The XRP Army Pulls A Fast One On The SEC
How inauthentic Twitter accounts are being used to create the illusion of support
In December 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Ripple and two of their executives — Chris Larsen and Brad Garlinghouse — with raising “over $1.3 billion through an unregistered, ongoing digital asset securities offering.”
This triggered the online community of XRP supporters, which is often referred to as the “XRP Army.”
While there is no doubt a large community of XRP supporting individuals, the XRP Army’s online presence is heavily augmented by fake accounts engaging in activity that violates Twitter Rules.
As noted by CoinDesk in December 2018, the XRP Army’s distribution infrastructure extends well beyond Twitter, where there’s “a whole constellation of forums, blogs and YouTube channels that feed an XRP-hungry audience, but Twitter is arguably the hub for the XRP community.”
This post will focus on how the XRP Army leverages Twitter as part of much larger information/influence operation efforts promoting both XRP and Ripple.
Same Shit, Different Day
In June 2021, the SEC alleged the XRP Army was issuing “false statements” directed at William (Bill) Hinman, former Director of the SEC’s division of Corporate Finance, and other members of their leadership.
This came from the SEC in response to Ripple filing a motion to subpoena Hinman. The commission pushed back, claiming Hinman’s “deposition coupled with the social media attention could deter individuals from seeking positions in public service.”
Translated: the SEC is now seeing first-hand how the XRP Army operates, and, more broadly, is experiencing how platform manipulation can be used to disseminate (false) narratives
The XRP Army, for years, has pounced on journalists, analysts, and others, simply for publishing content that goes against the narratives they are attempting to push.
I experienced being swarmed by the XRP Army myself back in May 2018, after sharing findings/data about how inauthentic activity/accounts were being used to prop up tweets from Ripple employees, while simultaneously attempting to make the XRP community appear larger than reality reflects.
Meet John Deaton
Forbes published an article last month, titled “The Crypto Uprising The SEC Didn’t See Coming,” that opens by stating the SEC “didn’t expect blowback” when filing its lawsuit against Ripple. Roslyn Layton, Senior Contributor at Forbes, continues, “No one expected the tsunami of legal, political and social media action from retail cryptocurrency investors, outraged by the betrayal from an agency claiming to protect their interests.”
Layton later references John Deaton, a Rhode Island attorney and founder of Crypto Law, who filed a “motion to intervene in SEC v. Ripple on behalf of a small group of retail holders of XRP, insisting that neither party in the case represented their interests:”
Deaton, whose Twitter account has amassed more than a hundred thousand Followers since being created less than three years ago (Crypto Law is on pace to gain more than fifty thousand Followers in the account’s first year), effectively functions as the XRP Army’s (and, by extension, Ripple’s) knight in shining armor:
Deaton’s tweets appear very popular, frequently reflecting thousands of retweets and likes, and, as highlighted below, often include the SEC’s Twitter account (@SECGov):
To the casual observer — using number of retweets, likes, and replies as a proxy for support — it appears there is a massive community of XRP holders on Twitter who are extremely vocal and in agreement with Deaton.
For the XRP Army, astroturfing is the name of the game. And they’re quite effective at it.
Astroturfing, defined below by Wikipedia, is a common tactic utilized in the cryptocurrency realm (and where social media platforms often function as conduits):
The XRP Army is so good at astroturfing (i.e. creating the illusion of support), in fact, that Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn (the judge in SEC v. Ripple lawsuit) has taken notice, pointing to the case being one where “the public’s interest is significant:”
When looking under the hood, however, it doesn’t require rocket science to see artificial amplification in action. Take, for example, a recent tweet from Fox Business Network’s Charles Gasparino, where nearly all the engagement is being driven by XRP Army accounts that violate Twitter Rules (also note Gasparino retweeting Deaton):
[Please select this YouTube link to view screen recording of artificial amplification] https://youtu.be/NcQkQfIv21I
Crypto Law, as previously mentioned, was founded earlier this year by Deaton, and the publication focuses its content on “news and analysis on key U.S. legal and regulatory developments for digital asset holders:”
Anyone who has spent material time using Twitter understands that audience building is difficult. In other words, it raises red flags that @CryptoLawUS has acquired more than forty-five thousand Followers in less than seven months.
Taking a closer look at the Followers of @CryptoLawUS:
- Nearly half (21,705 accounts; 48%) were created in 2020 or later (15,878 of Crypto Law’s Followers are accounts that were created this year)
- More than six thousand (6,315 accounts) include “XRP” in either their usernames, display names, and/or account bios (two hundred examples have been included below):
- More than seventy-five percent (34,061 accounts) have one hundred or fewer Followers (17,541 of Crypto Law’s Followers have ten or fewer Followers)
- More than twelve thousand (12,103 accounts) have tweeted ten or fewer times (4,617 of Crypto Law’s Followers have never tweeted)
- More than one-third (15,278 accounts) are also Followers of Stuart Alderoty, Ripple’s General Counsel
- Less than fifty (46) are verified accounts (including both Ripple’s CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, and Ripple’s CTO, David Schwartz)
The Twitter accounts of Deaton, Crypto Law and Ripple General Counsel, Stuart Alderoty, are not the only XRP/Ripple-connected legal accounts with Followers counts being massively inflated by inauthentic accounts (and where artificial amplification continues to make their tweets appear more popular than reality reflects).
Take Jeremy Hogan (@attorneyjeremy1), for example, who, like Deaton, functions as an XRP Army general, churning out a pro-XRP/Ripple narrative on YouTube (where his channel, Legal Briefs, reflects 127K Subscribers) as well as on Twitter:
Hogan’s Twitter account, which was created in May 2018, reflects having more than one hundred and forty thousand Followers:
Deaton’s Twitter account was created in December 2018, and reflects having nearly one hundred and ten thousand Followers:
Here’s where things get interesting: the Twitter accounts of Hogan and Deaton share nearly eighty thousand Followers
This level of Followers overlap, particularly among accounts that have been around for just a few years, is indicative of massively inflated Followers counts. In other words, the vast majority of these eighty thousand accounts are fake and the intent behind them is to deceive, where the goal is to create the illusion of a much larger XRP supporting community than reflects reality.
Rounding out Ripple’s unofficial Twitter Legal Team are Jesse Hynes (@jesse_hynes; 23.6K Followers), Seal Nulliah (@AttorneySeal1; 18.7K Followers), and Arturo Portilla (@Arturo_P_A; 10.3K Followers).
Similarly, the accounts of Hynes, Nulliah, and Portilla have Followers counts that are massively inflated, and their tweets are propped up by engagement that is driven by accounts that violate Twitter Rules.
An account frequently linked to by Deaton is that of Leonidas (@LeoHadjiloizou):
It should not come as much of a surprise to hear that Leonidas’ account also reflects a massively inflated Followers count, and tweets where the engagement is propped up by inauthentic activity.
Below is Ripple CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, replying to a recent tweet from Leonidas (and where Hogan and Deaton were included):
Not only does Garlinghouse follow Leonidas, Hogan, Deaton, and Crypto Law.. he also follows several other core XRP Army accounts that continue to violate Twitter Rules:
Of the forty one thousand accounts that are Followers of Leonidas, more than seven thousand (17%) are accounts that include “XRP” in either their usernames, display names, and/or account bios. Those accounts may be found here.
Again, the intent behind them is effectively to billboard Twitter with XRP, creating the illusion of a much larger community than is reflected by reality.
OK, So What’s Your Point?
First, let me state that I am against heavy-handed regulations aimed at crypto assets. I am also vehemently against the manipulation of social media platforms.
The XRP Army is seeking to impede the SEC (in SEC v. Ripple) via character assassination attempts that are being amplified by fake Twitter accounts. Moreover, several core XRP Army accounts — accounts that continue to violate Twitter Rules — are being followed and amplified by Ripple executives.
As noted by Forbes, the XRP Army has “recently started unearthing video evidence of regulatory misconduct that strikes at both the SEC’s case and its public credibility, over and above what Ripple has presented in court.”
In other words, this is an excellent example of how platform manipulation has real world impact.
And while it’s perfectly fair game for someone to use an anonymous Twitter account to attack the SEC, it should not be fair game to engage in this level of platform manipulation.
Twitter, for some reason, does not seem to care.
Social Forensics maps and monitors social connections and activity.
We create purposefully designed tools to manage social data analytics needs across various industries. Our focus is audience segmentation and identifying coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) across social media platforms.
Geoff Golberg is an NYC-based researcher (and entrepreneur) who is fascinated by graph visualization/network analysis — more specifically, when applied to social networks and blockchain activity. His experience spans structured finance, ad tech, and digital marketing/customer acquisition, both at startups and public companies.
Geoff is the Founder/CEO/Janitor of Social Forensics.