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People will retweet anything for a bitcoin

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As bitcoin prices soar, a lot of us are regretting not investing in the currency years ago, when it was nothing but a very sketchy, dubious unknown worth a few dollars, rather than the very sketchy, dubious unknown worth over $16,000 that it is today.

That regret seems to be driving people to any chance they have to get their hands on a bitcoin. For example, a tweet by @Joshwilkyyy, who’s claiming that he’ll give five lucky folks the chance to own some bitcoin, has now racked up over 20,000 retweets.

There’s no sign the promise is legitimate, but people are biting anyway. And chances are, it isn’t a real offer: Joshwilkyyy wasn’t even the first person to make it. Another person on Twitter, Travis Weaver, posted the same exact promise an hour earlier. He’s at over 80,000 retweets and claims that tomorrow at 6PM, he’ll pick the winners. A handful of other copycats have racked up hundreds of their own retweets with a similar promise.

So why do people keep retweeting offers that seem sketchy? It could just be for the hell of it, or for the off chance that they do get lucky and land a bitcoin. But it’s hardly a new phenomenon — it’s essentially a new spin on chain letters, or on those viral Facebook posts that promise to do something ridiculous (like name a child Megatron) after getting a certain number of likes. Or on YouTube, when people ask for a thousand likes to confess to their high school crush. It’s great to feel like you’re part of this greater internet community and that your one like, retweet, or thumbs up can influence someone else in the world. In this case, it might just make you rich.

Weaver claims that he had purchased 1,500 bitcoin in 2011 for $2.87 each, which reflects historic prices. His tweet promises to give away five (more than $80,000 worth of bitcoin) to people who retweet him. But Weaver gave no proof that he really had the bitcoin to give away — nor did others making this offer. Weaver had never even tweeted about bitcoin before.

In a direct message on December 7th, Weaver admitted to The Verge that he doesn’t own any bitcoin and said that his tweet was a “social experiment.” He says, “I was working ... to better understand how users interact with Twitter and it’s gotten much bigger than expected.”

He continued that he actually wished he had bitcoin “because some of the people who’ve reached out today, who I really feel for, could use one.”

Josh, the one who posted a copycat tweet, has not responded to attempts to contact him. Chances are, he might just wish he owned some bitcoin too.

Update December 8th, 11:30AM ET: This article was updated with a response from Travis.