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Undercover report: Crypto media accept cash to mislead readers on ICOs

There's shills in them hills

cryptocurrency writer, media, blockchain, bitcoin, news, journalism, trust, broken

The dark net, assassination markets, money laundering. Cryptocurrency and blockchain can sound like a dodgy place sometimes, at least we can trust the news outlets that report on them though… right?

Wrong. A report from Breaker published yesterday found that nearly half of the cryptocurrency news outlets it surveyed would accept payment to publish articles about ICOs without disclosing them as sponsored content.

Posing as “Nikolay Kostarev” a fake Moscow-based PR agent, Breaker contacted 28 blockchain media sites.

The fake Russian agent began by asking for basic information about advertising opportunities and their associated costs. Follow up emails then specifically asked if the outlet would publish content about ICOs without marking the post as “sponsored.”

Twelve of the news outlets contacted said they would publish paid for content without disclosing that it is indeed paid for.

In some cases, the media outlet was even willing to publish pre-written content if it was “unique” enough.

One outlet claims to have since removed the sales executive that offered to publish the shill story from its team – citing it as a mistake that contravenes company policy.

Another outlet claimed the payment would just remove the “sponsored” tag from the article, and it would still carry a disclaimer.

Outlets were offered anywhere between $500 and $4,500 to post the shill content. For some it would seem, journalistic integrity can indeed be bought.

Accepting money to shill blockchain projects is clearly wrong on number of levels. Most importantly, it makes it hard for enthusiasts, investors, and the general public to know who to trust. Posting ads as editorial content doesn’t only erode trust in the media, but in the industry in general.

Ultimately, it also means those with more money can get more exposure. It prevents potentially honorable, hard working, startups which do everything by the book from being heard.

We know that cryptocurrency comes with its fair share of shady and unreliable hackers and scammers. But now, it seems, cryptocurrencers need to watch out for the media too.

Disclaimer: Hard Fork was not included in this study. And if we were, we would have said no, obviously.

Published October 26, 2018 — 10:37 UTC

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