I'm not sure why I trusted SBF. I guess you just naturally trust someone you've worked closely with. Someone who's donated significant funds that not only helped me directly, but several of my friends and fellow effective altruists.
Now, unless I'm severely mistaken, almost all the evidence I'm seeing points toward SBF having inappropriately used funds and then lying about it. He apparently stole not only the savings of thousands of innocent uninvolved people, but also tainted the very donations that I and several others have used over the years to do as much good as we possibly could. He's jeopardized the funding and lives of many effective altruists today, in many cases where people have already spent funds they were expecting but will now no longer get. He has destroyed the savings of anyone who foolishly held those savings in FTX or its related affiliates. Perhaps worst of all, he has tarnished the brand of effective altruism so incredibly badly that I honestly have to take stock and determine to what extent this reputational damage affects the fundraising work that I'm currently doing.
Sam had been a pillar in Effective Giving Quest's strategy. TSM FTX is a major esports team; FTX's purchase of Good Luck Games and subsequent holding of the Storybook Brawl world championships planned for this December had been planned to be a breakout position for EGQ. SBF's direct funding was going to allow EGQ to raise funds from game developers, streamers, and other gaming professionals without ever having to take a percentage to pay our own bills. Instead, we are now having to reevaluate our strategy and figure out how to move forward in a new environment where searching for "effective altruism" brings up fraud as the very first top story on Google and litters the first SERP from the fourth result onward.
I knew he spent his weirdness points in a weird way. I didn't think that mattered; I still don't. But other than that, I never caught on to him seriously being this dangerous. I didn't catch it for the years I worked at ACE, not even when we served on the board at the same time. I didn't catch it later when I looked into using FTX for my personal use. I didn't even catch it while I was prepping for calls with him about my new venture, Effective Giving Quest.
If it turns out that I'm wrong, that he's been unfairly characterized as doing fraud, then I'll later apologize for having said much of this. But the evidence I'm seeing now seems to indicate that fraud really did take place, and I just feel so monumentally tricked.
One of the only solaces I have comes from a short note from David Reinstein:
"…[T]he sad fall of FTX makes motivating effective giving, outreach, and engagement more important…. Previously, a pushback against ‘motivating effective giving’ and making mainstream giving more effective was ~‘we have so much money already, and the core EA billionaires are much better aligned than the general population will ever be’. If that argument is valid, I think ‘it should work in both directions’ … so the corollary is ‘if we have fewer billionaires/less funds, the above should be more relevant’."
While I continue to feel badly, some relevant comments from Eliezer Yudkowsky, Peter Wildeford, & Kevin Cornbob remind me that maybe I'm not so much to blame as I currently feel:
Good point - Sequoia and others invested hundreds of millions in FTX without uncovering the fraud or massive lapses in governance despite direct access to due diligence. Understandable that EA wasn't able to see this coming. https://t.co/JOBeXC7obq— Peter Wildeford (@peterwildeford) November 12, 2022
|Comment from Kevin_Cornbob on the EA Forum.|
For reference, this is the awkward SBF I remember dealing with. He honestly did not strike me as the kind of person who would do what he apparently ended up doing, utilitarian or not.
@benthamite #crypto billionaire sbf ❤️s #effectivealtruism ♬ sonido original - Benthamite
EDIT ~12 hours later:
After thinking about it more, there were definitely more signs than I alluded to above. Nothing ever made me think: "this person will do something as serious as fraud", but there was at least one major instance where he took a serious action that felt rather wrong to me. I guess… I felt that it did not rise to the level of seriousness where this ever needed to be shared, or where I felt I should stop trusting him in other capacities. I suppose I felt that everyone makes mistakes, and just because this was what I might call a moral mistake, it maybe was made up for by his other actions and qualities. Maybe this kind of thing should have tipped me off. But it didn't. I still had moderate trust. Perhaps because I believe in assuming good faith, even in situations where it's difficult to see what that good faith might have been.