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Extremist Groups Benefit from Bitcoin Use

Fringe elements who face censorship take advantage of blockchain anonymity


Yes, Bitcoin Does Benefit Some Extremist Groups

If you’re here, you may have heard the recent surge in Bitcoin’s price is benefiting extremist groups like Islamic fundamentalists and white supremacists. While anecdotal, these reports may not be far off. Bitcoin was deliberately designed to be a workaround to combat mainstream censorship of unpopular opinions. So why should we be surprised if its use attracts extremist groups for the benefit of their cause?

As a slight disclaimer, I don’t endorse white supremacists or ISIS or any other fringe group that allegedly benefits from cryptocurrencies any more than I endorse the Trump Administration’s attempt to ban certain words from the CDC’s official documentation. I simply see these extremist groups’ use of Bitcoin and distributed ledger-based apps as one of the inevitable downsides of developing technologies that are designed to be censor-proof. I could see them making use of apps like Blocklancer in an attempt to get freelancers to write hateful articles, OpenBazaar in an attempt to sell offensive digital goods and SingularDTV in an attempt to distribute audio files. The only thing the rest of us could do about it is refuse to bite.

Don’t Deny Extremist Groups a Platform- It’s the Audience that Counts

One aspect of censor-proof platforms is that everybody gets equal access to an audience. As I noted in another article, you could upload an audio file of yourself playing a Mongolian mouth flute if you want, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will want to listen to it. Simply refusing to download and listen to their content will have the same effect as shadow-banning them. The creators of unpleasant content will think they have the same access as everybody else until they notice that they’re not getting any response to what they create.

Of course, this is coming from somebody who thinks that it would have been amusing if Ann Coulter had gone ahead with her speech at Berkeley, but wound up speaking to an empty house. My entire reaction to this was that, yes, I do disagree with Ann Coulter on several issues, but threats of violence meant to silence people like her will accomplish nothing other than making moderates wonder if your side has any sensible arguments or reasoning at all. Bernie Sanders even had this to say about the violent threats that led to cancelling the scheduled speech:

“To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness. If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”

For all Bill Nye’s faults, he did not shy away from debating Ken Ham regarding creationism. He did not tell Ken Ham to shut up or brain the guy with the rock he brought even when Ham was spouting obvious nonsense. It may be debatable whether giving Ken Ham free publicity was a good idea, but at least Nye was willing to meet a charlatan like Ham on an intellectual level.

So the choice is either to completely ignore a message you dislike, or challenge them to a polite and civil debate. It’s your choice when dealing with disagreeable messages and people on platforms that are designed to be censor-proof.

But What About Those ISIS Nutjobs?

Yeah, they can be problematic even though that chick who is accused of using Bitcoin to launder money for ISIS was caught. I don’t try to pretend that such a thing wouldn’t be dangerous for people who prefer living in free society versus a theocracy (one reason I didn’t cry when more sane forces recaptured Raqqa). When the finger’s pointed at Bitcoin, the fact that transactions can indeed be tracked if authorities are willing to put the effort into it is often completely overlooked.

That said, the anonymity of the blockchain presents a headache for law enforcement. They much prefer using the court system to digging through the blockchain, such as the case in which Coinbase was bullied into turning over the personal information of all large investors. Investigators hope this “big data” approach will help them get lucky catching violent criminal organizations, money launderers and tax evaders, without having to put in extra effort and resources. Of course, there is no regard for the privacy rights of the geek who was attracted to Bitcoin because it shows some promise as a future mode of exchange. This is one reason why I support the idea of earning cryptocurrencies whenever possible and letting someone else worry about messing with the exchanges.

So the next time a radical Islamist sets off a bomb in New York City, don’t blame Bitcoin. Blame the law enforcement agencies who failed to uncover that particular plot because they completely went after the wrong target and wanted you to believe that Bitcoin is the real bad guy. Even without Bitcoin, someone who is determined enough to carry out a “lone wolf” attack can get all the components for a pipe bomb at the local hardware store and garden supply shop. So it’s not likely that he’ll be counted among the large investors who bought Bitcoin at Coinbase and he can fly under the radar more easily that way.

Should We Censor Who Can Use Cryptocurrencies?

It depends on whether you feel comfortable giving somebody else the job of deciding who can and cannot use Bitcoin and blockchain applications. If you can’t think of anybody you’d trust as a gatekeeper off the top of your head, then censorship should not be a thing in the crypto space. Censorship within the crypto space itself has become a serious enough issue when dealing with rifts in the community. The last thing we need is more stifling of different opinions and encroaching of regulatory authorities on the space.

Yes, this inevitably may mean tolerating the free speech rights of people whom you disagree with or dislike. No, this will not require you to buy the music by hate groups, give them space in your virtual theater or download their propaganda pamphlets. It only means that they get the same equal access to blockchain-based platforms as everybody else.

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