Bitcoin Reputation and Headlines


Bitcoin is one of the most ambiguous currencies in the world. Certainly, there is Zimbabwe Dollar, a currency used in toilet paper’s stead, as actual toilet paper is worth more than itself, and, when used, it has way more backing.

Zimbabwe Dollar’s reputation is a fine example of what may happen when an economy collapses. Still, you may like to buy a 100 trillion dollar bank note just for fun.

Bitcoin reputation was spoiled not by any economic collapse, but by some of its users. Just like any other thing, we may use bitcoin both for good or for bad.

In this context, the dispute on whether bitcoin is good resembles the dispute on guns. Fans of pistols and rifles are quite right when they say that it’s people who kill, not guns. Their opponents are right again when they say that hadn’t a killer had a gun, the wouldn’t have been a murder with some gun. The same problem happened to bitcoin: you may use it go get paid for a job, or to speculate at an exchange, and similarly you may finance terrorists or buy drugs.

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That’s where psychology comes into play. Negative emotions are stronger than positive. Quarreling or being sarcastic offers a greater selection of words in any language than commending or being nice. For the same reason, good news on TV are less interesting than bad ones. You would hardly recall that someone had ever started news from telling that something was wonderful. You’d never find the world’s biggest bread or a little girl saving a kitten in the headlines. However, if ravaging lava buried a city, the headlines would welcome it.

Bitcoin’s media coverage is mostly negative. Even though recently the situation started gradually changing, most news cover yet another statement on ISIS funding, failed exchanges, bitcoin extortionists, and modern-day slavery. Moreover, you don’t have to write an entire article. You may just write something like “The Islamic State is financed with bitcoins”, and somewhere below, in small letters, add “according to some dude from Reddit”. Your job is done anyway. The headline is way more important.

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Those notions create negative associations for the very concept of bitcoin. The word starts linking to other words with negative connotations: crime, evil, drugs, guns, terrorism, etc. Eventually, means of payment become another item on the list.

The problem is that bitcoin itself isn’t good or bad, it’s only a means of payment. Human psychology, however, requires tagging everything with attitude labels in order to normally interact with the environment. That’s not good or bad either. In most cases, it’s even useful. For instance, unpleasant smell from a newly bought piece of meat activates a tag “it’s spoiled, don’t eat it”. But, just like elsewhere, there are side effects.

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Mass adoption of bitcoin isn’t possible without trust of similar scale. Experience dictates that we shouldn’t trust things beloved by terrorists and drug dealers.

Something like reputation recovery campaign for cryptocurrency has started nearly a year ago. NYSE now has its own bitcoin index. Giant corporations like Microsoft accept it as payment for some items. It all creates a different informational background for the notion of bitcoin. Its basic idea is “respectable people trust cryptocurrency.”

However, no good bitcoin news are as interesting as bad ones for those beyond the community. The ‘good’ articles are mostly written in a mood not inducing any excitement in readers. The very interest towards cryptocurrency isn’t that high in the target audience.

The problem’s solution may be not as elegant as we might like it. Goebbels, who, regardless of what he did, was no fool, once said that lies repeated a thousand times become true. If you tell the truth a thousand times, the numeric prevalence of such notions will become prevalence of attitude. If bitcoin is mentioned exclusively in positive context, people may finally get interested in what it actually is.

Bitcoin in the context of mass adoption isn’t a form of material assets or a means of payment. When it comes to human psychology, it’s a concept — no more, no less. The fate of bitcoin’s mass adoption relies on what those masses actually associate it with.

Jenny Aysgarth


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