Last night, Sam Bankman-Fried DMed me on Twitter.That was surprising. I’d spoken to Bankman-Fried via Zoom earlier in the summer when I was working on a profile of him, so I reached out to him via DM on November 13, after news broke that his cryptocurrency exchange had collapsed, with billions in customer deposits apparently gone. I didn’t expect him to respond — typically, people by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice don’t return requests for comment. Bankman-Fried, though, apparently wanted to talk. About how FTX and his hedge fund Alameda Research had gambled with customer money without, he claims, realizing that’s what they were doing. About who gets lauded as a hero and who’s the fall guy. About regulators. (“Fuck regulators.”) About what he regrets (“Chapter 11,” the decision to declare bankruptcy) and about what he would have done differently with FTX and Alameda (“more careful accounting + offboard Alameda from FTX once FTX could live on its own”). It was past midnight Bahamas time, where Bankman-Fried is reportedly still located, and we went back and forth on Twitter for more than an hour. He was, he said, still working to try to raise the funding needed to pay back all his depositors. As we messaged, I was trying to make sense of what, behind the PR and the charitable donations and the lobbying, Bankman-Fried actually believes about what’s right and what’s wrong — and especially the ethics of what he did and the industry he worked in. Looming over our whole conversation was the fact that people who trusted him have lost their savings, and that he’s done incalculable damage to everything he proclaimed only a few weeks ago to care about. The grief and pain he has caused is immense, and I came away from our conversation appalled by much of what he said. But if these mistakes haunted him, he largely didn’t show it.
(Disclosure: This August, Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic family foundation, Building a Stronger Future, awarded Vox’s Future Perfect a grant for a 2023 reporting project. That project is now on pause.)