In the wake of the European Parliament’s approval last week of amendments to tighten oversight of the crypto market, MEPs are facing a flood of sexist, racist and offensive abuse from online trolls.
And two women in Parliament are getting the brunt of the attacks — following a well-established pattern in cyber-bullying for years.
The onslaught has now prompted industry groups to condemn the vitriol, despite their objections to the underlying legislation.
One of those is the European Crypto Initiative (EUCI), which sent letters Wednesday to the MEPs who had been involved in developing strict due diligence checks for the crypto market to prevent money laundering.
“We deeply regret the personal attacks that have taken place,” EUCI’s three co-founders, Simon Polrot, Marina Markežič and Florian Gatz, wrote in the letter, obtained by POLITICO. “We wish to lead by example on behalf of the many well-intentioned European crypto actors, to take responsibility for the behaviour of this community and establish clear guidelines on how we believe a constructive and respectful debate should take place.”
Blockchain for Europe also condemned the online abuse, writing on Twitter that there’s “no excuse for verbal aggressiveness.”
At issue are the Parliament’s amendments to the so-called Transfer of Funds Regulation (TFR), which triggered an uproar from individuals and mainstream companies alike within the crypto market even though the changes aren’t conclusive. A final round of legislative talks with EU capitals could still dismiss the Parliament’s changes.
If finalized, however, those amendments would require companies to check who’s sending funds, of any amount, in the form of crypto, and who will receive them.
MEPs say stricter checks are needed to stop criminals from abusing the crypto market’s anonymity to move illicit funds. But crypto advocates say the changes are a gross invasion of privacy, and the move has triggered calls to action from the likes of U.S. exchange Coinbase — the second largest in the world in terms of trading volume.
While MEPs are used to political jostling, those involved were shocked at the backlash that followed. Especially notable was that online trolls had targeted the two women who were leading the effort: Belgium’s Assita Kanko of the European Conservatives and Reformists and France’s S&D member Aurore Lalucq.
“I was appalled by the insults, the aggressiveness and the spamming because I am a person,” Kanko, who was born in Burkina Faso, wrote in an email. The 41-year-old co-led Parliament negotiations, adding that she believed that the attacks came from a small but loud group within the crypto community. “I look forward to working with and building legislation that protects society and creates more room for innovation and trust.”
Lalucq said she welcomed the statements from EUCI and Blockchain for Europe, which she said was “a responsible move.” She added she hopes “it will be followed by other members of the crypto industry” after blocking messages to her own Twitter account to stem the flow of attacks.
EUCI and Blockchain for Europe say they don’t want the online attacks to sour their relationships with legislators in Brussels, especially given the concerns they harbor over the Parliament’s amendments. Kanko and Lalucq, for their part, say they’re keen to move forward and would happily sit down with responsible representatives from the industry.
But Dutch S&D MEP Paul Tang, who was called a Nazi during the storm of online insults, was less forgiving.
“It damages the reputation of the crypto industry, which isn’t in good shape already,” he said. “It’s in a worse state than the financial sector was in 2007 just before the crisis. It’s opaque and many in the community act like members of a cult and don’t take any broader responsibility for society.”