The blockchain community is, by definition, a collaborative community. From bitcoin to Ethereum, blockchain networks run on user participation. Cryptocurrency hubs are full of tech-savvy philosophers who imagine a world where financial power is decentralized and algorithms fight against corporate discrimination. Blockchain technologies help battle banking discrimination against minorities and offer help to the developing world. 

However, the world of cryptocurrency is not idyllic: Blockchain is just as popular with hate groups as it is with humanitarian movements.

The neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer claimed bolstering bitcoin “hits Jews where it hurts” by weakening traditional financial systems. Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts supporter the same anti-Semitic when Bancor Foundation, a blockchain startup team led by Israelis, ran a controversial initial coin offering in June.

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Few cryptocurrency projects have inspired as much vehement backlash as the Bancor ICO, which broke records when it garnered around $153 million in ether tokens over just a few hours, straining the entire Ethereum network and contributing to network outages across the globe.  

There are plenty of reasons for Bancor’s token to stir up criticism. It’s a centralized form of blockchain currency, which on the surface represents the antithesis of distributed ledger technology. But Bancor co-founder Galia Benartzi told International Business Times this centralized control is only meant to protect users during a three-year pilot phase, to strengthen the network’s security features.

“No amount of testing will protect you from a situation like the DAO,” Benartzi referred to a $50 million hack that stole bitcoin. “The developers themselves were powerless to stop it because they had given away control in the contract.”

Regardless of the fact that Bancor plans to decentralize its tokens and has a transparent timeline for that process, much of the criticism of the company used inflammatory language. In 4chan, forum users ranted about a "bancor jew' fraud bent on holding investors’ money “hostage.” Ethereum discussions on Veeky Forums referred to Bancor’s token as "kike coin,” encouraging people to “name” and “shame” Jews disrupting cryptocurrency.

The hostility spread to YouTube comments and Twitter. “As a woman, it’s been a very trying time,” Benartzi said. “We see a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism, memes portraying our team as money-grabbing Jews. It’s really scary.”  

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One such Twitter meme showed Benartzi with a Holocaust-style yellow star on her chest, fleeing a sinking ship of investor funds with a fancy car and a distorted map of “greater Israel” in tow.

The ugly verbal attacks aren't limited to Israeli innovators. Emin Gun Sirer, associate professor of computer science at Cornell University, said the conversation on cryptocurrency platforms is often even more vicious than on broader social networks.

“The crypto community is very comfortable with anonymous identity. It’s a basic right that I support as well,” Gun Sirer told IBT. “But with that comes responsibility. ...do they [crypto hubs] provide any tools whatsoever to prevent the abuse of that anonymity? Absolutely not. The anonymity is abused all the time.”

Gun Sirer, who was born in Istanbul, declined to describe the range of online harassment he experienced for fear of “feeding the trolls.” However, he told IBT he has both personally experienced and witnessed others enduring online harassment in the blockchain community. “It’s very, very common to essentially question a man’s masculinity,” he said. “I’ve had my pictures doctored.”

Sexuality is one of the most popular topics for bitcoin community detractors. Dissenting opinions are sometimes answered with a barrage of personal attacks, he said. “If they perceive you to be at odds with their preferred outcome, they will say all sorts of things about you,” Gun Sirer said. Sometimes, the abuse goes beyond memes and insults.

Some women in the community have said they feel threatened and fearful, and some have started a cryptocurrency support group to provide an outlet to share their experiences.  

As cryptocurrency gains steam among venture capital firms and corporations, the same risk of harassment proliferates at fintech conferences. Men flocked to tweet sexist remarks at Amber Badlet, blockchain program lead at J.P. Morgan, after she gave a presentation about her work at Consensus 2017 blockchain technology summit in New York. A women’s panel at the Ethereal Summit inspired similar Twitter responses, ranging from sexual puns to “back to the kitchen” retorts. 

Bitcoin has also become a more popular tender among “alt right” activists crowdfunding for controversial projects, including the legal defense fund for Daily Stormer and campaigns to protect hate speech. When white nationalist Richard Spencer tweeted “bitcoin is the currency of the alt right,” he touched on a fundamental issue with the emerging blockchain economy.

As a decentralized space, much of this technology is developed in online communities where there are fewer mechanisms for personal accountability. Hate groups and trolls taint many platforms, and the cryptocurrency community is no exception.

These tensions could have a long-lasting impact on the future of blockchain. “We’re going to have people shy away because they don’t want to be involved with that kind of negativity,” Benartzi said. Gun Sirer agreed, saying it is up to industry leaders to set an example, while community members should denounce abuse, self-policing online spaces. “They [abusers] damage the network effect that actually brings value,” Gun Sirer said. “We as a community need to grow up.”