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Ethereum Classic is technically a hard fork of Ethereum. However, its forking happened in a fairly unconventional manner.
Before Ethereum Classic existed, there was just one chain for Ethereum called ‘Ethereum’. The split occurred in 2016 after a fund built on Ethereum called the ‘DAO’ was hacked. The team had a choice between either accepting the hack and continuing forth, or implementing a ‘hard fork’ in order to ‘wipe’ the transaction and stop the hackers from getting away with the money.
However, there was a solid segment of the community that did not agree with this approach under the philosophy that the Ethereum blockchain should remain ‘immutable’. So, when Ethereum did commence with the hard fork to a different network, many were ‘left behind’ and because their chain possessed less hash power, they were not able to retain the name ‘Ethereum’.
Thus, Ethereum Classic was born.
One of the major reasons that Ethereum Classic is still used is due to the promotion efforts of Barry Silbert, whom apparently owns a significant stake of Ethereum Classic. He has a lot of influence in the cryptocurrency community in general, and he owns Digital Currency Group, which has invested a substantial amount of money into different areas of cryptocurrency.
Some theorize that Barry has merely used his influence to promote the token in order to “pump and dump”, an illegal scheme in which one artificially boosts the price of a security/stock by overexaggerating its potential returns/benefits in order to garner more investors and make more of a personal profit.
The main goal of Ethereum Classic was to preserve the philosophy of an ‘immutable’ blockchain. They believed that implementing a hard fork in order to restore the stolen funds from the DAO would undermine this principle entirely. So, by refusing to cooperate with the rest of the network, they wanted to take a stand for their principles. Essentially, one could consider Ethereum Classic to be an ongoing legacy of that fundamental protest.
In general, Ethereum Classic was received with mixed emotions from the community as it was split on the issue. There were plenty of members of the community that respected and commended those that refused to cooperate with the hard fork that Ethereum instituted to restore the funds to the individuals who had them hacked from the DAO.
However, there was a segment of the Ethereum community that did not feel favorably about the refusal of the Ethereum Classic community to cooperate with the wishes of the greater community.