Bitcoin’s Image Problem

There’s been some drama recently over the removal of a few names from the list of potential interviewees posted at bitcoin.org. Despite being some of Bitcoin’s biggest proponents, Roger Ver and Jon Matonis are apparently too extreme to represent our fledgling currency to the media. But this latest act is just a symptom of a much larger disease: Bitcoin has an image problem.

Let’s have a look at public perception of two groups. First, what do most people imagine when you say the word “banker?”

Ben_Bernanke_official_portrait

Ben Bernanke

No matter what your personal politics say about Mr. Bernanke up there, you’ve got to admit he looks pretty professional. Now what does the average mental image of a Bitcoiner look like?

LukeJr

LukeJr

Again, no matter what your personal opinions of LukeJr are, this is the kind of face people associate with Bitcoin. It’s an unfair stereotype, but it is what people actually think – to the masses, Bitcoiners fall into two main categories:

  • Hackers/Geeks/Nerds
    • These guys are in it for the tech. If they somehow become the subject of a TV interview, they will spout off jargon and confuse the interviewer and everyone watching the interview, thus entrenching us deeper in the widely-held belief that “That Bitcoin stuff is way too complicated.”
  • Hard-Line Libertarians/Anarchists/Crazy People
    • These guys are in it for the anonymity. Whether they’re peddling porn, drugs or just plain dodging taxes they’re in Bitcoin for political reasons. If they end up in front of a camera they’ll make us all look crazy and perpetuate the idea that Bitcoin is the currency of <insert political party here>, pornographers, drug dealers and others living on the societal fringes.

Now these are unfair and extreme stereotypes, but they are the way a lot of people actually think. This is the only defensible point in the removal of Ver and Matonis from bitcoin.org and it’s hard not to agree that both fellows have been a bit political in the past, occasionally too much so, but I do feel like they are still some of the best spokespersons we have. It’s OK to geek out a little on camera and it’s OK to be a little political so long as you can maintain moderation.

Of course there’s a third archetype you’ll see in front of the camera quite a bit, too:

  • The Detractor
    • These guys dismiss Bitcoin as “play money” and use their poor grasp of economics to make it sound like the worst idea ever. Their points are almost never valid but they’re usually wearing a suit and speaking authoritatively. They’ll often make disparaging references to those who fall into the other two categories.

So where are all of the moderate, reasonable, well-balanced individuals? We know they exist, so why can’t this guy get any air time?

Tony

Tony Gallippi

He looks pretty professional… Or what about this guy?

It's Meeeee!

It’s Meeeee!

OK, so Tony is probably the better pick, at least he’s wearing a tie – but regularly wearing collared shirts should count for something, right? Shameless self-promotion aside, there are plenty of professional, intelligent people who give good interviews scattered throughout the Bitcoin community, so why do we so seldom see them on the news? Because they don’t fit the narrative.

All too often, the media outlet in question isn’t really interested in providing a fair and balanced perspective. Fair and balanced doesn’t sell ad slots and most reporters have already made up their mind about Bitcoin and are cherry-picking interviewees who fit their personal views. They’ve already decided how the story is going to play, usually based on a feeling they got after spending less than five minutes on research. This is the way the media works now, so I can understand not wanting to feed into it by promoting people who fit the negative archetypes even a little – but those are the people who are going to get the interviews anyway, so wouldn’t it be better to give them a little of what they want wrapped in a somewhat respectable bundle? Would you rather turn on the evening news to see an interview by somewhat-political Roger Ver or completely insane-sounding Max Keiser?

But hey, maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe I’m too invested in this – Roger Ver does run BitcoinStore, one of my sponsors, and while I can’t call Jon Matonis anything more than an acquaintance, he is in my Skype contacts. Maybe this is the sort of thing the people should decide. What do you think?

Should Matonis and Ver have been removed?

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Comments

  1. anon444 says:

    LukeJr is an asshole… anyway Gavin Anderson doesn't look like a crazy anarchist

  2. Geremia13 says:

    Luke-Jr. is awesome. He's a Linux fan!

  3. joshfindit says:

    As long as the tech and the economics hold up under scrutiny, I feel that the 'image' of Bitcoin can do anything it wants..

    There is already a recognized need for a cash of the internet that is perceived to be anonymous, and that is certainly outside of governmental hands – as long as it fills the space when all the PR is cut out, people are going to use it more and more widely.

  4. Jonas Lihnell says:

    The way I see it, as long as they dont promote violence they are better than the current state of affairs that rely solely on a monopolizing the rights of violence.

  5. POSTELL, INK says:

    Bitcoin. As a journalist going back two generations, investigative at that, no one should be left out of an intensive fair-minded piece. That said, Perry, I was yawning, having pulled another till-dawner catching up and under deadline, you are my number one interviewee, FYI. You know one of my others. You know one who was but wasn't but is. You and I will Skype up this week. Necessity being mother of invention, with your tip, you can go full-speed-ahead and I won't have to type myself into a goddam frenzy. Don't expect pointed questions, as I know you can free-flow. My deadline is May 13, by the way. And doesn't look like I'm going to be in Vegas in time for BTC vis-a-vis…This blog woke me up, you did it again. Good work, you'll go far if you keep up this kind of straight talk. As far as Bitcoin blacklisting certain people for interviews, that sounds draconian and off the mark – at least from my perspective (which I think you know).

  6. The best way to describe the current image of bitcoin is to share a reaction of a relative of mine to the fact that i started to show some interest in the subject. The person i am talking about is a retired Wall Street analyst (The ones who suppose to tell us what we should think about stocks). His reaction was very close to: 'so are you going to deal drugs now?'. So the image problem is not about the difference between a well groomed business guy to a non shaved nerd (as myself, lets say 4/7 days of the week) but the evolving image of drug lords using it for he anonymity.

  7. I wrote a quasi-response to the Forum thread here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/04/22

    "However, being against dissenting viewpoints on regulation, being unwilling to confront any form of taxation, or being anti-financial privacy does not make one a neutral bitcoin advocate as some have suggested. Those positions are the worst sort of bias because from the outset they wrap ideology in what is politically correct and easily digestible by the masses. Furthermore, it can be disingenuous and manipulative."

  8. You Forgot Meeh…Frankenmint. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/03/us-tech

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