After graduating from the University of Southern California in 2017, Tiffany Fong started several e-commerce businesses, earning passive income while traveling the world. She recently spoke with The Epoch Times about how she lost a lot of money investing in cryptocurrencies, which prompted her to become involved in exposing scandals in the crypto sector, such as the FTX meltdown.
Fong’s introduction to cryptocurrencies began when a family member gifted her several Bitcoins in 2011. Since she was still in high school at the time, Fong didn’t think much of the gift.
By the end of 2011, Bitcoin was worth a mere $4.25; Fong still owns some of the tokens today. The price of Bitcoin peaked at more than $68,000 in November 2021, but since then, it has fallen dramatically and is now trading at a little more than $17,000.
During the crypto bull market of 2017, Fong became more interested in the asset class and its underlying philosophy: freedom from state-issued currencies and the ability to transact with whomever one chooses. After a couple of years of crypto-hiatus, Fong began investing more heavily during the bull run of 2021.
Expanding on her initial Bitcoin holdings, Fong became interested in the decentralized lending platform Celsius. The project’s founder, Alex Mashinsky, would frequently make the rounds on financial media outlets to tout the returns that Celsius users were earning, promising annual returns as high as 18 percent.
These returns were achievable for a time, but nothing lasts forever.
Rising interest rates and a crypto bear market quickly exposed the Celsius network as insolvent, forcing a withdrawal freeze in June and a bankruptcy filing in July. Fong personally lost $250,000 she had stored on the platform, she said.
Motivated by her loss, Fong embarked on a mission to uncover what had happened. With only a couple hundred followers at the time, she took to YouTube and Twitter to share her investigations.
After seeing her work on social media, several Celsius employees sent her confidential recordings of Mashinsky speaking at internal meetings. Fong then secured a notable milestone in her journalistic career by publishing the leaked recordings with The New York Times.
Fong’s entry into crypto reporting caught the attention of then-FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, who began following her work to stay updated on the Celsius situation. The two messaged on Twitter and occasionally kept in touch, according to Fong.
This relationship would prove fortuitous for Fong’s continued coverage of the crypto space.
In early November, as FTX underwent a Celsius-like series of events, freezing customer assets and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Fong reached out to Bankman-Fried. With his reputation tarnished and his company in ruins, she didn’t expect a response.
Nevertheless, he granted Fong an interview that would reveal numerous unknowns about the collapsed exchange and provide an interesting look into Bankman-Fried’s character. During their conversation, the FTX founder claimed that he donated equal amounts to both political parties and confessed to lying about Bahamian regulators’ involvement in key FTX decisions.
Fong told The Epoch Times that she was uncertain whether she could trust the answers provided by Bankman-Fried.
“There were some questions I asked him where I did feel he was very clearly being evasive,” she said, later noting that his elusive behavior was intriguing in itself.
During their November conversation, Fong asked Bankman-Fried about the alleged “back door,” which would have allowed client funds to be siphoned from FTX to its sister company, Alameda Research. He claimed that he isn’t well-versed in computer programming and, therefore, couldn’t create such a tool, which Fong said she found to be an intentionally imprecise answer.
At the time of the interview, Fong believed the founder was genuinely remorseful but mentioned that her faith has faded over time.
“My views have changed the more he’s talked,” she said, referring to Bankman-Fried’s subsequent appearances in mainstream media, including The New York Times’s DealBook Summit, his sit-down with Good Morning America, and his numerous discussions on Twitter Spaces.
“On our last call, he did mention that he would be ramping up communication soon, but I did not expect it to this degree,” Fong said, surprised by the scope of Bankman-Fried’s public relations campaign.
“It was fun being the first stop on [Bankman-Fried’s] apology tour,” Fong jokingly wrote in a tweet on Dec. 7.
Fong’s success as an independent reporter and brief experience working with legacy media has given her insights into the advantages of the former over the latter.
After breaking a couple of stories while working with traditional media outlets such as The New York Times, CNBC, and others, Fong realized that citizen journalists have the advantage of being able to post news more quickly and circumvent some of the limitations and editorial guidelines of larger outlets.
“For example, when I received audio of Celsius Network’s internal all-hands meeting, which clearly featured Alex Mashinsky’s voice, I could have posted it immediately on my own,” she said.
However, Fong acknowledged that legacy media have superior processes and resources in place for verifying the authenticity of sources and claims, although these processes create inefficiencies.
“While this ensures credibility, it also slows down the process of sharing news in real time, which is possible for anyone now via Twitter, YouTube, etc.,” she said.
“In crypto particularly, collapses can occur quickly—in a matter of days or even hours—so I feel being able to share information in real time is crucial.”
While the cryptocurrency market has had a tough year, Fong says she still believes in crypto and still has substantial investments.
Post expires at 5:48am on Monday March 13th, 2023