On July 31, the blockchain platform Ripple announced that Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker for its upcoming Swell conference.
The Swell conference, to be held in San Francisco October 1-2, will connect "the world's leading experts on policy, payments, and technology for the most provocative dialog in global payments today," according to its website.
To many on Twitter, choosing Clinton as the keynote speaker at a convention dedicated to emerging technology seemed like an odd move. Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin was simply at a loss for words.
According to Ripple's announcement, Clinton was chosen because of his contributions to the growth and mass adoption of the internet, which helped shape the web we know today, as well as his efforts to bridge the digital divide by putting computers in underserved communities' schools and libraries.
Even though Clinton's tenure as president was marked by technological advances, Ripple's choice to name him keynote speaker is still perplexing. The tech that will be discussed at Swell is, obviously, years ahead of anything Clinton dealt with in the mid- to late-90s. Other than a picture of venture capitalist and tech entrepreneur Matthew Roszak reportedly gifting bitcoin to the former president, there's scarce evidence that Clinton has had anything to do with cryptocurrencies.
Ripple has been employing a lot of big names to endorse its embattled XRP token in the last few months. Ashton Kutcher donated $4 million worth of XRP to the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund on her television show. Calvin Broadus – better known as the rapper Snoop Dogg – performed at an afterparty for the Ripple-sponsored Consensus 2018 event. Ripple has even partnered with Madonna, agreeing to match donations to her charity that helps impoverished children in the country of Malawi.
But what does endorsement from these particular celebrities say about Ripple's target audience? Kutcher is best known for playing dumb. Snoop Dogg is a rapper. And Madonna is the "Material Girl." They all have limited connections to cryptocurrency, so if it's a bid for legitimacy, it's a strange one.
Perhaps the most reasonable explanation is that they are trying to attract those who aren't so well-versed in the new technology. And getting a former president to speak, well, that garners a lot of attention from people who wouldn't otherwise know what XRP is. For better or worse.