Earlier this week, Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton sat down to discuss their NFTs and Bored Apes in front of a studio audience for NBC’s The Tonight Show, much to the exasperation of the viewing public.
— The Tonight Show (@FallonTonight) January 25, 2022
By showing off his ape jpeg, which Fallon apparently purchased for $216,000, it could potentially increase its value, allowing Fallon to sell “that NFT from national television” at a much higher price down the line. This is obviously an ethical problem and a big no-no in journalism: imagine if Fallon had, say, shown off his vacuum cleaner on The Tonight Show and said “I purchased this vacuum cleaner for $100” and then sold it for $1,000 later on.
NBC’s publically-available workplace policy states in the “Gifts, Conflicts & Corruption” section that employees must “disclose and obtain approval for all outside work, financial interests and other personal activities/relationships that may create or appear to create a conflict,” and that employees should not “use company info, resources, time, etc. for personal benefit.” If the price of Fallon’s ape were to rise and then be sold for profit, one could reasonably think the segment would be in violation of NBC’s workplace policy.
At the moment, NBC has said things are on the level with Fallon. A spokesperson told Uproxx that Fallon “did not violate the company’s conflict of interest policy, since hosts are able to promote outside projects such as books and movies.”
A key difference between NBC’s defense and the matter at hand is that Fallon showing off his NFT is not the same as promoting something he worked on, but rather one of his investments.
Experts speaking to The Los Angeles Times seemed unsure if Fallon’s actions constituted a conflict of interest.
Charles Davis, the dean of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, told the publication that he was “unsure whether [an entertainer] sharing the NFTs they purchased equals a plea for others to buy … That would seem a line of sorts, if they were to market them on set, [but with Fallon] it seems to be less shilling and more just sharing a purchase.”
Don Heider, an ethics director at Santa Clarita University, suggested that even if Fallon’s segment did not constitute a violation of ethics, in the future one should ask, “Is it a good idea, is it ethical, is it in the public interest, to be endorsing something on air — whether you’re a reporter, whether you’re an entertainer, anything else — that you have an investment in?”
It seems no hammer is coming down on Fallon at the moment, but as the NFT market gets more regulated, consequences for actions like Fallon’s could soon follow.