Working in PR can be a strange place to be at the best of times, but when you’re looking at an issue like non-fungible tokens (NFTs), it can get positively surreal.
On the one hand, some in the tech industry are excited about the potential of NFTs. Then you fire up Twitter or do a web search, and you’re confronted with a lot of heated discussion about how vile and unethical NFTs are. The thing is, there are real concerns about the technology.
NFTs have a terrible reputation
I first started to see discussions about NFTs when Twitter users began sharing NFT digital art that they’d bought. Other users simply clicked and saved the art for themselves, causing some confusion and anger from the NFT owner.
Now, I’m starting to see celebrities and brands dipping their toes in the water (and, in some cases, getting them bitten off).
For example, when voice actor, Troy Baker announced his NFT deal, he did so in a way that seemed to acknowledge that people would hate his decision (which only made the resulting furore worse).
That same day, he posted a series of tweets trying to dampen down the firestorm he’d ignited. Then he went quiet for a few weeks before finally announcing that he’d decided not to continue the partnership.
Troy’s not alone in deciding to try out NFTs. Despite a continuing backlash, game developer, Ubisoft, is still going ahead with its NFT plans, with the exec in charge of the initiative saying that gamers just don’t understand the benefits it will bring. Ubisoft is, however, far more accustomed to dealing with people’s rage than individual talents are.
Currently, there’s a disconnect between some in the tech industry, who are excited about NFTs, and (seemingly) a majority of people on social media who despise the idea of them with a burning passion.
How does PR navigate the controversy…should it even try?
The problem is, there are some real issues with NFTs. The lack of regulation, the question of ownership (such as NFT users ‘selling’ game composers’ music without permission) and the questions over a potentially huge negative impact on the environment (it’s not just about creating the NFT, but the NFT economy resulting in millions or billions of them being created and traded).
There are supposed eco-friendlier versions of NFTs out there, but many people are still concerned about the environmental impact.
The WWF UK just announced that it is partnering with such a provider. The backlash has been intense on Twitter (it’s not posted about it on Facebook or Instagram yet).
And the media coverage hasn’t been great either.
While the WWF may be happy to support an eco-friendly (well, friendlier) version of NFTs, people argue that it’s 1) still damaging the environment and 2) not sending a great message.
PR can’t be used as a sticking plaster (ideally, it never should be, but especially not here).
At the moment, despite the excitement that some people have about NFTs, there’s a lot of doubt and actual anger around them. PR can’t do much for the technology until the regulatory, legal, ethical and environmental issues around their production, trading and ownership are ironed out.
It’s when these issues are addressed that professionals will need to go about repairing the reputation of NFTs – because it’s then that they will be able to do so in an ethical and transparent way.