A small green alien with sparkly eyes is furious at Mark Cuban. For weeks now, Space Cowboy — a Twitter user with the handle @topshotfund, whose profile picture is currently that of a cartoon extraterrestrial — has watched an NFT-centric account backed by Cuban take “serious advantage of the less informed.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, he finally had enough and decided to publicly accuse the verified @NFT page of “promoting a shadowy cabal of scammy copy pasta NFT projects without proper disclosures.” The thread, quickly got significant pickup in the community, garnering a thousand retweets and more than two thousand likes in 24 hours. In it, he says that @NFT was charging project creators $100,000 for promotional posts that were not clearly labeled as ads, making it hard for onlookers to know what was actually vetted and newsworthy.
@NFT, which had racked up 1.7 million followers on Instagram alone, launched in the spring of 2021, but Space Cowboy only started paying attention to it this year as NFTs, in his words, “got to a tipping point with the growth.” More and more of his “normie friends” had begun to reach out about new NFT projects he had never heard of. Since he’s a collector “deeply entrenched in NFTs” he was at first surprised by his lack of awareness, he tells Rolling Stone via direct message. But then he realized that these newcomers were finding the collections by typing “NFT” into Instagram, and landing on the @NFT page. In January, Twitter had already suspended the account on its platform. Instagram banned @NFT on Thursday, Feb. 3.
“This account was disabled following repeated violations of our policies, and it won’t be reinstated,” a spokesperson for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, tells Rolling Stone. The representative did not elaborate further, but instead pointed to a part of the platforms’s policies that prohibits attempts to sell, buy, or exchange accounts, site privileges, or product features. (Reps for Twitter declined to comment for this story.)
When asked for comment over email, Cuban confirmed that he is an investor, but insisted he’s “not involved with operations” and copied two business associates, @NFT co-founders Jason Falovitch and Aaron Avruskin. Rolling Stone asked all parties to comment on claims of @NFT charging $100,000 to promote NFT projects that don’t appear to have clear long-term value, @NFT not clearly labeling these promotions as ads, people on Twitter accusing @NFT of promoting scammy NFTs, and Twitter and Instagram suspending the account for violating platform policies. Avruskin responded with a statement that did not address specifics.
Avruskin instead took the opportunity to mention the “tireless work” that goes into building “the largest community on social media for all things NFT,” adding that @NFT has partnered with “many successfully acclaimed projects in the space.” However, he admitted, they didn’t all take off as expected. “We regularly provide our community, on a daily basis, with a variety of tips to help them understand the space, with a clear focus on consumer safety, and always encouraging them to DYOR [do your own research],” he wrote. “We apologize for any misunderstandings and we will add additional layers of transparency in what we present to our community moving forward.” (Avruskin and Falovitch also co-founded Leverage Game Media in a joint venture partnership with Cuban.)
“I thought something fishy was going on immediately upon looking at their page,” Space Cowboy tells Rolling Stone. When Space Cowboy direct-messaged Falovitch asking for information on @NFT’s operations, he says Falovitch referred him to a team member that runs promotions for the account. In what appears to be a Telegram exchange between Space Cowboy and the team member, Space Cowboy asks “what the rates are for posts and stories.” In response, the unnamed person says that the “rates range, and typically begin at $100k for a full feature campaign that includes a post published to the main feed in prime time, a swipe up story linked to the NFT drop, headline coverage in our newsletter, and a blast to our @NFT Discord.” This person then goes on to say that projects must pass an “internal review”: They said, “We take the financial safety of our community very seriously.”
Space Cowboy still decided to do some number crunching on his own. In an analysis of 36 promotions, which he shared in his Twitter thread, he found 25 that either failed to increase in value as suggested or dropped below the initial minting cost. Multiple others, he says, were “blatant rugs.” (A “rugpull” is what happens when someone scams people into paying for NFTs and then runs off with the money.) “My method for researching each paid promo was to go to the post and then it would link the project’s Instagram account and from there I could find all the information I needed via links to their website, discords, and/or OpenSea accounts,” Space Cowboy explains, adding he classified projects with either inactive Instagram accounts and/or “completely deserted” Discord servers as the rugs.
Space Cowboy believes that @NFT was knowingly promoting projects that don’t have clear longterm value. “They’re clearly in it for the quick $$ and did not always have their eye out for the community,” he says. While most of the Twitter users who interacted with his sharp-tongued thread just expressed gratitude for its cautionary existence and worried about the negative effect on mass adoption, multiple said they’ve been wary of @NFT for months: “Finally someone said it!” wrote one. And some were just angry: “These @nft guys are bloodsucking hypemen pumping all the worst projects,” wrote another. “So glad to see them get called out.”
Rolling Stone talked to multiple people who say they’ve seen @NFT promote rugpull scams — the posts of which were either deleted or are no longer accessible due to the account suspensions. Web3 expert and public speaker Eric “Motivate” Spivak hosted a Twitter Space about the situation on Thursday, Feb. 3. More than 9,500 people attended the discussion that went on for five and a half hours. The point, he says, was to let people take turns discussing the ways in which they were allegedly wronged by @NFT. Spivak says he’s spoken with many people who feel they were either hurt, scammed, or misled by @NFT. “@NFT has been a repeat offender in reinforcing the negative stigmas attached to the Web3 world with shady business practices,” Spivak tells Rolling Stone. “It’s predatory behavior has knowingly sent tens of thousands of individuals into financial loss, while they profit on the backs of that lack of knowledge, experience and guidance in the crypto space.”
He says it’s “truly heartbreaking” for someone “working so hard to help reshape the narrative, break the stigmas and redefine the way people view and operate in this futuristic landscape,” adding that the he’s no longer surprise by the emergence of bad actors. The crypto community is “so desensitized to it at this point,” he says. “Platforms like @NFT and so-called ‘influencers’ in the space have a real social responsibility to uphold to newcomers, and they’ve just proven time and time again that they just aren’t the best fit for the job. So where do we go from here? What is the solution to get the kids out of adult positions and the train back on track? Ask me a year from now and I’ll have your answer.”