”

While he doesn’t believe blockchain will be the “solution for everything,” he doesn’t write off its potential for solving social, financial, and business problems. He added that criticism of web3 is “super healthy”.

“Any kind of unbalanced exuberance about a technology isn’t great,” Raiz said.

White quit her job at HubSpot in May and is recovering from her self-described burnout before deciding what to do next. Her website, she said, did not contribute to the decision to leave her. (“I do this for fun,” she said.) She has used the break to spend more time with her family, play with her pandemic puppy, and work on her second year of vegetable and herb gardening.

She has no plans to devote more time to her crypto website but is keen on maintaining it.

“The more informed people are,” she said, “the better off they are.”


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.

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