The number of UK adults who hold cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin has risen to an estimated 2.3 million, despite warnings from regulators and the head of the Bank of England that people should be prepared to lose all their money.
Research by the Financial Conduct Authority also revealed that almost 20% of buyers said they were driven by a fear of missing out, while one in seven were going into the red to finance their cryptocurrency purchases.
The median holding has risen from £260 a year ago to £300, though the highest holding reported by a respondent was £7m. Meanwhile, the typical profile of investors was “largely male, over 35 and [in the] AB social grade”, said the FCA.
Amid evidence that a new breed of mainly younger DIY investors are putting their money into the likes of bitcoin, ethereum and Ripple, the FCA conducted detailed research in January which concluded that cryptocurrencies “appear to have become more normalised”, with fewer of those investing regarding them as a gamble, and more as a legitimate alternative asset.
Looking at the main reasons people gave for putting money into bitcoin and other products, 18% responded: “I don’t want to miss out on buying cryptocurrencies.”
While most people said they paid for their cryptocurrency using their own disposable income or cash, 14% said they had turned to some form of borrowing – either a credit card, bank overdraft or loan from friends, family or a financial firm.
Laith Khalaf, a financial analyst at investment firm AJ Bell, said the fact buyers had borrowed to buy cryptocurrency “is simply terrifying”.
He added: “FOMO [fear of missing out] … is never a good motivation for financial decisions. Buying cryptocurrency is a dangerous financial activity, and while many consumers appear to understand the risks, some are carelessly playing with fire.”
The 2.3 million people who are estimated to own cryptocurrency equates to about 4.4% of UK adults, and is up more than a fifth on a year ago, when the figure was 1.9 million.
The FCA research found that “enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies as a product is growing among crypto users”, and that two in three (66%) of owners said they had enjoyed a positive return on their investment, with 11% reporting a loss.
But it also found that while the sector’s profile had increased, “the overall level of understanding has fallen”.
The research comes in the wake of a surge of interest in bitcoin and other digital currencies, fuelled by prices hitting record highs, tweets from high-profile figures such as the Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk, and posts from influencers on sites such as Instagram and TikTok.
Some institutional investors and traditional financial services firms have made moves into the sector, though there have been a series of warnings from senior figures that the extreme volatility of cryptocurrencies means investors could face a wipeout.
Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said earlier this year that bitcoin had “no intrinsic value at all”, adding: “I’ve said a number of times: ‘Only buy bitcoin if you’re prepared to lose all your money’.”
Regulators at the European Central Bank have compared bitcoin’s meteoric rise to other financial bubbles such as “tulip mania” and the South Sea Bubble, while the FCA said putting money into cryptocurrencies “is high-risk … investors should be prepared to lose all their money”.
Two-thirds of cryptocurrency owners hold bitcoin, while the next most popular were ethereum (35%), Litecoin (21%) and Ripple (18%), according to the FCA research.
Emily started using Instagram when she was in her mid-teens and found it helpful at first. She used the photo-sharing app to follow fitness influencers, but what began as a constructive relationship with the platform spiralled into a crisis centred on body image. At 19 she was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
“I felt like my body wasn’t good enough, because even though I did go to the gym a lot, my body still never looked like the bodies of these influencers,” says Emily, now a 20-year-old a student who is in recovery.
Emily, who preferred not to use her real name, uses Instagram sparingly now. She is one of many Instagram users whose suffering came to prominence this week with revelations that the platform’s owner, Facebook, seemed to know it was damaging teenage girls’ mental health.
According to internal research leaked to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the app has made body image issues worse for one in three girls and in one Facebook study of teenagers in the UK and the US, more than 40% of Instagram users who said they felt “unattractive” said the feeling began while using the app.
Instagram has more than 1 billion users worldwide and an estimated 30 million in the UK, with Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande among the accounts with hundreds of millions of followers between them. In the UK, the Love Island couple Liam Reardon and Millie Court have already raced to a combined following of nearly 3 million since winning the 2021 title.
Two in five girls (40%) aged 11 to 16 in the UK say they have seen images online that have made them feel insecure or less confident about themselves. This increases to half (50%) in girls aged 17 to 21, according to research by Girlguiding in its annual girls’ attitudes survey.
Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the department of media and communications, LSE, describes adolescence for teenage girls as an “arc” that tends to begin with the staple experiences of interest in pets, painting or playing with younger siblings, through to the more confident young woman ready to face the world. But it is the experience in the middle of that parabola that represents a particular challenge, and where Instagram can be most troubling.
“It is at that point where they are assailed with many answers to their dilemmas and a prominent answer at the moment is that it might be what they look like, that it matters what they bought,” says Livingstone, who next week is due to give evidence to MPs and peers scrutinising the draft UK online safety bill, which imposes a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content.
Facebook’s in-depth research into the photo-sharing app stated that Instagram had a deeper effect on teenage girls because it focused more on the body and lifestyle, compared with TikTok’s emphasis on performance videos such as dancing, and Snapchat’s jokey face features. “Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” said the Facebook study. The leaked research pointed to the app’s Explore page, where an algorithm tailors the photos and videos that a user sees, potentially creating a spiral of harmful content.
“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” said the research.
Livingstone says a key feature of the online safety bill will be its provisions on regulating the algorithms that constantly tailor and tweak what you view according to your perceived needs and tastes – and can push teenage girls into that vortex of esteem-damaging content. “There is a lot to be done about algorithms and AI [artificial intelligence].”
Beeban Kidron, the crossbench peer who sits on the joint committee into the online safety bill and was behind the recent introduction of a children’s privacy code, says Ofcom, the UK communications watchdog, will have a vital role in scrutinising algorithms.
“The value in algorithmic oversight for regulators, is that the decisions that tech companies make will become transparent, including decisions like FB took to allow Instagram to target teenage girls with images and features that ended in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Algorithmic oversight is the key to society wrestling back some control.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says the bill will address those concerns. “As part of their duty of care, companies will need to mitigate the risks of their algorithms promoting illegal or harmful content, particularly to children. Ofcom will have a range of powers to ensure they do this, including the ability to request information and enter companies’ premises to access data and equipment.”
For others, there is a wider issue of educating the young how to navigate a world dominated by social media. Deana Puccio, co-founder of the Rap project, which visits schools across the UK and abroad to discuss issues such as consent, online and offline safety and building confidence in body image and self-esteem, says the bill should be accompanied by a wider education drive.
“We, parents, educators, politicians need to equip our young people with the tools, the analytical skills to make healthy choices for themselves. Because they will get access to whatever they want to. They are better at navigating the online world than we are.”
Puccio adds that teenagers should be encouraged to make their social media posts reflect a more realistic vision of the world. “We need to start building up people’s confidence to post real-life ups and downs.”
The head of Instagram risked fanning criticism of the app on Thursday with comments that compared social media’s impact on society to that of cars. “We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroy. And I think social media is similar,” said Adam Mosseri.
Facebook referred the Guardian to a blogpost by Karina Newton, the head of public policy at Instagram, who said the internal research showed “our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues”.
Responding to the algorithm and drug cartel allegations, Facebook said divisions had existed in society long before its platform appeared and that it had a “comprehensive strategy” for keeping people safe in countries where there was a risk of conflict and violence.
A tactical-voting app built by allies of Vladimir Putin’s jailed political opponent Alexei Navalny is now unavailable in Russian Apple and Google app stores following threats of fines from the Kremlin.
According to state-owned news agency TASS, Russian lawmaker Andrei Klimov told reporters on Thursday that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office sent statutory notices to Google and Apple ordering a takedown of the Navalny app on the grounds it was collecting personal data of Russian citizens and sought to interfere in the nation’s elections. Refusal to do so would result in penalties.
“The app particularly deliberately and illegally spreads election campaign materials in the interests of some candidates vying for positions in elective agencies or against the interests of such,” Klimov said.
Apple and Google, which say they comply with local laws where they operate, removed the app in Russia, willingly or unwillingly contributing to what Navalny’s supporters called political censorship in Russia. The app remains available outside the country. Those in Russia who already have the application may still be able to use it.
With the app stores out of the way, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov took time to throw some shade at the US government. “We have reason to believe that the US authorities are also not completely helpless on this particular issue,” Lavrov stated.
President Putin’s allies are already sowing seeds of doubt in the election process, claiming foreign agents in election monitoring org Golos are plotting to discredit the results, despite the expectation that Putin’s United Russia party will remain in power.
The election takes place from September 17, and will run for three days. Many cities are electing lawmakers to the State Duma – the lower house of parliament – via electronic voting. Putin himself will vote online. Also included in the election are the selection of nine Russian region heads and 39 regional parliaments. It’s an important election for Putin as he would rather retain tight control of the country as the 2024 presidential poll approaches.
The verboten app in question tells users who to tactically vote for, out of those running on behalf of as many as 14 parties, to prevent Kremlin-favored candidates from winning. It uses a system dubbed Smart Voting that was devised by Navalny. However, the vast majority of anti-Putin candidates have already been blocked from running, including those associated with Navalny.
Yesterday, Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption organization that developed the app, tweeted what appears to be an email from Apple explaining the reasoning for removing the application: prosecutors claimed the software would interfere with the elections, and that the foundation had been deemed an extremist org. As such the app is illegal in Russia. Its website was earlier this month blocked in the country by authorities.
Zhdanov called the removal a “mockery of common sense,” and a “huge mistake.” A tweet today from Zhdanov said in Russian:
Navalny – leader of the opposition Russia of the Future party, a Putin critic, and an anti-corruption campaigner – suffered Novichok nerve-agent poisoning in 2020 that he accused the president of orchestrating. The Kremlin denied any involvement, though it did arrest him when he returned to Russia after seeking medical treatment in Berlin for the poisoning. While receiving this treatment outside of Russia, he violated his parole regarding a 2014 embezzlement conviction – which he claims was brought against him for political reasons – and was sentenced to 30 months behind bars.
His poisoning and detention was condemned by the West, and sparked anti-Kremlin protests in Russia. In a response to that unrest, the Russian government throttled Twitter in March and ordered social networks to delete posts related to any “participation in unauthorized mass events” as they deemed them illegal adolescent activities.
Google received a $40,700 fine for failing to fully comply.
Today, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal body that monitors, controls and censors Russian mass media, announced it had sent a letter to Twitter to demand why Moscow’s City Election Committee account had been restricted. The missive accused Twitter of foreign interference in the election. ®
Scientists said this year’s ozone hole above the southern hemisphere is larger than 75pc of previous years’ holes at this stage in the season since 1979.
Yesterday (16 September) was the International Day for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. But, unfortunately, it came with bad news.
Scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said they have found that the ozone hole above the southern hemisphere is unusually large this year. Large enough to fit the whole continent of Antarctica in it.
While there is a depletion in the ozone layer above the southern hemisphere each year during its spring months of August to October, this year’s depletion was found to be larger than 75pc of ozone holes at this stage in the season since 1979.
🌐Happy #OzoneDay! As a leading provider of ozone monitoring data, the #CopernicusAtmosphere Monitoring Service is celebrating World Ozone Day by reflecting on different aspects of monitoring ozone in the #OzoneLayer.
“This year, the ozone hole developed as expected at the start of the season,” said CAMS director Vincent-Henri Peuch. “It seems pretty similar to last year’s, which also wasn’t really exceptional until early September, but then turned into one of the largest and longest-lasting ozone holes in our data record later in the season.”
Peuch added that this year’s hole has evolved into a “rather larger than usual one”. The vortex is quite stable and the stratospheric temperatures are even lower than last year, he said, so it may continue to grow slightly over the next two or three weeks. “We are looking at a quite big and potentially also deep ozone hole.”
‘Europe’s eyes on earth’
CAMS is part Copernicus, the EU’s Earth observation programme described as “Europe’s eyes on Earth”. It was launched in 2014 to provide continuous data and information on atmospheric composition.
Peuch said that the technology used for the CAMS modelling, operated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, is unique because it builds on the strengths of different types of satellite observations and combines them into one single product.
“By combining data from several different sources, we are able to continually collect data and provide a high-quality uninterrupted service.”
The ozone layer protects the Earth from the sun’s harmful UV rays, but some compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) reach the stratosphere and break the layer down, creating ‘holes’ through which the UV rays can enter. CFCs have been phased out since the Montreal Protocol in 1987 because of their harmful effects.
CAMS said that the ozone layer has since shown signs of recovery, but it will take up to 2070 before ozone-depleting substances are completely phased out.
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