Practically the entire cryptocurrency industry dropped precipitously on Wednesday. Bitcoin went down more than 30%, to a low of about $30,000, which is roughly half the price from 10 days ago.
Ethereum dropped by more than a quarter, to $1902. XRP, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, and almost every other cryptocurrency of note has seen huge drops over the last 24 hours. The selloff caused such trading volume that Coinbase appeared to be down for some users. Binance, meanwhile, paused some withdrawals "due to network congestion." Even stocks associated with cryptocurrencies, like Tesla and Coinbase, were down substantially on Wednesday morning.
Of course, when you zoom out a bit the losses look a bit less catastrophic. Many prices are the lowest they've been … since a few months ago. Long-term investments in cryptocurrencies continue to look spectacular, just substantially less so.
But the question on everyone's mind is: Have we passed the peak? The top of a market is always only obvious in retrospect, and a lot of people across the crypto industry are now looking back and seeing exactly where it may have been. The blockbuster Coinbase IPO, in which the company nearly instantly became an $85 billion tech giant, is one obvious point. The wild explosion in NFT prices was another. Another was Elon Musk hosting Saturday Night Live. Or Musk tweeting about Dogecoin and Bitcoin relentlessly for weeks, sending prices in all directions with every 280-character missive.
Musk's quick turn on Bitcoin, for environmental reasons, could have been the first sign of the crash. When he seemed to imply that Tesla might be selling all its Bitcoin, that was another one. The Chinese government's continuing crackdown on crypto was yet another, and seemed to be the most immediate cause of this week's selloff.
Anyone who's been in the crypto game a while offered the same advice as always: hold on for dear life. "The Bitcoin market has its way of separating true believers from tourists," Hiro CEO Muneeb Ali tweeted. Almost as soon as the prices started dropping, #buythedip started trending on Twitter. Others preached patience. "Entities I control have now acquired 111,000 #BTC and have not sold a single satoshi," MicroStrategy's Michael Saylor tweeted. "#Bitcoin Forever."
(As if to prove his power and to quell fears about Bitcoin's future, Musk himself tweeted on Wednesday morning that "Tesla has 💎 🙌." The price of Bitcoin promptly jumped almost $3,000.)
With no underlying asset or particular restriction to keep it moored, cryptocurrency trading is a pure momentum game: Prices going up leads to excitement leads to prices going up, and prices going down leads to panic leads to prices going down. Bitcoin believers see another dip in the inevitable rise of cryptocurrency, while skeptics see the world finally seeing the Emperor with no clothes on.
Update: This post was updated on 5/19 with Musk's tweet and updated information.
David Pierce (
@pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.