What Is a Paid Shill and How Can You Spot One?

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  • ‘Paid shill’ is a term that you will see across crypto social media platforms fairly frequently
  • The term was first coin in the late 19th century when carnival workers would pose as audience members
  • Cryptocurrency paid shills promote projects to their followers in return for money without revealing the fact they are being sponsored

If you spend any time in the cryptocurrency space, you will frequently come across the term ‘shill’. This can be a verb, in the context of someone who is shilling a project, or someone can be a paid shill. But what is a shill, what do they do, and how can you spot them?

From Carnivals to Crypto

The term ‘shill’ comes from the late 1800s to early 1900s and originated when travelling carnivals were all the rage. In this original context, shills were carnival workers who would pretend to be a member of the public and draw an audience towards a particular attraction. The practice soon morphed into the world of crime where pickpockets would employ shills to distract would-be victims as the crime was committed.

This concept of using a shill as a decoy to facilitate morally dubious behaviour grew as the 20th century progressed – gambling houses used shills to pretend they had won in order to attract punters, auctioneers would use them to increase the value of items by planting false bids, and scammers would employ shills to give the illusion of success to potential marks.

More modern versions of paid shills can be seen in marketing where so-called satisfied customers are used to promote products, and on online review sites where companies pay for fake positive reviews, the latter of which has seen companies convicted and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shilling Is Illegal

When considering the cryptocurrency world then, it’s pretty clear to see where a paid shill might fit in. The crypto world is a very tribal place, and while the majority of the opinions expressed online are genuine (if misplaced), there are a small number of individuals, usually with large followings, who get paid to promote certain coins or projects and don’t reveal the fact that they are being paid. These can certainly be classed as paid shills, and this practice too is illegal, as some celebrities have found out.

How to Spot a Paid Shill

It isn’t easy to spot a paid shill from just a single social media post, but there are patterns that can help you detect such behaviour. For example, if a single account is continually posting positively about a project at an early stage of its development then it is likely they are being paid to promote it. Equally, if a large number of heavily followed social media accounts are all talking up the same project then it’s pretty clear that the project has hired a number of paid shills.

Paid shills are in the minority in the cryptocurrency world but they are certainly worth keeping an eye out for, as history has shown that projects that try and drum up a huge amount of initial support sometimes do it to sell their tokens on an initial pump after riding the ‘hype’.