3 Reasons Newsweek’s Bitcoin Cover Story Was A Pointless Endeavor

67-2014-3-14-coverAs you probably know by now, Newsweek claims to have found the true identity of shrouded-in-mystery Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto… a 64-year-old California man who was born with the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. The story has outraged many for not only outing the man (who denies having anything to do with Bitcoin) but for publishing personal details about him and his family that are utterly irrelevant to the story of the creation of the digital currency. The bigger question is whether the story should have been published in the first place.

I’d contend that for all the research and reporting done by writer Leah McGrath Goodman, her story does nothing to shed a light on the actual creation of Bitcoin.

Goodman interviewed numerous people for her story, but every statement given about Nakamoto’s reasons for developing Bitcoin are mere supposition.

“I got the impression that Satoshi was really doing it for political reasons,” says Bitcoin Chief Scientist Gary Andresen, one of the few people in the article who has actually communicated with the actual creator of Bitcoin, none of whom confirm that the Satoshi Nakamoto tracked down by Goodman is that same person.

The other quotes intended to shed any light on why Nakamoto may have developed the currency come from family members of the California man.

“I could see my dad doing something brilliant and not accepting the greater effect of it,” says his daughter, whose full name, location and place of work are given in the story, but who fully admits that she doesn’t know if her dad created Bitcoin.

If someone told me my late father had invented the VCR [he didn’t], I would tell you something like “That makes sense; he liked watching TV on his own schedule,” but that doesn’t make it so or provide any actual insight to the creation process.

If the point of the story wasn’t to shed a light on how or why Bitcoin came into being, then it seems to me that the goal was merely to solve a mystery that didn’t need solving.

Whether or not the man Goodman tracked down is the real Satoshi Nakamoto, the fact is that he’s not a criminal, not a public person. Hell, he’s not even exceedingly wealthy.

Forbes’ most recent roundup of the world’s billionaires lists 1,565 different people with at least $1 billion to their names. The lowest-ranked people in that group have more than double what Nakamoto has earned from Bitcoin.

Nakamoto has no control over Bitcoin or the funds of any Bitcoin users. He has not worked on the project (at least not openly) in years. The only reason this story exists is because he created something that became popular and dared to not give a damn about taking public credit for it.

You can’t even draw comparisons to publicity-shunners like Harper Lee, Terrence Mallick, or J.D. Salinger. These are all artists who, whether they ever intended to become famous or not, entered into fields that makes celebrities about of those who succeed.

Some defenders of the Newsweek piece point to media coverage of tech billionaires like Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as precedence for this kind of story on the Bitcoin creator. But Gates and Zuck are not only people who have made themselves the faces of their respective companies; they also remained involved with the operation of their creations. Meanwhile, Satoshi Nakamoto hasn’t had anything to do with Bitcoin in quite some time.

Why not a national magazine cover story on the creator of Photoshop? It has revolutionized multiple industries and changed the way humans view the world and communicate about it and has made Adobe a fortune much larger than the few hundred million stashed on Nakamoto’s hard drive.

Goodman defends her inclusion of details that have absolutely nothing to do with Bitcoin — Nakamoto’s location, the names and locations of his family members, his recent health issues — by saying they “offer a sense of his humanity.”

What does that have anything to do with reporting about the creation of Bitcoin?

An example: Because of where I live and the friends I have, I (and a lot of other people in Philadelphia) happen to know where Comcast CEO Brian Roberts eats breakfast every morning. I’ve also been told what he eats, though I honesty don’t care.

But do I include this in any of the numerous stories about Comcast? No, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the goings-on at the nation’s largest cable company. Similarly, while Roberts’ home address and license plate number may be available to those who know where to look, including that sort of data is is just showy, and serves no real informative purpose.

And remember that in this example, I’m talking about the billionaire head of a mammoth media and cable company, a man who is friendly with world leaders. If I wouldn’t include this information in a story about him, I certainly wouldn’t do so in a piece about the engineer who invented the first set-top receiver.

We know that a Newsweek reporter has a good deal of evidence that seems to point to this man in California as the likely creator of Bitcoin.

We know that he’s denying the claims made in that story.

We also know where this man — whether he is the Satoshi Nakamoto or not — went to school, where he worked, and what his siblings, spouse’s, and kids names are (and where some of them live and work).

But even if everything in the Newsweek story turns out to be true, when it comes to the actual origin story of Bitcoin, we know as much today as we did three days ago.

Further reading, including some differing opinions:
Redditors furious Newsweek ‘doxxed’ Bitcoin founder [Poynter]

The Outing of Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto Is Important Journalism [Forbes]

Of Bitcoin and doxxing: Is revealing Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity okay because it was Newsweek and not Reddit? [GigaOm]

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