Molly White has been making stands on principle since her early teens. Now her scrutiny of crypto is earning her national acclaim.
The Washington Post recently profiled White as “the cryptocurrency world’s biggest critic.” Via her website, Web3 is Going Just Great, White investigates and exposes scams and other questionable practices in the opaque and largely unregulated industry.
“Molly White is a gem of Northeastern University,” a Northeastern student posted on Reddit, a social media aggregation website, in response to the Post story.
“It feels important to me to make information available to people, especially when other groups are trying to present a very different and I think unrealistic story,” says White, a 2016 Northeastern graduate in computer science. “Especially with crypto, I see a lot of real people being hurt by it—people who don’t have the money that they can lose who were sold the dream of financial freedom, or a ticket out of having to work two jobs, and then getting put in even more desperate situations.”
Cryptocurrencies, which can be circulated digitally without government oversight, are vulnerable to volatile price swings as well as unreliable (and sometimes predatory) traders. White devotes her site to web3—the blockchain foundation for cryptocurrencies—in recognition that everyday people are being exploited by outlandish investment schemes.
“It feels like, as someone who is able and willing to do the research, that I have an obligation to do it,” she says.
Born and raised in Maine, White was drawn to Northeastern by the promise of co-ops. She participated in two of them at HubSpot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, leading to six years of full-time employment as a software engineer before she left the company last month.
She began developing an online presence in her early teens as an editor and writer at Wikipedia—first about music, and later in praise of women scientists.
“I discovered that anyone could edit Wikipedia when I was 13,” White says. “I have this sort of weird brain: I really enjoy documenting and archiving and collecting information. And I also have always been very passionate about free and open knowledge and access to information. I became a pretty active editor in high school and then continued to do it through college and afterwards.”
After the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, White’s focus shifted to the alt-right, which exposed her to online vitriol and prepared her for the blowback that she has endured more recently from the crypto industry. She says she experienced online harassment as a result.
“It’s unpleasant sometimes,” she says. “There’s also a gender aspect—even before I started to edit in those topic areas—of being a visible woman on the internet with opinions that tended to draw a fair amount of attacks. So I wish it was different.”
She has found that those attacks have strengthened her resolve.
“I’m a very stubborn person by nature,” she says. “Being harassed online, or targeted in some ways, tends to make me angry that it’s happening, but also more determined to stick with it. I do what I can to minimize it and to protect myself and my family, but it feels important to continue doing what I’m doing—even more so when there are people who try to stop it.”
Her resilience is a family trait of which she is proud.
“It was not a surprise to my family to have another stubborn daughter,” White says, laughing.
White sees her efforts as part of a larger movement.
“How can we move the web in a better direction?” she asks. “I think a lot of people look at me and think she’s a crypto critic, she wants to stop crypto, she wants to tamp [innovation] down.”
But White says she shares a lot of the same goals as some of the people who are working in the web3 space—freedoms that include access to information and online communities around shared goals.
“I worry that crypto and web3 are moving us in the opposite direction—of limiting access to information and to communities, and financializing a lot of the interactions that we have online,” she says. “My goal is to open the web and make it a better place. That’s really the drive more than the hope to stop crypto.”
Soon, she says, she will renew her less-famous career as a software engineer because “writing software is my favorite thing.”
But she’ll continue to watch over the crypto industry on behalf of those who are being exploited by it.
“I just try to keep doing what I feel is impactful and helpful,” White says. “I imagine that will continue to be the goal, regardless of what shape it takes at any given point.”