Reese Witherspoon wants you to be prepared for the future—and that future is apparently a world in which all of us invest in easily stolen pictures of apes.
On Tuesday, the actress and book club curator began trending on Twitter with a strange message from the proverbial mountaintop: “In the (near) future, every person will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?”
Honestly? No, I was not!
Witherspoon is the latest A-lister to talk up our virtual future. Over the past year, several celebs have promoted various digital currencies and NFTs. Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather are already embroiled in a lawsuit that alleges they promoted EthereumMax on their social platforms so that they could leave their followers holding the bag after they sold off their newly inflated assets. Paris Hilton is evangelizing NFTs on her website. (For those wondering why Paris got into NFTs: “I’m an Aquarius, so I’m a naturally creative person.”)
And Justin Bieber has already given his first live performance in the metaverse. (Baby, baby, no!)
While some celebs appear to just be having fun investing their oversized fortunes in various digital tokens, others seem to be using their platforms to boost their own investments or collect a fat paycheck. At this point, it appears NFTs are the new laxative “fit” teas. And while the diarrhea in this case will (hopefully) be purely financial, the novice investors following in stars’ footsteps could easily find themselves in a huge mess.
Digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are highly volatile investments. And while a decentralized, speculative market might sound appealing to some, such ideals tend to collapse whenever, say, someone realizes that their $2.3 million investment in some pictures of apes has been stolen. (NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital art—like an animated ape. And if you’re wondering why anyone would pay millions for the “original” of an asset one could easily copy and save to one’s desktop with just one click... well, that’s where your guess becomes as good as mine.)
The explosion of NFTs has also created a new problem for artists whose work is now being stolen and sold off without their permission or participation. And all of these assets and their voracious energy consumption also happen to be accelerating our planet’s steady march toward burning to a crisp.
But start doing crunches and cover everything with chrome because the future is now, baby! If you need proof, just look at the wide variety of celebrities who’ve already begun shilling for crypto.
It’s not just Elon Musk. Or Matt Damon, whose embarrassing, Epcot-esque “fortune favors the brave” commercial for crypto.com got lambasted as “cheugy” by none other than the arbiter of cool, Bloomberg.
“I’d love to request that to get paid in some crypto and, you know, to get paid in some Bitcoin or Ethereum or Solana tokens,” Brady said in a September interview. “I think it’s an amazing thing that’s happening in the world with the way the world is becoming more digital.” He added that he can “definitely see a world where players are going to be paid in cryptocurrency in the future.”
Snoop Dogg owns $17 million worth of NFT collectibles and even dropped his own digital collection, called “A Journey with the Dogg”—which marries “Snoop Dogg’s memories from his early years with art inspired by the NFT movement.” (According to the collection’s description, some of the proceeds went toward supporting the rapper’s Youth Football League, as well as “emerging artists in the crypto space.”)
YouTuber and public menace Jake Paul is also, unsurprisingly, all over crypto. Beyond purportedly raking in a fortune with his own investments, he’s even flirted with creating a digital currency of his own. (Just what the world needs—another extension of the Jake Paul brand.) “[Crypto is] the future,” Paul told Forbes last year. “I’m speaking with my friends constantly about it. We’re just scratching the surface.” Great.
And not to keep coming back to those apes, but you know who else owns a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT? Jimmy Fallon, who appears to have shelled out $220,000 for a primate in heart-shaped glasses. Fallon revealed his investment on The Tonight Show, during an interview with the digital artist Beeple about his $29 million sale of a sculpture and its accompanying NFT.
But some celebrities’ crypto promotion has already alarmed experts—and the SEC. Paris Hilton’s pivot to NFTs comes after the SEC issued a warning to influencers in 2017. A-listers like her and Jamie Foxx had begun talking up initial coin offerings (ICOs) without the usual disclosures required for securities promotion—an issue that only seems poised to grow as more celebrities hop on the bandwagon.
In 2018, DJ Khaled and Floyd Mayweather Jr. settled with the SEC after promoting investments in ICOs without disclosing they’d been paid to do so. “With no disclosure about the payments, Mayweather and Khaled’s ICO promotions may have appeared to be unbiased, rather than paid endorsements,” SEC Enforcement Division co-director Stephanie Avakian told CNN at the time.
Avakian’s SEC colleague Steven Peikin added a word of warning for would-be investors: “Social media influencers are often paid promoters, not investment professionals, and the securities they’re touting, regardless of whether they are issued using traditional certificates or on the blockchain, could be frauds.”
The speculative nature of crypto, a space in which some get rich at others’ expense (1,000 Bitcoin “whales” control 40 percent of the Bitcoin market, after all), makes comparisons to Wall Street feel natural—an ironic reality, given the role Wall Street corruption played in crypto’s rise. As Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown told Roll Call last year, “People have been burned over and over again by Wall Street and the big banks, so they’re turning to cryptocurrencies—dreaming of riding the coattails of professional investors and celebrities who make earning millions look easy.”
Consider, for instance, the class action lawsuit filed this month against Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather (yep, again) that alleges the two promoted EthereumMax in a “pump-and-dump” scheme that cleaned out investors. (CNBC reports that the currency, which has no relation to Ethereum, has lost 97 percent of its value since early June.) Or the time Soulja Boy appeared to reveal in his own tweet hawking a token called SaferMars that he stood to make $24,000 if his promotion boosted the currency.
Whatever Soulja Boy might tell ’em, the SEC’s warning from 2017 still feels prescient: “Celebrities who endorse an investment often do not have sufficient expertise to ensure that the investment is appropriate and in compliance with federal securities laws. Investment decisions should not be based solely on an endorsement by a promoter or other individual.”