J.K. Rowling is one of the world’s wealthiest women. Just this week, the respected Sunday Times Rich List estimated she has a net worth of $960 million.
Renowned for writing the beloved Harry Potter series in the cafes of Edinburgh, the author has 14.6 million followers on Twitter.
Late on Friday night, Rowling tweeted crypto journalist Leigh Cuen to ask: “I don’t understand Bitcoin. Please explain it to me.”
It was an opportunity for the crypto community to offer a clear, direct explanation of why Bitcoin exists, why it’s worth so much, and how it differs from dollars and dimes.
You could argue it would have been one of the best PR exercises to date—not only would Rowling learn more, but so would the millions of people reading the conversation.
Cuen responded admirably, but crypto Twitter blew it.
J.K. Rowling and the Chamber of Trolls
As to be expected from Twitter—often a hellhole when it comes to measured discussion of news events, politics, and yes, crypto—Rowling was inundated with thousands of tweets.
Many were from evangelists who were exasperated that hadn’t used her considerable wealth to buy cryptocurrency yet, with one writing: “Maybe @jk_rowling is just jealous that she didn’t buy enough #Bitcoin early enough and missed out on massive gains. Now she is trying to spread FUD to bring back the price.”
Once again, she’s worth $960 million. Nine hundred and sixty million dollars.
Others shared complicated diagrams explaining how Bitcoin worked that would confuse matters further for anyone who had never heard of it before.
Some crypto heavyweights also weighed into the conversation. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin probably had one of the best attempts, writing: “It’s a digital currency. There’s ~18m units of it. It’s not backed by anything, it’s just valuable because it is, like collectibles. There’s a network of computers (which anyone can join) that maintains a decentralized global excel spreadsheet of how many coins each person has.”
Another Ethereum supporter—Brian Armstrong’s ConsenSys—tried to direct the conversation towards blockchain technology (a large chunk of which happens to run on… Ethereum).
J.K. Rowling and the Goblet of Regret
Ultimately, it became clear that Rowling had wished she had never asked.
Some of the replies were downright menacing. One read: “I believe you can understand it if you make a conscious effort to do it. I mean if you don’t understand it now, I think you’ll be forced to understand it in the future.”
Others were insulting and patronising: “Bitcoin is designed so that it eliminates the need for trust. It’s backed by advanced math, you won’t understand.”
Then there were the immature replies—GIFs of baboons and cartoon Bitcoins heading to the moon.
Rowling claimed that fake Twitter accounts purporting to be her are now boasting about buying Bitcoin—and she stressed she didn’t own any cryptocurrency after a former member of British parliament revealed that one of his relatives lost money after reading a scam article where Rowling appeared to recommend Bitcoin.
She ultimately said that she wished she had never asked, writing: “This started as a joke, but now I’m afraid I’ll never be able to log in to Twitter again without someone getting angry I don’t own Bitcoin. One day you’ll see a wizened old woman in the street, trying to trade a Harry Potter book for a potato. Be kind. She did try to understand.”
J.K. Rowling and the Prisoner of Bewilderment
At the end of the day, the sad, exasperating tale of “JK Rowling and the Sorcerer’s Coin” teaches a lesson about Bitcoin adoption.
Talk of FUD, HODL and REKT will only reinforce a narrative than BTC is for a few young men dreaming about making millions and driving in a Lamborghini. Countless studies have shown that very few women are involved in the crypto space, and macho, money-making discourse is unlikely to help.
The scams that have emanated from her throwaway tweet also show there are opportunists out there to dupe innocent people of their hard-earned cash. Even though this represents a tiny percentage of all crypto transactions, it’s calamitous for the image of an industry that’s hoping to achieve mainstream adoption in future.
But perhaps the most salient point, once again, comes from Rowling herself. Despite reading some of the simplest explanations about Bitcoin’s values, goals and benefits, she was still none the wiser.
“I’m sure cryptocurrencies are fascinating,” she wrote. “I’ve genuinely tried to grasp the very detailed information I’ve been sent tonight (people close to me understand it & have tried to explain it when I’m stone cold sober), but I’m afraid this is a total blind spot to me. I’m just about able to grasp a barter system. Talk of collectibles, tokenomics and blockchains and my brain just takes a walk.”
This was a chance to educate the masses that had a very unhappy ending—and, if it was a dress rehearsal for encouraging the public to embrace Bitcoin, it appears the show is a long way off from being ready.