You vs the guy she tells you not to worry about (via Twitter).
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‘Gym Friend’ meme war: Troll trolled after trolling troll

Blockstream CSO and well-known troll Samson Mow managed to turn a minor meme-poster into a crypto-Twitter celebrity by getting offended. Accusations of sexism, phony DCMA takedown notices, and censorship followed

If you like to call yourself a “toxic Bitcoin maximalist,” you should probably develop a thicker skin than Samson Mow has.

The Gym Friend meme (via Twitter)
Is this sexist?

The Blockstream chief strategy officer known for his own trolling proved in an end-of-the-year twitter feud that he can’t take it nearly as well as he can dish it out after his manhood was mocked in an image—now known as the “Gym Friend meme.”

In the process he turned a minor chuckle into the month-long Gym Friend meme war that started with accusations of sexism and ended with fraudulent DMCA takedown notices censoring a once-obscure Twitter troll who likes to make fun of people by posting memes.

Joshua Davis, aka @karbonbased, was suspended from Twitter on Dec. 31 after several DMCA takedown notices—most of them filed under false names—reported he was using copyrighted photos in his tweets. 

Pointing the firehose at yourself

The drama began on Dec. 5, when Davis tweeted out a picture of Mow hugging a large Transformers box. The image was juxtaposed with another image—that of Mow’s girlfriend Lina Seiche, global marketing director at cryptocurrency exchange BTSE. She was posing arm in arm in a gym with a much older, much-bearded man with frighteningly large biceps. 

The caption on top is taken from a very popular meme: “You vs the guy she tells you not to worry about.”

The moment the “Gym Friend” meme was created

Mow, who podcast host Brad Mills called a “master troll,” was not amused. What followed was a textbook case of how to make a mountain out of a molehill on Twitter.

For starters, Davis’ @karbonbased account had about 6,000 followers. Seiche has a little over 10,000 followers.

But Mow, who posts on Twitter as @excellion, has more than 100,000 followers. As the executive of a company that employs some of the most prominent bitcoin developers in the space, his Twitter account is a fire hose to Davis’ squirtgun.

Gym Friend meme war begins

Mow and Seiche have been very public about their relationship for months, posting images of themselves on social media cuddling, out Christmas shopping, vacationing, and the like. 

After spotting the meme a day and a half later, Mow went on the attack. In doing so, he inadvertently—and unfortuitously—used the phrase “gym friend” in his tweet.

“The meme is a common one,” he tweeted. “But Davis has to add an extra misogynistic spin to it, digging up an old photo of Lina and her gym friend. The not so thinly veiled message he’s sending is: ‘she’s shallow and easy.’” 

What followed was a lengthy twitter thread, where Mow went on to explain at length why the meme was “sexist and creepy.”   

Seiche chimed in, tweeting she thought it was sexist as well. “The low-class replies to Samson’s tweet just show the deeper issue,” she said. 

Sexism and misogyny is commonplace in the crypto world, which can be a tough place for women. But the meme was aimed clearly at Mow.

When we asked Davis if he thought the picture of Seiche and her gym friend could be construed as sexist, he said, “No—nobody did.” 

A failure to communicate

Either position could account for why Mow’s effort to turn his flood of followers against @karbonbased backfired—in a big way. 

Gym Friend as Hodlonaut

Instead of condemning Davis, the Twittersphere copied the meme and dispersed it widely. Images of it appeared in far flung places even outside the cryptosphere. Worse, ensuing discussions spawned the “gym friend” meme, which quickly took on a life of its own.

According to Davis, his meme got over 1,200 likes before it got taken down. He told Modern Consensus over the phone he never in a lifetime would have thought of the phrase “gym friend.” It made the entire incident “infinitely more awkward,” he said. 

Davis also said he thinks Mow took things too far. If Mow simply retweeted the meme with “LOL” as a comment, “he could have laughed it off, and it would have been over,” he said. But that is not what happened. 

Neither Seiche nor Mow responded to repeated requests for comment. 

Silencing @karbonbased

On Dec. 21, Davis started to get a series of notices from Twitter stating several of his posts violated the social media site’s privacy rules, which specify that you can’t publish or post other people’s private information without their permission. Davis said he doesn’t believe he did that. He only posted memes and other things he thought were funny. 

“I don’t want to waste time fighting the appeals, so I was just deleting them, because I don’t care,” he said. A week later, he started getting more, and then Twitter locked him out of his account for a few days, as he was trying to appeal one of the notices. 

That’s when the DMCA notices started coming, and On New Year’s Eve, Twitter officially suspended @karbonbased after it allegedly received seven such notices from well-known cryptocurrency industry sources. These were:

  • Alina Seiche
  • Naomi Brockwell —  crypto Youtuber
  • Peter McCormack —bitcoin podcaster  
  • Payward Inc. — parent company of Kraken crypto exchange
  • Dovey Wan — founding partner at Primitive Ventures
  • Mir Liponin —  chief expert officer at BlockchainLab.it
  • Magical Friends — the entity behind Magical Crypto Friends, a podcast that features four prominent crypto people, including Mow.  

A Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice informs a website or search engine that they are hosting or linking to material that someone claims infringes on their copyright. As removing infringing material quickly prevents the host from being sued, few websites investigate the legitimacy of such claims before acting. 

Phony complaints

Most of the seven—including Seiche—quickly tweeted firm denials that they were behind any of the DCMA complaints. 

“I didn’t hire anybody to report anything. I also didn’t report the tweet in question myself. I’m not interested in wasting time on such things,” Seiche said on Twitter.

“Nothing to do with me,” McCormack tweeted. Similarly, Brockwell said she was either “very drunk that night” or someone made up bogus copyright claims using her name. Liponin tweeted that the complaint didn’t even use his legal name. 

According to documents Davis shared with Modern Consensus, all of the notices were sent by Worth IT Solutions, a company that offers DMCA takedown services. 

That suggested to Jesse Powell, the CEO of Kraken (Payward Inc.), that the effort was centrally organized. “Looked like all the info provided was fake/the same for all of the reports,” he told Modern Consensus via email. 

“We would have used a legit email address if we had anything to do with it,” he added.

Wan later said in a tweet that she had been on vacation and off the internet during the time the drama was unfolding and had never even heard of a DMCA until Modern Consensus reached out to her via a direct message.

“I didn’t know what’s DMCA takedown at all before @ahcastor DM me,” she said.

Finally, Magical Crypto Friends was the last of the seven to deny its involvement when it tweeted: “We have nothing to do with the DMCA notices. It’s quite obvious they were all fake.”

An @karbonbased comeback

While he can’t afford a lawyer, Davis is determined to get his @karbonbased account back. 

“That is what I want and that is my goal,” he told us. “I had nearly 6,000 followers and a handle that I built a brand around—not a monetized brand but certainly a reputation.” 

Now this is “fair use.”

In the meantime, he continues to make fun of Mow’s affinity for Transformers on another profile, @eatmyKarbon, which he said he set up in September 2018 as a backup for the day when the “thought leaders” came to police his thoughts. That account is only open to approved followers.

However, to fight a DMCA claim, Davis would have to file a counter-notice asking that the material be put back up. 

He said that both images came from Seiche’s publicly accessible social media accounts. Because he included a comment above the images, he believes that constitutes “fair use” under the Copyright Act.

Whether he’s right is less clear. According to the law, “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies…, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching…, scholarship, or research” is not considered an infringement. 

However, he could learn the hard way if a trolling insult doesn’t count as “comment” for legal purposes. Filing a DCMA counter-notice initiates a legal process, and Davis risks ending up in court over the Gym Friend meme war.

Fortunately for him, Mow also seems to have lost his taste for Twitter wars. 

On Dec. 31, Mow tweeted “My New Year’s resolution is to not get pulled into any drama in 2020 at all.

Updated 8:55 a.m. Jan. 7, 2020, to correct byline.

Updated 1:15 p.m. Jan 7, 2020, with Dovey Wan comments.

Updated 3:50 p.m. Jan. 7, 2020, with Magical Crypto friends comments.

Amy Castor has more than 20 years' experience in journalism. Her work on crypto and blockchain has appeared in consumer and trade publications throughout the U.S., including CoinDesk, Forbes, Bitcoin Magazine, and The Block.

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