While Tron remains one of the top blockchain platforms by market capitalization and user activity, its founder Justin Sun has continued to attract controversy. Here’s a chronology of all the drama and controversy around Tron and Justin Sun to date:
Tron, a leading blockchain network for building decentralized applications (dApps), has attracted a relatively large number of users to its platform since its mainnet went live on May 31, 2018. Yet, controversy generated by the actions of Justin Sun and the TRON Foundation have caused many in the cryptocurrency space to express doubts about the project.
January 2018: Tron whitepaper plagiarism accusations
In January 2018, Tron’s developers were accused of plagiarism, as many parts of the Tron whitepaper looked nearly identical to IPFS and Filecoin’s technical documentation. IPFS, or the InterPlanetary File System, is a peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol that allows users to store data in a distributed manner over the internet.
Juan Benet, the CEO at Protocol Labs, which develops tools and services for IFPS, revealed via Twitter in early January 2018 that Tron’s whitepaper authors did not properly cite references, and that the document was “mostly copied” from other projects.
Wow! Absurd! TRON's "paper" is mostly copied from other projects, or is super basic p2p passed off as original. Zero references.
— Juan Benet (@juanbenet) January 7, 2018
While the text in the Tron whitepaper had not been copied word-for-word, the actual content, vocabulary, and overall structure looked quite similar to documents prepared by Protocol Labs. For instance, the Bitswap strategy explained in the IPFS paper had been reworded in the Tron whitepaper. However, it is clear that the concepts related to Bitswap were borrowed by Tron without crediting the source.
Notably, the equations and formulas used in the first version of Tron’s whitepaper were exactly the same as those found in IPFS’s documentation.
The founder of JoyStream, a BitTorrent client, also questioned why Tron’s paper is identical to other projects that came before it.
— Bedeho (@bedehomender) January 7, 2018
Our original version of the whitepaper is in Chinese and we have a very detailed reference to the latest Chinese version. The English, Korea, Japanese and Spanish versions are translated by the volunteers. The translation missed numerous important details not just reference.
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) January 8, 2018
Responding to the Joysteam founder’s comments, Sun said he had a “very detailed” reference to the latest Chinese version of the Tron whitepaper. He also claimed that the Tron paper had been translated to other languages by volunteers who might have forgotten to include important details.
In April 2018, a month before Tron’s mainnet release, Sun claimed that the Tron network would be far better than Ethereum.
Buterin responded sarcastically by saying Tron had improved its white paper writing abilities, saying the team’s use of “Ctrl+C + Ctrl+V,” the computer hotkeys for copy and paste on Windows, allowed them to improve their efficiency.
8. Better white paper writing capability (Ctrl+C + Ctrl+V much higher efficiency than keyboard typing new content)
— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) April 6, 2018
Based on Justin Sun’s track record to date, it seems Buterin’s outlook on Tron may have proved correct.
March 2019: The controversial Tesla giveaway
Of course, the botched Buffett lunch was not the first time that Tron became engulfed in controversy. In March 2019, the energetic CEO announced the launch of a “global appreciation campaign” to celebrate the success of BitTorrent and the Tron platform. Sun promised to conduct a $20 million airdrop to reward his loyal supporters. He also committed to giving away a Tesla (alluding to the meme of Lamborghini ownership among Bitcoin enthusiasts) to a randomly selected winner.
To celebrate #BTT & #USDT–#TRON success, I am planning a $20m free cash airdrop. Good news-it's coming, bad news-I may decide to give away more! First, I will randomly pick 1 winner for a #Tesla up until 3/27! To apply, follow me and RT this tweet! Simple! #Blockchain pic.twitter.com/wFyzwtB3ur
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) March 12, 2019
In order to take part in the highly publicized giveaway, Twitter users were asked to follow Sun’s official account and retweet his announcement.
Although $20 million is a huge amount for any type of giveaway, Sun managed to earn a lot more than that through several lucrative business deals. In January 2019, the BitTorrent token sale was conducted via Binance Launchpad. It generated more than $7.2 million and ended within, at the time, a record 15 minutes.
Early investors were able to acquire BTT tokens for only $0.00012. At the time of writing, the token is trading at around $0.000853, up over 600 percent since its launch.
While the BTT token sale, for the most part, went smoothly, the Tron team seemingly ran into problems when trying to select a winner for the Tesla giveaway. Tron’s representatives used a “tweet randomizer tool” to pick the first winner. But, people questioned the fidelity of the process and demanded that the selection be live-streamed.
So, Justin Sun retracted the prize for the first winner and a second draw was conducted to appease the giveaway participants. In response to the situation, several prominent crypto community members including Riccardo Spagni, lead maintainer of the Monero project, criticized Sun for mismanaging the giveaway.
However, I do recognize that this is an unfortunate situation, and would like to extend my warmest welcome to the next #niTROn summit in 2020, including a fully paid round-trip ticket to the event location. We are very grateful for your continued support. #TRON
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) March 29, 2019
Although, Sun did offer the first winner a consolation prize: a fully paid round-trip ticket to the niTRON Summit in 2020. But, it was clearly not comparable to being given a Tesla, which would be worth considerably more.
On March 29, 2019, the Tron founder published a blog post in which he promised to give away two Teslas to “further his mission of creating transparency, reliability, and openness about blockchain.”
March 2019: Building a monument in memory of Ethereum
Apart from creating controversy and excessive hype through his social media marketing campaigns, the Tron founder is also well-known for his competitive nature with other smart contract platforms, especially Ethereum. In late March 2019, in a puzzling move, Sun promised his Twitter followers that he would build a monument in honor of Ethereum.
Earlier, Ethereum co-founder and figurehead Vitalik Buterin had told Laura Shin during an appearance on her Unchained podcast that he wouldn’t mind if another blockchain development platform overtook Ethereum. However, Buterin said that he will “lose a certain amount of hope for humanity” if Tron replaced Ethereum.
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) March 24, 2019
But Sun’s tweet appeared to suggest that Tron would overtake Ethereum to become the dominant blockchain network. This, as Sun retweeted a post from Misha Lederman, one of Tron’s most vocal supporters, which stated that it wasn’t a matter of “if,” but when Tron would become the top dApp platform.
April 2019: Liverpool FC spokesperson denies partnership with Tron
In late April 2019, Sun announced that Tron had partnered with professional football club Liverpool FC. He claimed it was an “official” partnership and that he’d provide more details soon.
However, a representative from the Liverpool FC told Decrypt that the football club had not entered any partnership with Tron. Jesse Powell, the CEO at American crypto exchange Kraken, mentioned that the partnership offer could have been from a spam email, which probably did not come from Liverpool FC.
— Jesse Powell (@jespow) April 24, 2019
Commenting on how real partnerships are not announced in this manner, due to non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, one well-known crypto trader pointed out that the “invitation” was probably sent to many other companies. Of course, it would have been better for Sun to fully vet the partnership prior to making an announcement.
As far as i know no partnership was sealed and this "invitation" was sent to many other companies.
Even if there was something in the making, anyone knowing how business works would know that a NDA would have been signed and thus such a thing couldn't be announced this way. https://t.co/ZgKNcyEvLB
— The Crypto Monk ⛩ (@thecryptomonk) April 24, 2019
June 2019: Justin Sun’s highly anticipated meeting with Warren Buffett
More recently, Sun paid a record $4.57 million in a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in modern history. Before revealing to his Twitter followers that he’d won a lunch date with the Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Sun created suspense by making several pre-announcements, stating something “big” was about to happen.
On June 3, 2019, the Tron founder officially announced that he would be dining with the Oracle of Omaha and that he’d invite other blockchain industry leaders to accompany him.
I officially announce I’ve won the record-setting 20th-anniversary charity lunch hosted by @WarrenBuffett. I’ll also invite #blockchain industry leaders to meet with a titan of investment. I hope this benefits everyone. #TRON #TRX #BTT #BitTorrent pic.twitter.com/EMZ4TMhgpR
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) June 3, 2019
Presumably, Sun was planning to help Buffett understand the potential benefits of using cryptocurrencies during the highly anticipated meeting. The billionaire investor previously referred to cryptos as “rat poison squared” and believes they have no intrinsic value.
On July 21, 2019, Sun extended an invitation via Twitter to eToro founder Yoni Assia to dine with him and Buffett. Responding to Sun’s request, Assia confirmed he’d be attending the power lunch.
Justin, it is my honor to join you for lunch with @WarrenBuffett , A big step for bridging between the traditional finance world and the new one !
There is a huge opportunity to use #BlockChainForGood and happy to share our research on @TheGoodDollar with #TheOracleFromOmaha https://t.co/H7oSxO5QRg
— Yoni Assia (@yoniassia) July 21, 2019
Hi Justin, I would be honored to join you and @WarrenBuffett next week to discuss crypto!! Count me in. Crypto is now a major global policy issue and there is a great deal for Mr Buffet to understand and for us to learn from him as well. https://t.co/PGY8bXQBcZ
— Jeremy Allaire (@jerallaire) July 18, 2019
Others notable figures were also invited, including Changpeng Zhao, Vitalik Buterin, and even President Donald Trump. Zhao and Buterin declined to join Sun for a variety of reasons, while Trump didn’t even acknowledge the invite.
Mr. President, you are misled by fake news. #Bitcoin & #Blockchain happens to be the best chance for US! I'd love to invite you to have lunch with crypto leaders along with @WarrenBuffett on July 25. I guarantee you after this lunch, nobody will know crypto more than you! https://t.co/ZpRFEbninv
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) July 12, 2019
July 2019: Lunch date canceled due to kidney stones?
Just four days before the lunch meeting, Sun posted a message on July 22 on Chinese social media app Weibo, claiming that he was suffering from sudden health complications. The crypto entrepreneur said he was in a hospital receiving treatment for kidney stones, and that he would not be able to attend the meeting with Buffett.
Soon after Sun canceled the meeting, several other reports came out on social media alleging that the Tron Foundation and BitTorrent CEO had been accused of being involved in money laundering and assisting in the distribution of pornography. The reports also claimed Sun had been barred from leaving mainland China due to his involvement in illegal fundraising activities and gambling.
However, these allegations were denied by Sun and on July 23 he broadcasted a live video from what appeared to be a high-rise building in San Francisco. The 28-year-old was joking around with his employees and seemed collected.
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) July 23, 2019
On July 26, Roy Liu, head of business development at the Tron Foundation, shared a picture of Justin Sun which appeared to confirm that he was also in San Francisco at a Tron promotional event.
— Roy Liu (@roylxy) July 26, 2019
July 2019: Ponzi scheme-related protests break out at Tron partner’s office
On July 8, 2019, angry protestors attempted to enter a research and development facility established by Tron’s partner, Raybo. Located in mainland China, Raybo’s management was allegedly involved in a Ponzi scheme.
According to local sources, the situation was related to fraudulent activity involving a Ponzi scheme operator that had a Chinese name that was similar to Tron. The scam reportedly led to its victims losing around $30 million, with one affected individual committing suicide.
In response to the incident, the Tron Foundation stated:
“The victims had been promised high rates of return on their investments in the name of TRON, BitTorrent and uTorrent. TRON officials expressed their sympathy and understanding for those who had been deceived, however, the company strongly condemns acts of violence that may be perpetrated as a result of events that are not in its direct control.”
Reports suggested that Sun never denounced the activities of the fraudulent firm, which may have led to investors assuming that the company was affiliated with Tron, resulting in even more cash entering the Ponzi.
In statements shared with CryptoSlate, Sun noted:
“The very heart of TRON’s mission is to promote a fair and open internet that does not stifle discussion and dissent, however I also believe there’s a heightened responsibility from those disseminating news to be fair AND accurate. The twisting of events did nothing to help people who in some cases saw their life savings wiped out, while it hurt investors in the TRON community who saw the value of their holdings decline on fake news.”
Meanwhile, the Tron Foundation also issued an official response:
“TRON has on multiple occasions warned investors of potential pyramid schemes or illegal activities that attempt to defraud investors under the guise of fast riches using blockchain technology. In regards to reports of TRON’s inaction specifically regarding the Wave Field Super Community scam, in January after learning of the Wave Field Super Community and that it had been attracting investors in the name of TRON, TRON warned investors on its WeChat messaging group, Wei Bo official channels—Wei Bo and Dou Yin, etc.—to beware of potentially fraudulent schemes.”
July 2019: The deleted apology letter
Sun then apologized for creating “vulgar hype” and “over-marketing” his meeting with Buffett but then deleted his message.
A translation of the message reads, in part:
“For the elders, leaders and regulators who care about me, I would like to express my sincere apologies for my premature marketing and words and deeds! I am deeply afraid of the adverse effects I caused! I am young, not well experienced in the ways of the world, and the blockchain is an emerging industry. I am immature…Finally, I say once again to the media, overseers, leaders, regulatory agencies, and the public who care about me, I sincerely say: sorry!”
While it may be difficult to reliably confirm everything that happens in the crypto space, Sun has become well-known for his marketing and publicity stunts.
While Tron has attracted plenty of controversy over the past few years almost solely because of its CEO’s excessive marketing and hype, it still has many vocal supporters who are adamant that Tron is gaining market share and daily active users are increasing. Only time will tell if Sun can tone down the hype and deliver on the extremely tall orders of usurping Ethereum and creating a decentralized internet.
Disclaimer: The author of this post has zero financial interest in the TRX cryptocurrency.