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People Have Spent Over $1 Million on a Literal Marketplace of Ideas

If you log on to Ideamarket—a site that promises to let you “vote with your dollars”—looking for an explanation about what it is or how it works, the best thing you’ll find is a cryptic video that wouldn’t be out of character for the shadowy Abstergo corporation of the Assassin’s Creed video games.

A monotonous voice informs you that Ideamarket is “an attention prioritization engine” pursuing “a perpetual bounty on improving common knowledge” by offering “an invitation to seek out obscure geniuses and usher them into the light.” A 2019 Medium post by founder Mike Elias puts things differently and describes media corporations as “the central banks of narrative.” He lays out the framework for an “idea market”—an attempt to “use investment to establish credibility for ideas and narratives without trusting a centralized third party.” 

Okay, but what does this really mean? Essentially, a stock market for Twitter accounts, the idea being to make it expensive for bad actors to fake having an audience that trusts them on the site. Incredibly, people have already spent $1 million on it: 32 “holders” have contributed more than $104,000 to Elon Musk’s account, which is currently priced at $4.56. And two folks out there have dumped upwards of $20,000 on Joe Rogan, who is trading at $2.02.

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On Ideamarket, which first launched in 2019 then on the Ethereum mainnet Saturday, social media accounts are represented by Ethereum-based tokens that become more valuable as more tokens are purchased. The first 1,000 tokens cost $0.10, then each 100 tokens bought afterwards add $0.01 to the price. They can be traded amongst users, so tokens can be dumped. Money spent on tokens is deposited with compound.finance, and interest generated from the deposits being converted to loans can be claimed by the owner of the account (for example, Elon Musk) and the social media platform.

In his 2019 Medium post, Elias wrote that he dreamed of an idea market where investors would be able to make profit by “identifying and popularizing under-appreciated ideas”—what he called “venture philosophy.” While corporations and governments spend money to “artificially inflate the value of a false narrative”, venture philosophers will earn profit for convincingly replacing or refuting these narratives.

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Elias wrote that this would spark an “intellectual gold rush” as millions comb the digital world to “find obscure geniuses and usher them into the spotlight” for profit. So far, it seems to have amounted to yet more adulation of people like Musk by other people with far too much money to burn.

If someone tries to manipulate the marketplace of ideas, that’s just fine. Such direct manipulation is “far better” than the alternative, Elias wrote, because it makes the ties between information, parties interested in manipulating it, and their methods, explicit. Ideamarket allows propagandists to spend money on pumping up their credibility, but everyone can see what’s happening and it ultimately redistributes money to “disruptors,” or venture philosophers.

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That sounds all fine, but some dedicated con may well be willing one day to spend and lose money to inflate their listing and commit greater harm elsewhere thanks to their Inflated Truth Value or whatever. It also doesn’t hedge against people who trade in misinformation or con-games elsewhere gaining traction on the platform organically. 

In the early stages of adoption at least, an idea market doesn’t seem any more rational than the actual stock market, which is to say: it doesn’t make any sense

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