Edit: See the bottom for some important updates.

Kelsey Piper from Vox's Future Perfect very recently released an interview (made through Twitter DMs) with Sam Bankman-Fried. The interview goes in depth into the events surrounding FTX and Alameda Research.

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.

The interview gives a much-awaited outlet into SBF's thinking, specifically in relation to prior questions in the community regarding whether SBF was practicing some form of naive consequentialism or whether the events surround the crisis largely emerged from incompetence.

During the interview, Kelsey asked explicitly about previous statements by SBF agreeing with the existence of strong moral boundaries to maximizing good. His answers seem to suggest he had intentionally misrepresented his views on the issue (see below for an important notice regarding this question):

See the bottom for relevant discussion regarding how to interpret these specific messages.

This seems to give some credit to the theory that SBF could have been acting like a naive utilitarian, choosing to engage in morally objectionable behavior to maximize his positive impact, while explicitly misrepresenting his views to others.

However, Kelsey also asked directly regarding the lending out of customer deposits alongside Alameda Research:

All of his claims are at least consistent with the view of SBF acting like an incompetent investor. FTX and Alameda Research seems to have had serious governance and accounting problems, and SBF seems to have taken several decisions which to him sounded individually reasonable, all based on bad information. He repeatedly doubled down, instead of cutting his losses.

I'm still not sure what to take out of this interview, especially because Sam seems, at best, somewhat incoherent regarding his moral views and previous mistakes. This might have to do with his emotional state at the time of the interview, or even be a sign that he's blatantly lying, but I still think there is a lot of stuff to update from.

Edit: As some in the comments have pointed out, SBF recently said these messages were not intended to be on the record, and Kelsey responded she supposed otherwise. I've decided to keep the screenshots, as they're now part of the public record.

Furthermore, keep in mind there is discussion about how to best interpret the answer to the question “so the ethics stuff—mostly a front?”, since the context to this question is the specific discussion about ethical injunctions. The right interpretation is a crucial consideration to most of the comments below. 

Notably, this has been taken in social media to mean SBF admitted to faking his belief in EA more generally, with others suggesting that is the wrong interpretation. 

See this comment or this post for related discussions.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Man, this interview really broke my heart. I think I used to look up to Sam a lot, as a billionaire whose self-attested sole priority was doing as much as possible to help the most marginalized + in need, today and in the future.

But damn... "I had to be good [at talking about ethics]... it's what reputations are made of."

Just unbelievable.

I hope this is a strange, pathological reaction to the immense stress of the past week for him, and not a genuine unfiltered version of the true views he's held all along. It all just makes me quite sad, to be honest.

He's probably desperate and confused now, and both of these affect his messages. I wouldn't trust that he's now giving a "true", unfiltered view into his motives - rather, seeing as he has to be lying somewhere, I assume it's both then and now.

I doubt he consciously knows his own motives in full. None of us do. But what we say, and how we say it, can still inform others about them. And the cynicism, dishonesty and anti-wokeness all seem genuine to me.

  1. This interview is crazy.

  2. One overarching theme is SBF lying about many things in past interviews for PR. Much of what he said in this one also looks like that.

Plus, Twitter DM interview?
7[comment deleted]

While SBF presents himself here as incompetent rather than malicious and fraudulent, his account here contradicts previous reporting in (at least) two nontrivial ways.

  • It was reported that Caroline Ellison, CEO of Alameda, admitted to Alameda employees that a deliberate decision was made to dip into FTX customer funds to cover Alameda's insolvency.
  • It was reported that a backdoor had been implemented into FTX's internal accounting systems to allow SBF to alter financial records without triggering alerts.

While I agree these contradictions are worth exploring, I don't think (1) directly contradicts the incompetence hypothesis. Seeing the article:

Meanwhile, at a meeting with Alameda employees on Wednesday, Ms. Ellison explained what had caused the collapse, according to a person familiar with the matter. Her voice shaking, she apologized, saying she had let the group down. Over recent months, she said, Alameda had taken out loans and used the money to make venture capital investments, among other expenditures.

Around the time the crypto market crashed this spring, Ms. Ellison explained, lenders moved to recall those loans, the person familiar with the meeting said. But the funds that Alameda had spent were no longer easily available, so the company used FTX customer funds to make the payments. Besides her and Mr. Bankman-Fried, she said, two other people knew about the arrangement: Mr. Singh and Mr. Wang.

I read this as completely coherent with what SBF said: “each step was in isolation rational and reasonable, and then when I finally added it all up last week it wasn't”.

As for (2), I don't think it's a big update on the fraud hypothesis. A backdoor can mean having admin access to a server, which I think gives a more parsimonious explanation.

It's worth pointing out that if SBF was malicious and fraudulent, this whole interview could have just been an attempt to save faces, which is why we shouldn't update strongly either way. We should wait till more external evidence arrives.

But the funds that Alameda had spent were no longer easily available, so the company used FTX customer funds to make the payments. Besides her and Mr. Bankman-Fried, she said, two other people knew about the arrangement: Mr. Singh and Mr. Wang.

Keeping this arrangement from the rest of Alameda / FTX, including legal and compliance, strongly implies they knew it was fraudulent.

Agree with your point on (2) that it could technically mean admin DB access.

Yeah, you're right. If these were just decisions that seemed individually rational, I don't see why so few of them were aware that these decisions were made. It's definitely suspicious.

From Reuters:

To conceal the transfers of customer funds to Alameda, Wang, a former Google software developer, built a backdoor in FTX's book-keeping software, the people said.

Bankman-Fried often told employees tasked with monitoring the company's financials that the book-keeping system was "the ultimate source of truth" about the company's accounts, two of the people said. But the backdoor, known only to his most trusted lieutenants, allowed Alameda to withdraw crypto deposits without triggering internal red flags, they said.

This also sounds more like an explicit backdoor built into a system, but not totally conclusive.

The backdoor cannot possibly be something like admin access to a server in this case. It had to be something that allowed SBF et al to move money out of FTX accounts without anyone else knowing that it was gone. So the account would have, say, $0 of assets while still displaying $8B of assets to any other employee. His talk about "folders" is nonsensical. Wherever the "folders" were held, when Alameda's loans got called in, those "folders" would have been empty, until they were filled from FTX's "folders" - which then would have been empty themselves. They had software displaying completely fake figures.
I don't think so: the "backdoor" refers to the internal accounting system.  My reading is that this refers to SBF being able to alter the software to make it display fake figures (whether or not that's true), and I think that could be accomplished by something like admin access.
1[comment deleted]
So, SBF gave himself a billion dollars:
Guy Raveh
But hasn't declared bankruptcy himself yet? Did he pay that back?
Who knows but...I presume definitely not? I mean no way was it an actual "loan."
Yes, these are the keys. I really wish he had been asked about the backdoor. All of that stuff will be revealed in court. This is just another attempt at PR for him.
3[comment deleted]

[EDIT: I was assuming from the content of the conversation Sam and Kelsey had some preexisting social connection that made a "talking to a friend" interpretation reasonable. From Kelsey's tweets people linked elsewhere in this thread it sounds like they didn't, and all their recent interactions had been around her writing about him as a journalist. I think that makes the ethics much less conflicted.]

I'm conflicted on the ethics of publishing this conversation. I read this as if Sam's is talking to Kelsey this way because he thought he was talking casually with a friend in her personal capacity. And while the normal journalistic ethics is something like "things are on the record unless we agree otherwise", that's only true for professional conversations, right? Like, if Kelsey were talking with a housemate over dinner and then that ended up in a Vox article I would expect everyone would see that as unfair to the housemate? Surely the place you end up isn't "journalists can't have honest friendships", right? Perhaps Kelsey doesn't think of herself as Sam's friend, but I can't see how Kelsey could have gone through that conversation thinking "Sam thinks he's talking to me as a journalist".

On the other hand, Sam's behavior has been harmful enough that I could see an argument that he doesn't deserve this level of consideration, and falling back on a very technical reading of journalistic ethics is ok?

Copying what I posted in the LW thread: 
Sam has since tweeted "25) Last night I talked to a friend of mine. They published my messages. Those were not intended to be public, but I guess they are now."

His claims are hard to believe. Kelsey is very well-known as a journalist in EA circles. She says she interviewed him for a piece in May. Before Sam's tweet, she made a point of saying that she avoids secretly pulling "but I never said it would be off-the-record, you just asked for that" shenanigans. She confirmed the conversation with an email from her work account. She disputes the "friend" claim, and says they've never had any communication in any platform she can find, other than the aforementioned interview.

The only explanations that make sense to me are:

  • Sam expected Kelsey's coverage to be more favorable and is now regretting his conversation
  • Sam has been under so much stress that even the incredibly obvious fact that this was a professional interview was something he failed to realize
  • Sam is just lying here, perhaps after hearing from his lawyers about how dumb the interview was 

She disputes the "friend" claim, and says they've never had any communication in any platform she can find, other than the aforementioned interview.

The tweet you linked to appears to have been deleted.

I'm honestly more than a bit surprised to see there being doubts on the propriety of publishing this. Like on the facts that Kelsey gives, it seems obvious that their relationship is journalist-subject (particularly given how experienced SBF is with the press). But even if you were to assume that they had a more casual social relationship than is being disclosed (which I do not), if you just blew up your company in a (likely) criminal episode that is the most damaging and public event in the history of the social movement you're a part of, and your casual friend the journalist just wants to ask you a series of questions over DM, the idea that you have an expectation of privacy (without your ever trying to clarify that the conversation is private) does not seem very compelling to me. 

Like, your therapist/executive coach just gave an interview on the record to the New York Times. You are front page news around the world. You know your statements are newsworthy. Why is the baseline here "oh this is just a conversation between friends?" (Particularly where one of the parties is like "no we are totally not friends")

I don't mean for my tone to be too harsh here, but I think this article is clearly in the public interest and I really just don't see the logic for not publishing it. 

Kelsey's messages are written in a style of informality that strongly suggests a casual conversation with a friend, and not a formal interview with a journalist. The emoji reactions have a similar effect, and there isn't an introductory message along the lines of "would you be happy to talk to vox". This overall seemed somewhat manipulative to me.

Ugh, yeah. Publishing details about people without their consent (especially if there's a bait and switch like you suggested) is the kind of thing I'd expect from an outlet like TMZ, not Vox's Future Perfect. I think that, if it seemed like SBF didn't realize the conversation was on the record, Kelsey should have clarified that to him at some point.

Edit, clarification: In the theory of contextual integrity, there are context-relative information norms that dictate when and with whom one can share private information about someone else. Different sets of norms apply to conversations with journalists in their capacity as journalists and casual conversations. Like you said, the tone of the conversation suggests that the casual-conversation norms should apply. If Kelsey wanted to publish the conversation, she should have clarified that she wanted the journalist-conversation norms to apply.

That’s just not how it works, and everyone who interacts with journalists with any regularity at all (like Sam has for years) knows that that’s not how it works.

A lot of people in this thread don’t know those norms and seem to be trying to reason about them from first principles or something. This is not useful. The norms are what they are, have been well-established for decades, and are common knowledge among all relevant parties. Sam has certainly had them explained to him many, many times.

This is entirely on him.

Surely everyone on this thread realises that there should be a relevant distinction between being some random hack and 'the EA journalist'. We're holding her to higher standards than general journalistic norms.

Some thoughts about this --

I genuinely thought SBF spoke to me with the knowledge I was a journalist covering him, knew we were on the record, and knew that an article quoting him was going to happen.*** The reasons I thought that were: 

- I knew SBF was very familiar with how journalism works. At the start of our May interview I explained to him how on the record/off the record works, and he was (politely) impatient because he knew it because he does many interviews. 

- I knew SBF had given on the record interviews to the New York Times and Washington Post in the last few days, so while it seemed to me like he clearly shouldn't be talking to the press, it also seemed like he clearly was choosing to do so for some reason and not at random.  Edited to add: additionally, it appears that immediately after our conversation concluded he called another journalist to talk on the record and say among other things that he'd told his lawyer to "go fuck himself" and that lawyers "don’t know what they’re talking about".  I agree it is incredibly bizarre that Sam was knowingly saying things like this on the record to journalists.

- Obviously SBF's communications right now are g... (read more)


I'm going to argue a line here that I'm uncertain of.

The key question in this part of the thread seems to be "Did SBF expect you to be on the record?". To which, I guess you were scared the answer was no, hence you didn't ask during the initial conversation. Even in the follow up you don't say "can I share our screenshots".

I can see the social benefit to the conversation. But I guess I don't necessarily buy the "I did the journalism norms thing so it's okay". I think I buy "it provided a lot of social benefit so I did it" which does feel ends justify means-ey but in a way that I think most people can accept from someone who defrauded billions of dollars. 

I don't say you were wrong. Who prepares for a decision like this? It was the break of a lifetime and it would have almost seemed suspicious if you let a funder off here. But I don't necessarily buy that it was straightforwardly acceptable either. What I do think is that I don't buy the "it was journalistic norms" defence.

But her defense wasn't that she was just following journalistic norms, but rather that she was in fact following significantly stricter norms than that.

And why would sharing the screenshots in particular be significant? Writing a news story from an interview would typically include quotes from the interview, and quoting text carries the same information content as a screenshot of it.

"I genuinely thought SBF was comfortable with our interview being published and knew that was going to happen. "

This is not credible, and anyone who thinks this is credible is engaged in motivated reasoning.

I still think you should have published the interview, but you don't need to lie about this.

There are options between credible and lying. It's possible, for one thing, that Kelsey was engaged in some motivated reasoning herself, trying to make these trade-offs between her values while faced with a clear incentive in one direction.

Weak disagree but upvoted - I think that Kelsey has played this game enough to know what's up

I genuinely thought SBF was comfortable with our interview being published and knew that was going to happen.

For what it's worth, I don't buy this.

My understanding is that you didn't ask SBF whether he wanted the text published. More importantly, I am confident you would have been able to correctly predict that he would say "no" if you did ask. Hence, why you didn't.

The reasons SBF wouldn't want his DMs published are too obvious to belabor: he said things like "fuck regulators", that his "ethics" were nothing but a cover for PR, and he spoke in a conversationalist rather than professional tone. Even if you actually thought he would probably be OK with those messages being leaked, an ethical journalist would at least ask, because of the highly plausible "no" you would have received.

In my opinion, publishing the DMs without his consent might have been the right thing to do, for the greater good. I do not think you're a bad person for doing it. But I don't think it makes sense to have expected SBF to want the conversation to be published, and I don't think it makes sense for you to claim you thought that.

I'm also not persuaded by the appeal journalistic norms, since I think journalistic norms generally fall well below high ethical standards.

I believed that SBF thought not that the conversation was secret but that the coverage would be positive. 

That doesn't seem plausible to me. I haven't seen any substantive reason for why you should have thought that. Again, SBF said things like "fuck regulators" and you knew that he was trying to foster a good public image to regulators. I find the idea that you thought that he thought people would react positively to the leaks highly implausible. And the "fuck regulators" comment was not the only example of something that strikes me as a thing he obviously meant to keep private. The whole chat log was littered with things that he likely did not want public. And again, you could have just asked him whether he wanted the DMs published. In my opinion, you were either very naive about what he expected, or you're not being fully honest about what you really thought, and I don't think either possibility reflects well on what you did.

My best guess is:

- if you asked SBF "did you know that Kelsey was writing a story for Vox based on your conversation with her, sharing things you said to her in DMs?" the answer would be yes. Again, I sent an email explicitly saying I was writing about this, from my Vox account with a Vox Media Senior Reporter footer, which he responded to. 

- if you asked SBF "is Kelsey going to publish specifically the parts of the conversation that are the most embarrassing/look bad", the answer would be no. 

- if you asked me "is SBF okay with this being published", I think I would have said "I know he knows I'm writing about it and I'm pretty damn sure he knows how "on the record" works but he's probably going to be mad about the tone and contents". 

I agree that it would be bizarre and absurd to believe, and disingenuous to claim, "Sam thought Kelsey would make him look extremely bad, and was okay with this".


I agree that it would be bizarre and absurd to believe, and disingenuous to claim, "Sam thought Kelsey would make him look extremely bad, and was okay with this".

This is not the claim I am making. I don't think you thought that, or claimed that.

The most important claim I'm trying to make is that I think it was obvious that SBF would not want those DMs published, and so it doesn't make sense for you to claim you thought he would be OK with it.

Note that I am not saying that publishing those DMs is definitely bad. Again, it might have been worth it to violate his consent for the greater good. I'm still uncertain about the ethics of violating someone's consent like that, but it's a plausible perspective.

I mostly just don't think you should say you thought he'd be OK with you publishing the DMs, because I think that's very likely false.

But Kelsey said in her email that she was going to write about their conversation, and he didn't object. What do you think his epistemic state was, if he knew she was writing about the conversation but objected to the actual damning things he said being included? It seems like for those things to both be true, it would have to be the case that he expected her to write a piece that somehow left out the most damning things, i.e. to write a weirdly positively distorted piece.
I guess he could have also not been reading carefully and missed that somehow?
Making this account""
Re "fuck regulators", I guess it's possible that in the mental state he was in, he thought this would go down well with the crypto community and he could regain some of their trust that way, or something. Recently the crypto community had turned against him for being too cosy with regulators in the US. See e.g. this clip that went viral on crypto twitter recently (28 Oct), and the reaction to his proposed regulations.

Yeah, I've had like 2 conversations with journalists and even I think this is pretty obvious to anyone with even basic media training (which Sam obviously has). I don't have much sympathy for people claiming there was some kind of malpractice here.

FWIW some people are acting like the social rules around on vs. off the record are obvious and Sam should have known, but the rules are not obvious to me, and this sort of thing makes me reluctant to talk to any friends who are journalists.

I sort of agree with you, but I also think that Sam had much more experience talking to journalists than either of us do and so it's more reasonable to say that he should have known how this works.

It takes about a minute of googling to find an article that reasonably accurately clarifies what is meant by "on the record", "background", and "off the record". The social rule is that when speaking to a journalist about anything remotely newsworthy (if unsure, assume it is), you're on the record unless you say you'd rather not be and the journalist explicitly agrees.

The rules aren't self-evident, they're just well-known among people who need to know them. People are acting like Sam should have known because he has been actively engaging with the press for years now, has consulted with PR professionals, etc. The idea that these rules have not been explained to him clearly and repeatedly is vanishingly unlikely to the point of being laughable.

There's no reason to be reluctant to talk to journalist friends about non-newsworthy stuff, and the vast majority of things normal people talk to their friends about are not newsworthy. If you want to talk to a journalist friend about something that might be newsworthy, it's as easy as just saying "off the record, yeah?" and them responding "yeah of course." Takes five seconds and is really not an issue.

I'm not saying Sam didn't know he was on the record. I'm saying I, personally, don't understand when I should expect to be on or off the record, and you saying it's obvious doesn't make me understand. Saying "newsworthy" doesn't help because I don't always know what's newsworthy, and it's basically tautological anyway.

And Kelsey's tweets show that journalists don't even agree on what the rules are, namely, some believe it's ok to quote something that the interviewee says is off the record, and others (like Kelsey) say it's not. If they disagree about this, they probably also disagree about other things. Even if I know the social rules according to one journalist, that doesn't mean I can safely talk to a different journalist because they might be following different rules.

If your journalist friends are good friends, maybe you could agree with them that all of your conversations are off the record by default, and they have to ask if they want to put anything on the record (and maybe even get that in writing just in case?). And then only remind them of this if you want to talk about something that readily comes to mind as being potentially sensitive/newsworthy.
I don't know you personally so I can't say whether this applies to you specifically, but: the vast majority of people do not say newsworthy things to their friends basically ever. I really don't think it makes sense to feel anxious about this or change your behaviour based on a (former?) multi-billionaire's DMs getting published. Almost everyone who is in the reference class of "people who need to worry about this" is aware that they are in that reference class.

Almost everyone who is in the reference class of "people who need to worry about this" is aware that they are in that reference class.

Fwiw, my guess is that a large fraction of the people writing on this Forum are suddenly and unwittingly in that reference class. So while I may agree with your literal statement, I want to emphasize and underline that the relevant implications are not very strong for this forum, especially now.

I think that's a pretty fair point but a bit overstated? I don't think arbitrary EAs have that much to worry about here, I think it's mainly just people with a more direct connection to the events. That's certainly not a small group, but I'm not sure it's a "large fraction of the people writing on this Forum" either. And again, I think we all generally know who we are and know that that implies we should be cautious when talking to journalists. That said I certainly don't think it would hurt for everyone writing on this Forum to explicitly confirm that they're off the record when talking to any journalists for the next few weeks. I don't see doing so as very costly at all.

Not in my experience. In the past couple of days, a former housemate of a couple of months, who is now a journalist, reached out to a mutual friend asking to be put in touch with any EA people she knew, as she’s writing a piece on the impact of the FTX stuff on EA (AFAIK she knows very little about EA).

I have nothing to do with the current events, but IMO journalists will definitely mine their social networks to get content from anyone even tangentially related to the events, if that’s the closest they can get.

I should maybe have been clearer. When talking to a random journalist you don’t know, I think it’s pretty obvious that you should confirm whether you’re on the record or not. I was more trying to address the concern about whether things are newsworthy when talking to friends who also happen to be journalists. Journalists have beats, and most journalists are not currently working any stories for which comments from random EAs are newsworthy. A few journalists are! And if you happen to be talking to those ones, then, yeah, exercise more caution. I dunno I think people are just really overestimating the likelihood of getting “caught on the record” as a random EA. It’s hard to explain precisely why, but, if any EA who is totally unconnected to current events ends up with their words being published against their expectations I will be very surprised. Happy to bet against it happening at 4:1 odds (for relatively small amounts as it’s a bit hard to make the criteria ungameable).

Yeah I also suspect that this was a betrayal of trust and feel conflicting about whether it was justified. I haven't seen any explicit mention of Sam consenting to sharing it. This could be him high on stimulants going through the worst times of his life, messaging a friend while thinking about other things. Easy to see how you end up saying things with interpretations that you wouldn't endorse.

It seems like they weren't friends,  only professional acquaintances up until 5 years ago, and then more recently journalist-subject. So it's a bit disingenuous to say he was 'talking with a friend' as though they had anything resembling a DMing relationship within the past 5 years. 

Max Utility
In journalism the ethical standard is both parties have to state an acknowledgement of a conversation being off the record before the conversation occurs. 
Jeff Kaufman
That must make having a journalist as a friend pretty tedious, if every conversation has to start with "confirming that we're off the record? yes" (I have several journalist friends and I don't do this, and now I'm wondering if I should start)

I've had some people say to me "I'd like all future conversations with you to be off the record/confidential unless we agree otherwise". I agreed to this. 

1[comment deleted]

I mean, depends what your housemate did, doesn't it? You can decide to be loyal and protect them, or you can decide it's in the public interest to know? Imagine you're friends with the prime minister and they tell you they took a bribe. Surely those journalistic ethics stop weighing more than your duty to report it?

(Sorry, edited a few times)

Given that Kelsey reports on EA for a living, it does seem plausible that basically every causal interaction people have with her should begin with 'Do you agree this conversation is on background', which seems unfortunate. 

I don't understand how you talk WITH A JOURNALIST and are then surprised when they publish what you say. Like, what do you think their job is?

If Kelsey had a close personal relationship with him (e.g. family member), that gets a bit more blurry. But in this case most/all of their interactions have been in a professional context, as far as I can tell. No shades of gray here.

In my book she has done everything above board. To whatever extent he's gotten burned, it's by being too dumb to see the incredibly obvious consequences of his own actions. Which is becoming a real pattern.

James Sully
He at least claims he didn't intend for the conversation to be public. Difficult to see how it didn't occur to him that he should explicitly state it was off the record.
James Sully
The claim that Sam considered it an informal chat between friends seems hard to square with this tweet from Kelsey

In the Vox piece, Kelsey says she emailed Sam to confirm he had access to his Twitter account and this conversation had been with him. It's not completely clear to me that Sam should have interpreted this as an implicit request for permission. In his reply, Sam only confirmed that it was him who had responded and not an impersonator ("Still me, not hacked!"); he doesn't give an indication that he is consenting to the release of the conversation. See also Peter Slattery's comment.

James Sully
I don't disagree with any of that. To be clear, I wasn't using that tweet as evidence she asked permission, but rather that they had little prior relationship. What I'm confused by is why he assumed that he had any presumption of privacy in the first place, given the fact that she's a journalist and they don't have a significant prior friendship. In my opinion, that's not a situation where Kelsey is obligated to explicitly check if he's ok with this being on the record. That ought to be the default assumption.
Yes, based on Kelsey's subsequent tweets, it seems like it would be a stretch to call their relationship one of friendship. If they were not friends, the main apparent reason against releasing the conversation is that Sam would probably have declined to give consent if Kelsey had asked for it. But based on Sam's extensive experience with journalists, it's hard to see how he could not have formed the expectation that, by engaging in an exchange with Kelsey, he was tacitly consenting to the publication of that exchange. Maybe he was deluded about the nature of their relationship and falsely believed that they were friends. Overall, it now seems to me that Kelsey probably did nothing wrong here.
It is often the explicit job of a journalist to uncover and release publicly important information from sources who would not consent to its release.
Sam Elder
She is a journalist whose previous interaction with SBF had been a published interview. He clearly approached the conversation too casually, but, I mean, he’s also still tweeting. His own reaction was much more “welp, gives you some color” than actually furious about it. You also have to consider the implications of holding onto the information rather than publishing it. I think it would be far worse for Future Perfect, who SBF gave money to, to be seen as trying to hide information about his internal mindset. Maybe you might argue she shouldn’t have reached out in the first place, but I think it’s pretty clearly newsworthy stuff!

You also have to consider the implications of holding onto the information rather than publishing it. I think it would be far worse for Future Perfect, who SBF gave money to, to be seen as trying to hide information about his internal mindset.

I don't think this consideration should have influenced Kelsey's decision to publish the conversation. Indeed, if it was improper for her to release the exchange with SBF, it is even worse if she did so out of a concern that this would improve her reputation or Vox's. (I doubt this influenced her decision, though.)

Sam Elder
It clearly influenced her editor.
Mmh, I'm not sure that's the correct interpretation of Dylan's tweet. I read him as saying that Vox is not less likely to publish stuff that reflects poorly on you if you are a sponsor, not that being a sponsor makes it more likely that they'll publish that stuff.
Sam Elder
That's how I read him too. They want to show that they wouldn't bury the piece because of his sponsorship.
0[comment deleted]

I really don't understand how you could have read that whole interview and see SBF as incompetent rather than a malicious sociopath. I know this is a very un-EA-forum-like comment, but I think it's necessary to say.

My main reason to think along these lines is that his previous rise to fame and fortune seems way easier to square with con artistry rather than mere incompetence.

Agustín Covarrubias
While the interview was largely incoherent, and he definitely admitted to some pretty bad stuff (like misrepresenting his views for PR), it also fits very well into the incompetence hypothesis many in the community had suggested before. If he really is a malicious sociopath, at least he came across as relatively sincere, and this interview shouldn't update strongly either way.

I mean, he said "the part I most regret was filing for bankruptcy" (ie, when he stopped hurting people and acknowledged his poor actions) , and that he has spent his entire career lying about his ethical beliefs, and in general showed absolutely no sign of remorse for the people he had hurt. This is borderline-indistinguishable from the logic that horrific dictators use to justify themselves, and he did it all while being a well-known figure in a movement built around doing good! I don't know if sociopath is exactly the right word, but it is definitely the sign of someone who doesn't care about other human beings.

Agustín Covarrubias
I somewhat agree with this. I think that regardless of whether his individual decisions around customer funds arose from incompetence, this interview still reflects extremely bad on him.  We should be completely clear that the behavior he described is absolutely abhorrent either way.

A lot of liar’s paradox issues with this interview.

Edit: leaving the original tweet below, but I no longer endorse this take.

SBF is a lot more cynical/nihilistic/immoral than I had suspected.

I think people are overrating the causal role EA ideology played here.

This doesn't sound like someone for whom utilitarian calculus was a decisive factor.

  • "It's only wrong if you lose"
  • "If you win it doesn't matter what your morals were."
  • "Being upright/principled and losing is bad"
  • "Ethical talk is just PR"
  • "Ethics is itself just signalling and status games"

What a bleak world view.

Curious - my understanding is that he's doubling down on the utilitarian calculus here. The "ethics" he's talking about here are the deontological constraints that many consequentialist/utilitarian EAs say provide an external check and balance. He's saying those guardrails are "just signaling and status games" for him.

This was my understanding as well, that he actually believes in utilitarianism and was only cynical about individual public stances like the value of regulation or the importance of transparency. 

What was the end game here then? I struggle to see how one can say this shows that SBF practices utilitarianism beyond lip service. You can only make assumptions as to what his future plans were. His tangible actions thus far have shown more malicious forethought than poor judgement in my opinion, or perhaps a bit of both (as the man himself says the world is not black and white). If he thought that there's no value in regulation than there's far less negatively impactful ways to go about skirting it than stealing from the commoners. I dunno... maybe use the immense wealth accrued to advocate for real changes in the regulatory bodies. Is that not what a true utilitarian would choose?

Would genuinely like to hear why people disagree that is what SBF is referring to when he speaks of "ethics". I believe most consequentialist EAs mean it when they say ethical rules keep their decision making in check. But SBF seems to disavow that as a personal choice - so if I'm misreading or misunderstanding this, open to hearing an alternate reading.

I currently think SBF was just lying about not caring about ethics.
I think winning here = maximising EV, and “ethical talk” is the deontological constraints on utilitarianism

Copying over some comments I made on Twitter, in response to someone suggesting that Sam now appears to be "a sociopath who never gave a toss about EA or its ideals":

He does seem pretty sociopathic, but it's still unclear to me whether he really cared about EA.

I think it's totally possible that he genuinely wanted to improve the world by funding EA causes, and is also a narcissistic liar who is unwilling to place limits on his own behavior.

As Jess Riedel pointed out to me, it looks like Bill Gates ruthlessly exploited his monopoly in the 90s, and also genuinely tried to do good with his money in the 2000s. Trying to cause good things to happen is totally compatible with also doing bad things.

I think it's important for us to keep this possibility in mind. Otherwise I think we're more likely to fail to question and put limits on our own behavior, since we're confident our intentions are good.

Yeah, "is a sociopath" is such a deceptively binary way to state it. He seems to be on that spectrum to a certain degree - likely aggravated by stress and psychopharmacology. I'm skeptical of the easy-out narrative to dismissively pathologize here; I also think that in doing so we lose the chance to more critically examine that spectrum as it relates to EAs at large

The "ethics is a front" stuff: is SBF saying naive utilitarianism is true and his past messaging amounted to a noble lie? Or is he saying ethics in general (including his involvement in EA) was a front to "win" and make money? Sorry if this is super obvious, I just see people commenting with both interpretations. To me it seems like he's saying Option A (noble lie).

EDIT: Just adding some examples of people interpreting it as Option B (EA was the front): 1 2 3 4

I also got the same impression. He talks about “ethics”, but in context he seems (I'm not completely sure) to be talking about something like ethical injunctions specifically.

I had a similar impression. Some related thoughts here.
If this is his line of thinking it still comes off as flawed to me. He is intelligent enough to know that there was a risk involved of people losing their money. If we assume he weighed the risks and determined that the chance of success in this risky venture outweighed the possibility of many thousands of people losing their life savings; well I suppose we could say he was misguided at best and indifferent to the suffering of others at worst. At what point do we stop taking what someone says at face value and instead look at their actions?
Agree but leaning more towards Option B. Wish this was discussed more explicitly, since it's the question that determines whether this was "naive utilitarian went too far" (bad) or "sociopath using EA to reputation-launder" (bad). Since EA as a movement is soul-searching right now, it's pretty important to figure out exactly which thing happened, as that informs us what to change about EA to prevent this from happening again.

whether this was "naive utilitarian went too far" (bad) or "sociopath using EA to reputation-launder" (bad).

I think this is a false dichotomy. You can be a psychopath (i.e. have highly elevated psychopathic traits) and nonetheless be a true believer in an ideology that is about bettering the world. For example, Stalin clearly had highly elevated psychopathic traits but (IIRC) he also risked his life to further communist goals. (To be clear, I'm not saying that Sam is nearly as bad as Stalin.)

Good point, I think I've heard this perspective before but forgot.
C, Neither. The obvious interpretation is exactly what he said - people ultimately don't care whether you maintained their standard of 'ethical' as long as you win. Which means that as far as talking about other people's ethics, it's all PR, regardless of how ethical you're being by your own standards.  (I basically concur. Success earns massive amounts of social capital, and that social capital can buy a whole lot of forgiveness. Whether it also comes with literal capital which literally buys forgiveness is almost immaterial next to that.) So he's said essentially nothing about his own ethics and whether he believes he stuck to them. Later elaboration strongly suggests he considered his actions 'sketchy' but doesn't even say that outright. This is entirely consistent with SBF believing that he never did anything wrong on purpose.  Whether you think that belief is true, false but reasonable, or totally delusionary, is a separate matter. Just based on this interview I'd say "false but reasonable", but there's a lot of unsubstantiated claims of a history of lying that I haven't evaluated.
Agustín Covarrubias
I've edited the post to mention this issue, linking to this comment and a recent post that appeared on the question. Getting this right seems pretty crucial to the whole discussion.

This is meaningfully worse that I thought his first interview would be. Both in terms of the format and his flippancy about his actions and the admissions about his apparently intentional deceit? “Saying the right things” has always felt over rated in EA - I have seen people lose a lot of trust by saying something potentially dangerous like “hey maybe we should do XYZ biotech research” given the State view on the thing. Anyway, this sucks and I’m really disappointed. Props to Kelsey for always being level headed and steady. Not an easy situation to balance your duties as a journalist, EA, and human being. Mad respect.

I think it’s hard to be a public figure and have rigorous epistemic and interpersonal standards and I think Kelsey is one of the best. I don’t have to endorse all her actions to think this and i’d prefer we saw some messiness than that that messiness was hidden from us. Thanks for your work Kelsey.

SBF character arc went from lawful good to chaotic evil in a timeframe that anime writers would laugh at...

Since when was he lawful good? I've never thought of him as anything but chaotic.
Dr Dan Epstein
Well I guess the character perception 2 weeks ago was closer to lawful. But now it's a bit of a closed case😶

Does anyone know, did Sam consent to this conversation being shared or did he communicate with Kelsey in expectation that it was a private conversation? I am absolutely blown away by this coming out and by how casually he discussed all of these things in these circumstances. Literally saying WTF.

Kelsey clarified in a tweet that if someone asks for a conversation to be off the record and she isn't willing to keep it off the record, she explicitly tells them so.

Presumably he made some unfounded assumptions about how sympathetic she'd be and whether she'd publish the screenshots, but never asked her not to.

I think if you talk to a reporter, unless you explicitly note before beginning that the conversation is off the record and they agree to it, you have to assume that anything you say can be shared.


Maybe this is him referencing the article? 

Last night I talked to a friend of mine. They published my messages. Those were not intended to be public, but I guess they are now.  https://twitter.com/SBF_FTX/status/1593014934207881218

Ok, either SBF is actually a complete moron, or this was a very calculated ploy. Making it seem like it was not intended for the public just make his statements seem more authentic.  But: Even though there is lots of stuff here which is incriminating, it nevertheless lets him off the hook somewhat:  * he is adamant that there was never any intent to do anything bad with customer deposits, things just happened along the way * he says that the hack had nothing to do with him or anybody in his circle (that's assumed at least) * there is no mention of the "backdoor" which allowed him to do things with customer money without oversight * he comes off as bizarre and incompetent, rather than as a evil super-villain Given that he so far has been known to be very media savvy and to cultivate his and FTX's image in a way that benefits him, I would be very surprised if he just assumed that his journalist friend would not publish these things at all.
Why not both?
Andrew Clough
I think this is an area where induction is important?  If my previous interactions with someone are friendly conversation, it makes sense to interpret a request that they ask me questions as an invitation to more friendly conversation.  If they've previously interviewed me professionally and haven't had friendly conversations with me, it make sense to interpret that as an interview. As to SBF's tweet, I think we should bear in mind that he sometimes lies.

Sounds like he thought he was talking to Kelsey as a friend and not in her professional capacity.

Somehow, a mental model of him that appears reasonably compatible with a lot of his actions and this interview is ~ "he always does or says what he thinks is locally and situationally optimal in terms of presenting himself, but never considers any more macro or long-term picture, or even consistency or consequences". 

He almost appears surprised by how far this has gotten him?
Based on this, I would not believe anything he says here (or in general)?

I think that a part of this perception is created by him actively framing his actions in a way compatible with a 'press secretary model of the human mind' (cf. "Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite").

My impression is that he does consciously notice a mistake, and is shaken to some degree. In distancing himself from the aspects of his thinking which led to this mistake, he treats his motivations as more clear-cut than they truly were and pushes against them. 
If that story were the full truth, he would not have given these answers which are basically the opposite of "locally and situationally optimal in terms of presenting himself". 

I think that we would make a mistake in thinking "well, clearly SBF was a bad person all along, so I and other EAs will not end up making structurally similar mistakes anyway" (I am not trying to imply that this is what you said/think and only add this for completeness).  Regarding lessons on a community level, I think that much of the discussion on the Forum in the recent days makes a lot of sense. 

This is a well nuanced post. Cheers for the insight!

We know now that Sam is a pathological liar which makes it hard to take anything he says (including this interview) at face value. He's facing serious jail time for this mess and has a strong incentive to present himself/FTX as incompetent vs deliberate frauds. I'm pretty skeptical of his claim that they just 'happened' to make a sequence of decisions which were above board in isolation but added up to gambling with FTX customer deposits

At this point, it seems clear that SBF only cared about effective altruism as much as Walter White cared about providing for his family after he would die from cancer -- useful fronts to convince the world and maybe even themselves in the beginning, but not their actual motivation at the end of the day

Maybe, but not so clear. He may have cared about consequentialist utilitarianism but just faked the deontology part.

I have 2 weeks to raise $8b

that's basically all that matters for the rest of my life

Two weeks to live? I'm slightly worried. But only slightly.

[To clarify: I wrote ‘slightly’ because it appears that Sam writes a lot of things that aren't very reliable and well thought-out. So I didn't want to put too much stock in a particular phrasing.]

In all seriousness, I hope he is on some sort of suicide watch. If anyone in his orbit is reading this, you need to keep an eye on him or have his dad or whoever keep an eye on him. 

I had the same thought from the same two lines, as did a few other EAs when I asked on a Facebook thread. Re: Karma (because I've been noticing unexpected karma things recently and this is another unexpected karma thing): I'm not sure why your comment has been downvoted (6 karma, 9 votes) whereas the reply to you got a lot of upvotes (62 karma, 30 votes). Some hypotheses (even though others are better suited to answer!): 1. Perhaps it's a subtly with the wording? 1. The hypothesis that it's just a bad comment doesn't seem like a good hypothesis because I made essentially the same comment on a Facebook thread earlier and got positive engagement. So maybe it's something about the wording? 1. I know you and had the same thought as you, which is affecting my interpretation of the comment and making it hard for me to speculate what about the wording could make some people downvote it. I'd be interested in someone sharing why they'd downvote it if any of those people are reading this. 2. Maybe it's something to do with a top-level comment versus a reply? E.g. People could be voting differently on top-level comments to help sort which ones appear first on this top, and the fact that your comment is noting a speculative concern that SBF may be suicidal may seem less important for other users to see than other top-level comments. 3. NeoMohist is a new user; their reply to you was their first comment. Maybe that has something to do with why their comment got a lot of upvotes? But I'm not sure how it would.
Richard Möhn
Thanks for your concern about my karma! ;-) The difference between my comment and the reply is indeed surprising. I wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't pointed it out. Here are other, more or less plausible, explanations: * Most likely: My comment was a quick, abstract throwaway. I even avoided the word ‘suicide’ because I didn't feel good about bringing it up explicitly. NeoMohist's reply is more concrete, emotional and caring. I guess people resonate with that more and want to say with their upvote: ‘Yes, me worried too. Please keep an eye on him.’ * It was a quick, throwaway comment bringing up suicide. It carries bad vibes and doesn't add much. (I guess on Facebook it's harder/harsher to ‘downvote’ and people just decide not to react in that case, leaving you with the positive reactions.) * NeoMohist has a cool username. * EA Forum behaviour is deteriorating. (I was sometimes puzzled how things developed with my article on hiring and the comments on it. Of course, I'm biased for my article and comments.) * Without the clarification (although I added it before all the karma accrued to the reply), one could misunderstand my comment as: ‘I'm only slightly worried because losing Sam wouldn't be a big loss, given what was happened.’ (I feel bad for even spelling out this possible misinterpretation.) * People read continuously until the end of the comment chain and vote only there, instead of going back and looking what else might deserve an upvote.

I have to say this reads as authentic, but I can't completely exclude the possibility that he is actually only saying all this to try and protect the reputation of effective altruism, because, if he were an effective altruist, that would be how he could 'do the most good possible'. It's also difficult to know how much credence to give to the words of a serial liar. What possible reason does he have to smear himself like this before an imminent court case?

Obviously I don't think that's likely... it's just difficult to know how to judge this.

That would be some 7D chess from a broken man trying to avoid some serious personal legal consequences. Noble if true but it’s not! Also would suggest additional hubris around the ability to predict how anything will play in the public, which I guess seems more possible? Anyway, I think this take is probably not right?

This definitely crossed my mind. Assuming he expected it to be published and he'd guess how bad his responses would look, this would be one of the few rational explanations for his sudden repudiation of ethics. But it also seems fairly likely that his mind is in a pretty chaotic place and his actions aren't particularly rational, though.
SBF has demonstrated ineptitude in that FTX did fail. If this is a ploy, it's possible this an inept one (an inept ploy can cause debate over whether it is a ploy) (so can a semicapable ploy). Maybe SBF was immoral, maybe SBF could be a galaxy-brained EA who bit the St. Petersburg Paradox bullet (which bullet he bit on Tyler Cowen's podcast), maybe something else.  Because EA orgs don't know what happened, that's evidence that EA orgs should be preparing against both those things happening in the future. Only one cause was primary in reality, but there are nearby possible worlds where something else was the cause. (Posts have been made on this forum discouraging  EAs from being galaxy-brained and immoral, but maybe that's not enough, I don't know. Maybe other things are happening in private that are cost-effective preventions).

Sounds like he's still in denial. Clutching at straws. Shocking about the embrace of ends-justify-means naive utilitarianism and "winning is all that matters", and the admission that previously stated reasonable views on ethics were all just a ruse (or a means to the end of gaining power and influence!)

Can Kelsey arrange a head-to-head between SBF and Will MacAskill?

I don't understand this conversation. The common take is that SBF has been caught admitting he's a Machiavellian nihilist but then ... he did contact a journalist and choose to say this. He cannot have reasonably thought it wouldn't be shared. What was he hoping to achieve? Seems like bizarre self-sabotage. I wondered if it was some contorted attempt to make himself the fall guy rather than have EA thinking take the blame.

I think a simpler explanation for his bizarre actions is that he is probably the most stressed-out person on the face of the earth right now. Or he's not seeing the situation clearly, or some combination of the two. Also probably sleep-deprived, struggling to get good advice from people around him, etc.

(This is not meant to excuse any of his actions or words, I think he's 100% responsible for everything he says and does.)

definitely not struggling to get good advice:

What the fuck?

I really love the upvote:agreement ratio on this comment. There is some disagreement as to whether this is a good comment, but everybody agrees that what the fuck.


This is an interview that could only come from a guy who has encountered nothing but success until now and still doesn't really understand that he's failed.

A comment I initially posted elsewhere in private: I have to wonder how much was reputation-laundering from the beginning... maybe it was just reputational-laundering among his friend group?

Like, if I was a competitive sociopath, who landed in an EA social group for auxiliary reasons, but wanted to launder my reputation with them, it wouldn't be as easy as reputation-laundering from the POV of the general public.

Think: putting your name on a university building VS pretending to be a semi-competent longtermist.

Any chance we can get an interview with Nishad or Caroline? I feel like their answers would be a lot more informative in terms of what EA should take away from all this.

I assume that their lawyers are strongly encouraging them to not say anything.

Repost from LessWrong:

Dude is going to prison for life. I can't believe how many rationalists are out here suggesting he's gonna just walk away from this "because he's a democratic donor".

Maybe there was a galaxy brained legal road he could have taken that limited his damage to 5-10y after spending 10MM on an extraordinary plea negotiation and shutting the fuck up. He passed that fork in the road a hundred miles back. Currently he is sounding and acting like a megalomaniac to the point of seeming mentally ill. One wonders if he even realizes he's going to be criminally charged regardless of the outcome of his "fundraising".

Guy Raveh
Interesting difference between LW and the EA forum then. Very glad to say I haven't seen this take here even once.

I have no idea what to make of this interview, there's almost too much going on - is he lying, deluded, intoxicated, putting up a front of defiance to avoid facing the reality of his fall... All the flaws in the human psyche on display at once, in often contradictory ways.

The two most rational takeaways I would be comfortable staying with:

  • Whatever his deal is, I wouldn't want this guy (in his present state anyway) anywhere near my money
  • If he has a lawyer, he really should start listening to them instead of thinking 4D PR chess will get him out of this one

if he raises money it should go to pay out FTX depositors.

For anyone wondering about Sam's mental state: don't forget the somewhat high chance that he was intoxicated in some way during the interview.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities