How much will we believe SBF committed willful fraud in the FTX collapse after 1 year? [Poll, resolves to avg %]
resolved Dec 17
Resolved as

Update: new 1 year poll is live! This poll asks participants: "What do you believe was the probability that SBF committed willful fraud in the FTX collapse?


In 1 year (November 2023), I will create another instance of the same poll. Resolves to the average (mean) poll response at that time.


In the immediate days after the FTX collapse, a lot of people have quickly concluded that it was willful fraud (e.g. that FTX intentionally loaned out customer deposits which they had committed not to). With the limited information available early on, I believe there is substantial but far from conclusive evidence in favor of this, and that the evidence and information is rapidly changing, and that many people are jumping to conclusions too quickly. You can find a copy of a post I made on this topic at tl;dr: FTX's failure to hold customer deposits as fully backed deposits seems like it could very plausibly be a combination of bad judgement, terrible accounting practices, and mistakes rather than fraud. I'm not claiming it's likely, just claiming that it's not beyond a reasonable doubt.

This market is an attempt to quantify the degree of certainty the community has on this question. Many people have been acting as if it is basically 100%, while a seemingly smaller minority believes it is substantially less. This is a type of prediction quesiton, and of course we can resolve different predictions by making a market on it.


  • Poll responses must be honest. Do not attempt to manipulate the poll - if I suspect manipulation then I reserve the right to restrict the poll to reputable Manifold users or resolve N/A.

  • I am aware that this poll would likely be highly subject to selection bias. I am considering some ideas to mitigate this in another variant of this question; let me know if you have suggestions.

  • Poll means a literal poll where you answer with a probability, it does not mean a market.

  • I chose 1 year somewhat arbitrarily. I could also create a version of this that settles when I or the community judge that no more significant evidence is likely to arise.


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predicted NO

The responses to the poll averaged 92% (median 95%). For comparison, the poll 1 year ago averaged 76%, median 95%.

However, this time there were far fewer responses (only 6) than last time. So I can't really make interesting histograms or do that much analysis. But it is apparent that people became much more confident in fraud over the last year, which makes sense.

predicted NO

It's been 1 year, the poll is now live! Please respond here:

The poll will run for two weeks, so it closes December 5.

@jack Is the poll closed? Can this resolve?

predicted NO

@EvanDaniel Sorry, been traveling - done!

@jack No worries, thanks for the update!

@jack Is the new poll live?


Today there was a description of how Alameda had eight different spreadsheets to hide their liabilities, each with different lies about their actual assets and liabilities. Sam directed Caroline Ellison to pick one of the non-truthful ones. The spreadsheets were evidence in court.

I mean maybe there is an explanation that does not involve Sam directing someone to lie to investors but it’s hard to imagine that.

predicted YES

Claiming to have an insurance fund of a particular value, but using a random number to determine the claimed value, is remarkably unsubtle fraud; any claim you're literally generating randomly is certainly not one you actually believe.

It isn't as if you could write it by accident, either. Insofar as you think Nishad Singh was following SBF's direction in implementing the "functionality", this would show an example of willful fraud.

Is there somewhere I can read the best argument for "No fraud"?

predicted NO


In Defense of SBF
Epistemic status: I may regret writing this, but will likely regret not writing this more. Key points: The FTX blowup might be a bad judgement call, not willful fraud Loyalty is good, and y’all are way over-updating Ambition is good, and failed bets are worth celebrating 1. Fraud or bad judgement? Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity — Hanlon’s razor Here’s my model of what happened: SBF was busy. Things were confusing. He made a lot of decisions. One of them blew up. Why do I believe this “bad judgement” thesis? Well, it’s what Sam claims. Publicly on Twitter, his explanation comes out to: “I genuinely believed customers were not leveraged, and that we could pay out all deposits”. [image]I’m biased towards trusting people at their word; and furthermore, SBF was a personal hero of mine. So you might not extend him the same trust that I do. But: Sam doesn’t have a history of lying on the record. Even at this point in time, when the muckrakers of the world are busy scrutinizing every deed he’s done, I don’t see any allegations of the form “he lied about this thing”. “Truthful, but mistaken” seems like a better model for SBF than “masterful schemer”. I choose to believe this. Maybe I’ll be wrong; feel free to bet on whether I’ll change my mind. (This comment does lead me to some level of doubt.) Why do I emphasize the difference between fraud (roughly, taking funds from customers with full knowledge) and a bad judgement call? Because “don’t do fraud” is a good heuristic to propagate, but “don’t make mistakes” is not. It’s really, really easy to pick apart other people’s mistakes, especially after the fact. If you’re a public figure making 10 good decisions and 1 bad one, a critic can jump in with “look at that mistake! It was such a mistake! I would never had made that mistake!” Oftentimes, the critic is even correct! But: in the same position, they would have made 2 other bad decisions, ones that weren’t even on their radar. From Zvi Mowshowitz on what would be difficult about being “in charge” during Covid: …You can do better by taking a market price or model output as a baseline, then taking into account a bias or missing consideration. Thus, you can be much worse at creating the right answer from scratch, and yet do better than the consensus answer. Think of this as trying someone’s fifteen-step chocolate chip cookie recipe, then noticing that it would be better with more chocolate chips. You might have better cookies, but you should not then claim that you are the superior baker. If you, right now, are sitting on a high horse, saying “it’s so obvious; just don’t take customer deposits and gamble with them”… guess what, you do not understand how complex systems break. There is no special ability to know which of your many decisions might be the one that causes it all go kaput. I’ve witnessed and responded to my fair share of outages at Google and Manifold, and very often dumb things led to these outages— but you’ll never know which of your actions are the dumb ones. While you were editing a config file that later broke the site, you didn’t sit back and think “hm, maybe this will crash the site, I should look at it carefully”. That change looked no different than the twenty other changes you made this week, all of which were fine and good. 2. On loyalty Whether this blowup was caused by intentional deception or an honest mistake, the EA community has been extremely quick to change its tune. In less than a week, everyone has gone from “SBF, golden boy” to “What a criminal, don’t be like that guy”. EA leaders have posted denunciations of fraud, and distanced themselves from Sam; the most upvoted all-time EA Forum post is a community condemnation; the entire Future Fund team up and resigned. To be fair, the rest of the world is dogpiling on him too. Elon Musk called Sam “full of shit”; Sequoia deleted their glowing profile of SBF published one month ago; Miami took the FTX name off their arena. But from EA folks, this behavior strikes me as cowardly, coldhearted, opportunistic, bandwagon-y, two-faced and distasteful. I am extremely confused, because these EA leaders are some of the smartest and “good-est” people in the world, whose work I respect and admire, who have shaped the way I think. So it’s very possible that I’m just in the wrong here, but… Whatever happened to loyalty? To supporting those who have helped you in the past? Are EA folks only fair-weather friends, happy to accept your money in good times but also ready to eviscerate you to maintain deniability and a glossy PR sheen? What distinguishes altruism from selfishness is “being good to people who cannot help you back”. It is extremely suspicious that EA as a whole was happy to laud praise on SBF while the money was flowing, and then turn their backs as soon as it was clear the gravy train dried up. Having a scout mindset is good; updating your beliefs about SBF in light of new evidence is good; but there is such a thing as updating too far. Sure, the community should call out the bad, but have we up and forgotten about every good thing that SBF have accomplished, especially for EA? Every point in the deleted Sequoia article is still true. SBF: Is a committed vegan Earned to give while at Jane Street Led CEA for a few months Sent money to Ukrainians in time of need Incubated hundreds of millions worth of good longtermist causes through Future Fund and related spending on eg Anthropic Take a step back: what are we assessing here? If the question is “should I associate with a person who has this track record, and also once fraudulently misused customer money, but has repented and is trying as hard as possible to fix it”… the answer seems like a clear yes to me. And as a prosaic consideration, I continue to believe that Sam and the rest of the FTX leadership team are extremely talented and aligned people. Even with tarnished reputations today, I expect them to accomplish good and great things. To jump immediately to cutting ties seems like a large strategic error. And on a personal note, I aspire to create a lot of value for the world, and direct it towards doing lots of good. Call me overconfident, but I expect to be a billionaire someday. The way EA treats SBF here sets a precedence: if the EA community is happy to accept money when the going is good, but then is ready to cut ties once the money dries up… you can guess how excited I would be to contribute in the first place. 3. On Ambition Imagine a world in which things had gone a little differently. In World 2, CZ never triggered a bank run on FTX because he got locked out of his Twitter account. Alameda repays its debts and continues on to print money. In 2025, FTX is stable and worth hundreds of billions as the world’s largest online brokerage — and then the news breaks that three years ago, Sam willfully took a risky gamble using customer funds to keep FTX and Alameda both afloat. What would your reaction be? Would you denounce fraud, demand that customers be compensated (how much?), ask Sam to step down? Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, famously gambled his company’s entire bank account at a casino in order to keep deliveries going: I asked Fred where the funds had come from, and he responded, ‘The meeting with the General Dynamics board was a bust and I knew we needed money for Monday, so I took a plane to Las Vegas and won $27,000.’ I said, ‘You mean you took our last $5,000-- how could you do that?’ He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘What difference does it make? Without the funds for the fuel companies, we couldn't have flown anyway.’ Fred's luck held again. It was not much, but it came at a critical time and kept us in business for another week. Of course, these two stories aren’t exactly the same; betting investor/company money is different than betting money entrusted to you for other purposes. But I can’t help but think that if SBF’s plan had worked, and he was still EA’s rich uncle financing our ventures, we would be applauding him for bravado and wisdom in making that call. It feels like EA is punishing SBF not for being unethical, but for being unlucky. (Crucially: I think that it is correct to consistently support him in our world and World 2. You can also be consistent by saying that EA should denounce him in both worlds. But if you believe the latter — tell me, how much did you know about crypto, exchanges, or trading firms before last week?) Risk-taking and ambition are two sides of the same coin. If you swarm to denouncing risks that failed, you do not understand what it takes to succeed. My very subjective sense of people in the EA community is that we are much more likely to fail due to insufficient ambition than too much risk-taking, especially without the support and skillset of the FTX team. Appendix Disclaimers: Manifold received a $1m investment and $500k grant through the FTX Future Fund. Our team spent a couple weeks in the Bahamas as part of the EA Bahamas Fellowship program, including meeting SBF in person at a party in his penthouse. We may have exchanged a couple dozen words; I do not know him personally. All opinions here are my own. Responses to this situation I endorse: In favour of compassion, and against bandwagons of outrage by Emrik Eliezer Yudkowsky Matt Levine This is a little weird, but I do feel like I ought to disclose a bias here, which is that I like  Sam Bankman-Fried. I have done a few podcast interviews and events with him, and I have always found him likable, smart, thoughtful, well-intentioned and candid. That is not in any sense investing advice or whatever; it’s just how I feel. I am rooting for this all to work out for him and FTX. Scott Alexander My emotional conflict of interest here is that I’m really f#%king devastated. I never met or communicated with SBF, but I was friendly with another FTX/Alameda higher-up around 2018, before they moved abroad. At the time they seemed like a remarkably kind, decent, and thoughtful person, and I liked them a lot. I desperately want to believe they didn’t know about the fraud, but it seems really implausible. If they did, then I genuinely have no idea what happened, and I hope the investigation finds some reasonable explanation, like that they were doing so many stimulants and psychedelics that the DMT entities were piloting their body like an anime mech. I probably shouldn’t exactly say “I hope they’re okay” when there are so many victims who deserve okayness more. But I hope there’s some other world-branch where they never got involved in any of this and they’re living their best life and doing lots of good, and I hope the version of me in that world branch is giving them the support and reassurance that I can’t give them here. More generally, I trusted and looked up to the FTX/Alameda people. I didn’t actually keep money in FTX, but I would have if there had been any reason to; I didn’t actually tell other people they should trust FTX, but I would have if those other people had asked. Lower your opinion of me accordingly. Suggested reading: Oshi no Ko chapters 24-26. Thanks to Sinclair, Rachel, Jack and Lynelle, along with many others, for discussions on this topic.
predicted YES

@NathanpmYoung I may regret writing this, but: this post won’t age well.

predicted YES


It feels like EA is punishing SBF not for being unethical, but for being unlucky.

This is probably where I disagree the most, it's totally unacceptable to handle customer funds this way, and I would codemn it as strongly in a counterfactual world where this somehow all worked out. I don't think I have a clean way to explain this if you don't already have this intuition, but it's the financial equivalent of the greatest possible violation of trust. In the case of the Lehman Brothers, no customer funds were ever at risk and all funds were returned to customers. Stealing, gambling with, and losing customer funds is not only fraud but fraud of a level far beyond the fraud most people usually condemn. As far as accounting, I find it very difficult to simultaneously believe that FTX International was a successful, competently run business, and that SBF believed it was legitimate to list the assets FTX held to cover customer funds as mark to market when they were the primary holder of those assets and responsible for the vast majority of the trading volume of those assets. It should not be possible to make this sort of mistake in good faith, and it's the responsibility of the fund to ensure that these sorts of mistakes are not made.

But if you believe the latter — tell me, how much did you know about crypto, exchanges, or trading firms before last week?

Since I'm being asked, probably top tenth percentile? Not a whole lot, but I was certainly familiar with this type of fraud before FTX collapsed, it is very much classic fraud. It's not impossible that SBF sort of accidently stumbled into committing fraud totally in good faith, but it does seem to me like a pretty absurd claim which would require a whole lot of updates on my part about his intelligence, knowledge of finance, personal ethics, or mental state. Again, putting yourself in a position where it's possible for you to fat-finger billions of customer funds is not acceptable. You are required to not put customer funds at risk. Even if the actual loss of funds was somehow totally done in good faith, the actions leading up to it are still unethical and should still be condemned.

Risk-taking and ambition are two sides of the same coin. If you swarm to denouncing risks that failed, you do not understand what it takes to succeed.

I think one of the most credible and reasonable criticisms of Utilitarianism and specifically longtermism is that it becomes very easy to justify certain means that most people would find repulsive if taken too naively and too literally. 0.00001% of an astonishingly big number is still an astonishingly big number, and so what is $9B of customer funds but a pebble on the road to the long term future? Personally, I like to take my utilitarianism with a side of virtue ethics.

For what it's worth, I don't think much or any of the criticism from with EA is motivated by their changed financial situation. If EA has a track record of anything, it's continuing to do their best and reason in good faith even when large sums of money are involved. Fairly rapidly EA has moved to directing an order of magnitude more funds and it doesn't seem to have led to any notable corruption or dilution of morals. The whole thing is unfortunate and I'd generally prefer to let the trial end before criticizing anyone too heavily. My predictions, though, are 99% willful fraud, and that most of the people who have a fraud probability of under 90% will update significantly after the trial. No plea deal offered means the prosecution thinks they have an absolutely slam dunk fraud case, and I generally believe that the people in charge of prosecuting high profile fraud cases have access to the most information about the case in question and are generally competent and knowledgeable about fraud. Finally, while it's unfortunate and painful, I think it's necessary to criticize people who do things that are unethical even if you like and care about the person in question.

predicted YES

Addendum: I last looked at FTX's books when this happened so my memory may not be exactly clear on this front, the central point is that the mishandling of customer funds was so bad as to be unethical even if it was unintentional, and it was in fact so bad that it defies belief that it could have been unintentional. I'll probably read back into it once the trial starts, but again I expect that the trial will make most things clear and there won't be much ambiguity left to read into.

predicted NO

Mate this is such a banger question. Good job.

predicted NO

I think this one depends a lot on who gets polled

predicted YES

@NathanpmYoung Agreed, I also mentioned concern about selection bias earlier.

One thing that potentially helped with the current poll is that it was featured so that anyone on Manifold who was interested in the subject had a chance to see it and respond, instead of only people who were already following the market.

predicted NO

@jack Are you gonna aim for a big poll or a select group?

predicted YES

@NathanpmYoung The intent for this question was a poll open to anyone, as per usual Manifold poll practice. If you have ideas for what sort of select group might give better results, I'm interested in hearing them.

predicted NO

@jack I guess you could ask manifold to build polls

predicted YES

@NathanpmYoung That would be a potentially nice feature but I don't think it makes a huge difference - the poll here is already getting a decent number of responses, and I can gather more information this way than with a Twitter-style poll.

predicted NO

@jack What's the current mean? Also naaah it will get so many fewer responses. @Austin can you build a little app for taking polls in comments?

predicted YES

@NathanpmYoung There are two common ways I've seen to do polls like this that are lighter weight and don't require new Manifold features:

Poll by liking comments:

Poll by embedding a 3rd party website poll:

But I'm not convinced getting more responses improves poll accuracy. In fact it might make it worse. I think to help mitigate selection bias, it would be better to get a random sample of the Manifold community (probably limited to those with some familiarity with FTX), and poll them.

I have committed not to reveal the current mean until the current instance of the poll finishes at the end of January.

predicted NO

Firstly, every question should have a wiki for info and a way to tip people who add it.

Here is my case for about .92

I don't know what the definition of fraud is, but SBF allowed money which customers had specifically earmarked to not be risked to be risked. And it was $8bn. That's not an amount you can do by accident. What's more Ellison's testimony said they were doing this longer than we previously thought. How can we argue at this point that this either wasn't fraud or wasn't willful?

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