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Coinbase Promised Empowerment While Pushing Questionable Assets

“Surely Coinbase should have found this before randoms on Twitter did?”

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Illustration: Erik Carter for Bloomberg Businessweek

In September 2020, amid a wave of activism by employees in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Coinbase Chief Executive Officer Brian Armstrong announced a new policy governing politics in the workplace. Staff would be banned from engaging in activism at work, he announced, and should refrain from advocating for political and social issues in the office. Anyone who disagreed would be asked to resign, and the only workplace politics allowed in the future would be related to Coinbase’s “mission,” which was “building the most trusted and easiest to use financial products that help people access the cryptoeconomy.” This, he said, would “bring more economic freedom to the world.”

Armstrong’s message led to some resignations, and tons of media coverage ahead of Coinbase’s public stock listing. Detractors, including former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, saw a company that was confused about the meaning of “economic freedom.” Fans, including right-wing investors and the conservative media, praised Armstrong for heroically resisting pressure from left-wing activists. The announcement “shows that the woke mob has no power against founders determined to do it their way,” tweeted the venture capitalist David Sacks, after a direct listing valued the company at around $85 billion in April 2021.