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In Depth

Is John McAfee a Crypto Genius?

John McAfee is certainly no idiot when it comes to generating publicity for himself and what he does. Way back in the 1980s and 90s when he ran the anti-virus software company that bore his name, he was the first person to appear on television news whenever the merest hint of a major new virus or worm arose. Now, he seems to be playing a similar game when it comes to cryptocurrencies. McAfee has had a somewhat blemished record in recent years, even being accused of serious crimes in his adoptive home nation of Belize at one point. Now that he’s turning his attention to the world of cryptocurrencies, the time has come to ask the question: John McAfee, crypto genius or snake oil salesman?

The ICO bandwagon

Initial coin offerings have become a key part of the cryptocurrency news cycle. An ICO occurs when a new cryptocurrency startup offers its coins to the market for the first time. McAfee has recently branded several ICOs as dead certs and great investments, only for them to fall flat or even crash when the ICO actually takes place. Controversy increased further when McAfee revealed that many of his tweets about ICOs are not the result of his own investment insight, but rather are made in return for payments that can be over $100,000.

This has raised serious questions about McAfee’s independence and whether the advice that he gives both on his social media feeds and in regular media appearances are actually worth anything. This is part of a fairly common pattern for McAfee, who is an expert at finding opportunity, even in markets that others believe are struggling. However, there is the possibility that as with his ubiquitous antivirus software back in the 1990s, he may seriously overplay his hand.

The counterargument

Despite the revelation that not all of McAfee’s tweets on cryptocurrency matters are the result of his own work, there is little doubt that McAfee has a good grasp on the cryptocurrency market and the overall possibilities. He has quickly managed to build a strong reputation among many cryptocurrency enthusiasts thanks to the enthusiasm he shares with them for independent cryptocurrency trading platforms. This means that he has been suspicious of recent moves in the cryptocurrency markets, which have seen many new coins jumping into bed with banks and other financial institutions in order to secure and consolidate their positions in the market following recent significant falls in cryptocurrency values.

As one would expect given his background and the generally libertarian viewpoints that he has expressed over many years, McAfee prefers the distributed model with no obvious ultimate owners that many of the initial cryptocurrencies followed. Thanks to the significant media profile that he has built up over several decades, McAfee has quickly been able to become one of the highest profile advocates of this approach. His regular appearances on mainstream financial news networks such as CNBC, make it obvious that he has successfully built a profile that few others can compete with.

Has McAfee gone too far?

The revelation about McAfee accepting sponsored tweets without fully disclosing that he is doing so risks alienating many of the people that have supported John McAfee’s foray into cryptocurrencies. As with antivirus and a number of other matters in the past 40 years, McAfee may have become too greedy and in awe of the persona that he has built for himself. It is of course, entirely possible that other cryptocurrency enthusiasts won’t care about the business side of McAfee’s approach and will decide that having a high profile advocate of cryptocurrencies with strong media contacts is more important. What is certain however is that McAfee has taken a risk and despite eventually being fairly open about what’s going on, many could come to resent him for the approach that he has taken.

John McAfee’s media profile means that this story is unlikely to go away soon. It’s well worth keeping an eye on his own social media profiles and the number of mainstream media appearances that he puts in over the coming months to get an idea of where this story is heading.