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?”
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?
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:
- 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?
He looks pretty professional… Or what about this guy?
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?
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