During the past year, we’ve seen many positive milestones in the cryptocurrency industry. In a letter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in July, it was clarified that national banks have the authority to provide fiat bank accounts and cryptocurrency custodial services to cryptocurrency businesses. And recently, Mastercard expanded its cryptocurrency program to make it easier for companies in the space to issue their own payment cards. Coinbase has been eyeing the stock market listing and, if successful, it will be the first cryptocurrency company to go public.
Despite the global economic crisis and market crash, Bitcoin is up well over 140% from its March lows (compare that with Gold which is up not even 30%). Does this mean the mainstream adoption is truly on the horizon? Well, not quite.
According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer from May, just 48% of respondents worldwide trust crypto. An even smaller group — only 35% — think it will have a positive impact on society. These percentages are higher than we’ve ever seen for crypto but still represent a minority. That skepticism towards the digital assets has also manifested in legal views where more than 6 in 10 people said crypto is not regulated enough.
Although there has been considerable progress — more stringent regulation, tighter security, and more advanced technology — almost a decade later, it seems that the crypto reputation is still hurting from events like the SilkRoad dark web or the Mt.Gox crash. In fact, much of the mainstream media coverage continues to cite these events ten years on as a reflection of cryptocurrency’s reality.
The media still get bitcoin wrong
I have a number of great journalist friends in the crypto space who work around the clock, researching and getting under the skin of the latest crypto developments but, outside the trade titles, the quality starts to fall. The coverage of cryptocurrency in mainstream media is still rather poor. Or as Colin Harper has put it ‘By some combination of apathy, lack of curiosity and ignorance, Bitcoin is often misrepresented or represented poorly in mainstream news outlets.’
The recent twitter hack is the most recent example of that. The social media platform has experienced one of its greatest hacks to date that has affected accounts of prominent global personalities and companies. A quick Google search of the story shows that the mainstream media very quickly changed the narrative from ‘Twitter hack’ to ‘Bitcoin hack’. This is not only misleading but is fundamentally, untrue. The Binance Academy explains why it is technically possible to hack Bitcoin but in practice, is extremely unlikely. ‘It’s really important to realise that this was a hack and the crime is the hack, it’s not the fact that Bitcoin was the desirable prize of this attack.’ — said Kristin Smith, executive director of industry trade group Blockchain Association.
What’s important to note, however, is how easy it was to adapt the truth with unfortunate wording. This is not to say reporters have a negative agenda or are ignorant. The story reported by Clare Duffy for CNN Business, for example, was very well researched and balanced. But when the story broke, I came across more fluff than quality journalism. It’s the result of a lack of knowledge and is symbolic of the fact that cryptocurrency it’s still in its infancy. ‘Let’s cut these career journalists some slack,’ Colin continues, ‘After all, a traditional finance reporter may be daunted by this new and confusing world of decentralized digital currency.’ The fast paced newsroom environment doesn’t work in journalists’ favour either but it is a problem that has to be acknowledged and addressed.
‘Whether a given story is unfairly biased against Bitcoin, or even unfairly biased in its favor, it is important to work together to make sure that the truth always comes out — in the first case, not to needlessly scare potential Bitcoin adopters away, and in the second case, not to disappoint,’ wrote Vitalik Buterin back in 2012 in his guide for journalists explaining common misconceptions about Bitcoin. Eight years on, we are still fighting the exact same battles.
Cryptocurrency needs a voice
As the size of the market reaches $251.8 billion, cryptocurrency needs to find a place in the newsrooms instead of only being on the agenda when there’s potential for a clickbait headline.
Bitcoin isn’t a company. It doesn’t have an office, a support center, or a sales department. It doesn’t have a PR and marketing team of experts that can help explain to the general public what it is and what it does. That’s where mainstream media play a crucial role and need to fulfill its responsibility. With relatively new and disruptive technologies like cryptocurrency, reliable journalism becomes even more important — not only to inform the public but to protect it. Bitcoin Magazine, claims to be ‘the voice to right the fallacies’, offer honest coverage, and fight misconceptions about the cryptocurrency industry. We need the same commitment from mainstream papers.
Of course, there is also a massive responsibility on the crypto companies out there. Ultimately, they need to be educators, thought leaders and most of all, responsible businesses that customers can trust. Every crypto company’s marketing and PR team should put worldwide crypto adoption at the top of their priority list. The job at hand is bigger than acquiring customers — it’s about taking responsibility for the wider public. They must share knowledge and resources and communicate with purpose. An editor who fulfills his/her duties as a source of technology news for the nation won’t spend his/her precious time understanding your business model. They might, however, give you the time of the day if your company is doing something that matters to more than just your immediate stakeholders.
Beyond that, crypto companies need to ensure they come out of their own bubble. Many make the mistake of bombarding reporters with a lot of jargon and hard to understand or usually unhelpful details. Instead, focusing on fundamentals and things that matter to the wider industry will help them position their spokespeople as effective media sources. Cryptocurrency experts and enthusiasts live and breathe the community life and tend to forget that there’s the whole world out there that’s yet to understand the industry.
Effective communication is what will build the trust the cryptocurrency world needs and eventually crush the misconceptions. In the words of Vaitalik Buterin ‘Hopefully, as public understanding of what Bitcoin is, continues to develop, we will be seeing far fewer outdated or inaccurate claims (…) and with luck, Bitcoin will be free to rise or fall — but hopefully rise — on its own merits.’