Wrath of the crypto bros: Buzzfeed attacked for revealing identity of Bored Ape NFT creators

In the escapist fantasy of the metaverse, digital avatars offer users the chance to be anyone or anything…bored apes included.

A core part of the libertarian allure is the greater sense of control over one’s privacy that digital avatars provide. Fake names and images shield people’s identity, including from the authorities that exert daily influence over the analog world of the flesh.

So when Buzzfeed tech journalist Katie Notopoulos fished through public records to uncover the names of two men behind the wildly successful Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection, crypto bros reached for their pitchforks eager to protect their own.

“What Buzzfeed did today to the BAYC founders was not only unprofessional—it was downright dangerous,” tweeted Adam Hollander, founder of Microsoft’s Incent Games, without specifying exactly why. 

The Hungry Wolves NFT creator—himself a BAYC member—argued the U.S. site now had a moral duty to pay for a personal security detail to protect Greg Solano and Wylie Aronow, previously known only as “Gargamel” and “Gordon Goner,” respectively. 

News of their identities comes at a sensitive time when the Bored Ape founders—represented by Madonna’s former PR manager Guy Oseary—and the parent company Yuga Labs—managed by Nicole Muniz—are reportedly planning to cash in on its fame.

Numerous business deals have been known to unravel under the bright light of media publicity cast at an inopportune time, so the exposé could potentially throw a spanner in exploratory talks to sell a multimillion-dollar stake to venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Notopoulos herself came under attack, posting to Twitter an exchange with one “degen” (crypto slang for degenerate gambler) who threatened to publish personal information about the reporter and her family. 

“The backlash isn’t surprising, but it betrays deep ignorance about the function of journalism and an entitled belief that crypto must be covered on its own terms,” wrote Jeff Bercovici, deputy business editor at the Los Angeles Times

Part of the controversy around crypto-asset vendors is that the use of fictitious identities throws the door open to criminal elements. Grifters can more easily exploit people’s fear of missing out on lucrative fads and get-rich-quick schemes, while money launderers use decentralized finance (DeFi) to conceal the origins of illicit gains from tax authorities.

Other NFT minters, such as CryptoPunks creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson, do not rely on pseudonyms, for example, nor does Hollander. Buzzfeed’s decision to reveal the names of Solano and Aronow consequently raises a broader issue of privacy rights in the metaverse, also known as Web3.

The question is whether hiding behind an avatar should remain the exclusive personal choice for those playing an outsize role in this rapidly expanding ecosystem—one in which they themselves serve as gatekeepers.

Entry into the Bored Ape Yacht Club community, for example, requires purchasing one of the exclusive NFTs, currently estimated to start at over $200,000 each and running into the millions for those of greater rarity.

Minted last spring, the collection of 10,000 digital apes patterned on a template designed by Asian American artist Seneca reportedly sold out within a day. An added differentiator and part of the appeal of the Bored Ape collection is its greater utility: Unlike with most other NFTs, the purchase confers holders full rights to commercialize the image.

Hyped by celebrities ranging from Paris Hilton to Snoop Dogg, the Bored Ape collection and its four creators were featured by Rolling Stone in November, complete with the magazine’s first-ever Digital Cover NFT.

German sportswear brand Adidas even hopped onto the bandwagon with plans to enter the metaverse via its Indigo Herz BAYC token, with Solano and Aronow praising it (under their avatar names) as “granting stake to communities who participate in sport and culture.”

Although in existence for a number of years, non-fungible tokens broke through in 2021 as a whole new asset class that grants ownership over digital collectibles with the help of the blockchain, a distributed ledger technology. 

“They’re also (and sometimes primarily) an access pass to a specific community,” explained Camila Russo, author of The Infinite Machine and publisher of the DeFi news website The Defiant.  

It’s precisely this broader community of crypto degens that now feels it is under attack by increasing media scrutiny.

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