“The future of social media just got a lifeline.”
These were the words spoken by Ali Alexander, the far-right organizer behind the so-called Stop the Steal movement, during a recent interview on ”The Reality Operating System” YouTube show. Dressed in his signature plain orange sweater and seated against a beige backdrop that gave no hints as to his whereabouts, Alexander spoke about BitClout, a decentralized social media platform developed on blockchain technology that allows users to buy and sell tokens based on people’s reputations or “clout.” Creators and celebrities can monetize their internet presence by allowing their fans to invest in their “creator coins,” while general users can speculate and invest in people and posts to drive up their value as they would on the stock market.
In a nutshell, BitClout is a combination of Twitter, Patreon, and Robinhood—a one-stop shop that provides a social media platform and crypto-exchange for influencers and content creators.
Alexander’s fascination with BitClout is unsurprising. The application serves as an alternative to mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, both of which have banned his accounts after the events of Jan. 6. And while sites such as Parler and Gab have fashioned themselves as censorship-free alternatives to Twitter, BitClout stands out because of its decentralized nature. According to BitClout’s official website, the application has “no company behind it—just coins and code.”
“It is the most exciting thing I have seen on the internet—ever,” Alexander, who refers to himself as “The BitClout Oracle,” explained during the interview. “This is going places.”
While BitClout has excited users clamoring for a censorship-resistant social media platform, the application has already courted plenty of controversy since its launch in March 2021. The start-up has been criticized for prepopulating its network with some 15,000 accounts created around popular Twitter profiles without their account-holder’s permission, allowing users to invest in coins for people like Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian, YouTube sensation Mr. Beast, and Ariana Grande.
BitClout’s commodification of individuals is eerily dystopian. It also raises questions about the future of decentralized social media and the people who profit off it.
A Decentralized, Dystopian Social Space
When a Twitter user informed William Shatner, the renowned Canadian actor best known icon for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” series, that he had an account on BitClout, the actor was not impressed.
“It’s a scam and I’ve not authorized my name or likeness to be used,” Shatner wrote on Twitter in March. “So if you see my name or photo there it’s not been authorized.”
Shatner, whose coin price is currently valued at $553 despite never signing up for an account, is not the only public figure to complain about BitClout’s controversial tactics. Other celebrities have complained about having their likeness monetized without their permission, while prominent crypto law firm Anderson Kill P.C. sent a cease-and-desist letter to the BitClout’s alleged founder on behalf of their client Brandon Curtis, the chief research officer at decentralized cryptocurrency exchange Radar Relay, for using his private information without his consent.
“Adopting Bitcoin’s aesthetic to raise VC funding to carry out unethical and blatantly illegal schemes like BitClout: not cool,” Curtis tweeted.
Curtis and Shatner were among the 15,000 profiles (the figure is taken from the project’s whitepaper) that BitClout uploaded to its system ahead of the official launch in March 2021. Users who sign up for the site are then able to purchase BitClout’s native cryptocurrency, BTCLT, which can then be used to invest in tokenized accounts belonging to celebrities and creators, thereby increasing their commercial value. Beyond the ethical implications, BitClout has also been criticized for having no internal mechanism to withdraw funds from the site. While users use Bitcoin to purchase BTCLT to use on BitClout, the platform does not offer users a mechanism to trade that BTCLT back to Bitcoin, meaning there is no official way to cash out—a red flag for experienced crypto users. (At present, the only way to exchange BTCLT is to use Peer-to-Peer transfers, or a new website called BitSwap, which allows you to exchange the coins for Ethereum at 60% of its official listed price on bitclout.com).
Diamondhands, BitClout’s anonymous founder who is believed to be crypto entrepreneur and Princeton alumni Nader Al-Naji, dismissed critics who called BitClout a scam, stating that such fears were misplaced but failing to offer a clear answer to justify the platform’s tactics. It is worth noting that Al-Naji’s previous venture, Basis—a cryptocurrency designed to serve anyone around the world with unreliable central banks—was forced to shutter after failing to meet regulatory requirements.
Despite the controversy surrounding BitClout, the platform is rumored to have attracted some major venture capitalist firms, including Sequoia, Social Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and Reddit co-founder Alex Ohanian. By March 2021, the social media network had accumulated more than 3,200 Bitcoins (worth approximately $176.364 million at the time of writing) from its big-name investors.
Outside of marquee investors, BitClout has also attracted celebrities such as YouTube sensation Jake Paul (whose coin is currently valued at $15,764) and former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson, who quit social media in January 2021 before joining BitClout in March, adding that it is “important to be free.” Since then, she has become an active participant in the site and regularly engages with her investors by auctioning off signed copies of her final Playboy cover to the top three accounts that hold her coin. Anderson has since accumulated 2,596 followers while her coin is currently valued at $6,428.66.
For many prospective celebrities and content creators, BitClout is an application that allows users to monetize their social media presence in a way that is not possible on mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter. Others are attracted to the platform’s potential, especially since anyone can build applications onto BitClout once the platform releases its open source code. This could lead to increased innovation and user input within the social network, thus allowing the application to evolve according to user demand rather than relying on a centralized organization. “Thus, in some sense, BitClout is decentralizing social media in much the same way as Bitcoin is decentralizing the financial system,” read BitClout’s whitepaper.
Once BitClout is fully decentralized, it will become independent of its developers, making it next to impossible to litigate against or shut down.
Ali Alexander’s Crypto Grift
Since discovering BitClout, Ali Alexander claims he has not slept more than four hours a night. No longer prioritizing politics, the Texas native now spends upwards of 12 hours a day on Clubhouse, the exclusive audio-chat iPhone app that is accessible only by invitation, where he promotes BitClout to anyone who will listen.
“I have never been so well-behaved as I have been on Clubhouse talking about BitClout,” Alexander told the hosts of ”The Reality Operating System.”
While Alexander’s Clubhouse chats attract people from across the political spectrum, he is best known as the organizer behind the so-called Stop the Steal movement, which promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Alexander pushed unfounded election fraud conspiracy theories and embraced adherents of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory as well as the neo-fascist Proud Boys hate group during his rallies.
Among those rallies were several in Washington, D.C., organized by Alexander in the ramp-up to the Jan. 6 Capito insurrection, including one held a short distance away from the White House the day before the insurrection, at which he led those gathered in a chant of “Victory or death!”
In the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection, Alexander went into hiding while the FBI and Justice Department began investigating his connection to the Jan. 6 rioters. He was also banned from major social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which forced him to turn to alternatives such as Telegram, Clubhouse, and now BitClout. Though Alexander primarily discusses cryptocurrency on Clubhouse, he has participated in chats with other notable far-right figures, including dirty trickster Jacob Wohl. He argued during a chat on March 7 that a dictatorship was preferable to a democracy and that white nationalists were mostly “peaceful.” However, the vast majority of his interactions monitored by Right Wing Watch on these alternative platforms since Jan. 6 have been specific to cryptocurrency, and more recently, BitClout.
“It is slower than politics, but the same amount of adrenaline is pumping through your veins,” Alexander explained during his ”The Reality Operating System” appearance. “It is just so fascinating.”
Alexander’s interest in cryptocurrency makes sense given his limited avenues to raise funds in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection. The far-right activist has been booted from major payment apps and processors, including PayPal, Venmo, and Patreon. He was previously using GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding site used to raise money for the Proud Boys among others, before his page was deactivated because the site’s payment processor wouldn’t support Alexander. Cryptocurrency remains one of the few potential avenues for raising funds, which Alexander confirmed during the chatroom when he reportedly told listeners that he was able to make “passive income” from “small donations.”
After discovering BitClout, Alexander was able to expand his income opportunities. Not only was he able to monetize his own brand by promoting his creator coin, he then founded BitClout Analysis, a subscription-based analytics website dedicated to disseminating BitClout data for users. While the official website is still under development, several posts can be accessed by members who hold at least 0.5 of the BitClout Analysis coin (one coin is valued at $1,295.47 at the time of writing).
Alexander also funded a second BitClout project called CloutMembers, which allows creators to publish “exclusive content for their top coin holders.” The aim is for creators to monetize their content while incentivizing BitClout users to invest in their coin. The website is also subscription-based, though the pricing will not be released until the platform is fully functional. Alexander also holds exclusive conference calls where he discusses “high-level topics” with CloutMembers subscribers who hold at least one-seventh of one of his creator coins (currently valued at $3,429.17).
“Can’t wait for this conference call with @alialexander and his coin holders tomorrow. So happy I own his coin #CloutMembers #BitCloutOracle,” one BitClout user wrote on the platform on April 18.
With more than 3,000 followers on BitClout, Alexander is one of the most followed users on the website. Despite amassing an impressive following in a matter of months, Alexander has not used his newfound platform to spread the far-right politics for which he is best known. Instead, he acts as an ombudsman for the BitClout community while occasionally sprinkling in Hallmark-esque inspirational quotes.
While Alexander has seen fit to tailor his BitClout persona, his politics are on display in his Telegram channel. On April 13, he forwarded a message (Telegram’s equivalent to retweeting) from Jacob Wohl which read: “We’ve still never been told the name of the black Capitol Police Officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt,” as well as another from white supremacist Nick Fuentes which called on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to “strengthen the Florida tech censorship bill with the amendments proposed by the America First Coalition,” a reference to a far-right group founded by Fuentes He also expressed his distaste for former Vice President Mike Pence, and voiced support for fellow far-right organizer Roger Stone after reports emerged that the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit alleging that Stone owes more than $2 million in unpaid taxes. “The government is always trying to kill Roger Stone,” Alexander told his 21,000 Telegram subscribers on April 17. “I rebuke their efforts in the name of Jesus Christ and summon His Angels.”
Though Alexander still uses his Telegram sporadically, his primary focus over the past couple of months has been BitClout, where he has created several potential revenue streams while monetizing his brand. BitClout, and its promise of a decentralized social media space, is Alexander’s latest, if not desperate, attempt to prosper in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I just think I’m done,” Alexander told ”The Reality Operating System.” “The next level of worse for me is assassination or jail time. It can’t actually get worse for me … then you transcend, and now I’m on BitClout.”