Tag Archives: Journalism

Newsweek’s Nakamoto Article – My ~0.0001617 BTC on the Matter.

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto (Photo from Reuters)

When someone calls the police in response to a reporter knocking at their front door, it is obvious he/she is hesitant to be a part of the story. This is the action Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto took from his California home as Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman asked to talk with him about a few things. Namely, Bitcoin.

This was the beginning of a series of evens – all rooted from an online news article – that would be heightened and talked about amongst crypto nerds even somewhat interested Bitcoin. But it has also (gratefully) become a pivotal event in the debate on how journalism does – and how it should – function. A provoking and timely discussion regarding privacy rights for those involved in a news story has risen. Instead of delving into my opinion on the currency or the politics behind it, I find it more important to examine the commotion this story has caused.

THE ARTICLE

The story, uploaded on March 6th to the Newsweek Magazine website, stood as an unmasking and detailed expose on the supposed creator behind Bitcoin. The emphasis must be placed on supposed, however, as we will learn later. The alleged first response from Dorian when Goodman asked him about his work on Bitcoin, he responded with the following:

“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it.. It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”

The article trailed on a great length, dissecting Nakamota as a humble yet strikingly stubborn and intelligent man, and went on to report similar descriptions from family members and former co-workers. There was much talk of his lifetime accomplishments, from his train collecting hobby to his former secret government work and of course some talk on his possible creation of Bitcoin, Most of his family was interviewed along the way.

While all of this may seem somewhat casual or benign in the sense of invading privacy, the details of Nakamoto’s living situation were very candidly spilled by the Newsweek scoop. Not only did the article’s page contain the name of the California town where Nakamoto currently resides, but it also included a picture of the front of his house taken from a Google Street View Camera, complete with his car showing a legible license plate.

THE OUTRAGE

As would be expected, many fans and investors in the Bitcoin phenomenon reacted swiftly with frustration and contempt towards the publication and its reporter. Leah McGrath Goodman and Newsweek were both lambasted by comments on Twitter. There was an attempted olive branch extended by the reporter, however, as she offered to tie up any loose ends or answer any concerns that people might have regarding the article and its contents.

The author of the Nakamoto article responds to criticism on Twitter.

The author of the Nakamoto article responds to criticism on Twitter.

Rightfully, most questions where a variation of “Why on earth did you include a picture of the man’s face along with his front yard, car, and license plate?” to which  there really wasn’t much justification from individuals further than ‘that information was public and Newsweek did nothing illegal’.

Even Newsweek’s editor Jim Impoco responded to the criticisms with the publication, exclaiming that he “..feels very comfortably that we approached the story as responsible as possible” and that he found the criticisms of the story to be “..phenomenally offensive.”

THE OUTCOME

Cut to an overwhelmed Dorian Nakamoto plagued by reporters as he makes a daring escape with a handpicked journo to a sushi restaurant, attempting to explain himself.

Cut back to Newsweek, now releasing a statement on the story and its response, claiming the story was released because it was an important one in which the publication”..recognized a public interest in establishing some core facts about Bitcoin and better informing those who might invest money in it” and that publication “..encourages all to be respectful of the privacy and rights of the individuals involved.”

And finally, pan to a confident looking Goodman, explaining her thoughts through the story and lasting impressions:

And after all of this, the credits seem so far from rolling. In a swipe back at the posting of images connected to the personal life of Dorian Nakamoto, a Cryptome post was published revealing many of Goodman’s own personal images. These included a redacted visa, tax documents, alleged Google photos of her house, and a list of previous addresses with a bullying sub-header:

“This material may not apply to the Leah McGrath Goodman who claimed to have located Satoshi Nakamoto.”

All this occurring around the time Dorian quickly took to recanting his first utterances in the original article, saying he “..never had anything to do with it [Bitcoin].” Shortly after this statement was included in an Associated Press report, A comment was made on the 2009 P2Pfoundation post titled ‘Bitcoin open source implementation of P2P currency’ by the original poster – the official Satoshi Nakamoto account – which read as follows:

Reply by Satoshi Nakamoto on March 7, 2014 at 1:17                                                                                                                                  “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.”

LESSONS

Sure, Dorian could be the Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Bitcoin. He could have logged in to his P2PFoundation account and made that comment himself in an attempt of obfuscation. Or maybe he just isn’t and maybe that comment was left by the real Nakamoto. Regardless, Goodman and Newsweek seems to have already made that decision for us a long time ago. And therein lies one of the problems. In a day and age where practically the entire internet will eat you alive for misreporting, we have an act of a journalist so assuredly unmasking the identity of someone who is not only the creator of a financial underdog, but is also worth an estimated $400 million. While Goodman could have presented this unveiling as more of a thesis than proclamation, it seems she desired to take the more heavy handed route of reporting. Many would even call this a “doxing”.

Felix Salmon summed up an attitude that I find very damaging in his recent Reuters editorial:

Goodman, on the other hand, is a proud journalist, who gets personally offended whenever anybody raises questions about her journalism, her techniques, or her reporting. In a reporter’s career, she says, “you check facts, you are building trust and building a reputation”. Goodman feels that her own personal reputation, combined with the institutional reputation of Newsweek, should count for something — that if Newsweek and Goodman stand behind a story, then the rest of us should assume that they have good reason to do so.

While there is no need to condemn a journalist for being proud of their work, there is room for condemnation of one who doesn’t think carefully of both the source and the public as they construct their story.

I have no intentions to defending Newskweek. I also have no intentions of defending Bitcoin or its users. I do, however intend to question and defend methods of journalism, which should always be geared towards necessary public knowledge and trust. Here we see a man who has done nothing illegal or shown any reason that he intends to be a public figure deserving of scrutiny. I don’t consider this necessary for a moment. Spearheading an expose like this is bound to clash with certain ethics reports should hold close. Take, for example, some points in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics pertaining to ‘Minimizing Harm’:

  • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
  • Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
  • Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

I think its quite clear that all of these should have been taken into consideration during (and before and after) the reporting of the Nakamoto story. These should be top of mind, especially in times when so many are aware of just how much privacy is being stripped away from their everyday lives. Maybe that’s why so many rush to defend Dorian Nakamoto; because they can identify with him as a man who would rather keep to himself being thrown into a tabloid-esque limelight. Having said this, there should be no exception for turning the tables. The Crytome doxing of Goodman should be viewed as just as intrusive (or more, even) of an act against someone’s private life. Any such act should be condemned, no matter how deserving people may think it is.

As many might suspect, this act and all the others hasn’t nearly dampened the noise surrounding the article. In fact, the bickering continues. It seems that with social media at their disposal, Bitcoin users and Newsweek staff could be going at it for a while, all while Dorian can only hope for the obscurity he once had.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Follow Up: Iceland’s “Crowdsourced” Constitution – An Obituary.

iceland protest

Icelanders protest at Parliament (from https://www.dv.is/frettir/2013/3/27/maettu-med-busaholdin/)

In one of my earliest posts, I briefly speculated on the method of crowd-sourcing being used in the construction of Iceland’s latest constitution. I shared my thoughts on the system of contribution from the general public, and how I hoped the direct-democractic route would be successful in the end. I hadn’t been keeping track of the project lately, to be honest, but I was saddened today while scrolling through my twitter feed to find that the experiment has come to a standstill. So, what happened?

With Iceland’s elections closing in (they start on April 27th), The Althing closed without approving the constitution in question, that is, after lawmakers made key changes to the already agreed upon system.

Now, once the new parliament approves the constitution with a super-majority, it will be put out in a referendum and Iceland’s people will have to pass it with at least 40% of eligible voters approving it, implying an 80% voter turnout. The same parliament can then put the constitution into effect, without having to be dissolved. [source]

The process was changed non-unanimously, and many of the members involved in the original project are very disgruntled with this outcome. Icelandic blogger Baldur Bjarnason, after criticizing recent foreign misreports of Iceland’s crowsourcing project, had this to say:

The problems began with the election for a constitutional parliament. First, those running weren’t given nearly enough time to promote and canvass, meaning that the list tat voters could choose from consisted mostly of strangers. Second, the ballot itself was extremely confusing, requiring extensive explanations. Thirdly, and most importantly, a lot of people didn’t believe any of it mattered. [source]

After looking at how low the participation to the general assembly in late 2012 was reported to be (36.77% participation), its clear that the allegations of lack of interest from the general public are, unfortunately, very real ones. Bjarnason also had some colorful remarks about how the Icelandic Government was at fault as well:

One thing that most foreign reporters omit is that there is considerable resistance to constitutional reform by a lot of influential groups in Iceland. Another thing omitted is the fact that the government at the time was a mess and couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the election was challenged in the courts and that Iceland’s High Court declared the election, and its results, null and void because of serious issues with voter privacy—that the secrecy of the individual vote had been compromised. (You can get more details at the Icelandic Wikipedia page on the election which is pretty accurate. Of course, as with most data and references on the subject, it’s in Icelandic.)

And finally, in his most important point, he argued that the constitution was never a ‘crowdsourced’ project to begin with:

The government responded by ignoring the High Court and passed a law establishing a constitutional council composed of the exact same people as those who would have been members of the constitutional parliament. That council then decided to do what most bloggers do: post their ideas online; listen to feedback on twitter, facebook, and in comments; and make sure that changes, drafts, and edits were noted online as they went along.

This is what the news outlets labelled crowd-sourcing. It’s no more crowd-sourced than boing boing is. Open, sure. Transparent, absolutely. But, crowd-sourced? No. Not by a long shot. If the draft constitution was crowd-sourced then this blog is crowd-sourced as well and the term is meaningless. The draft constitution was written by a committee using a transparent process. It was a good thing that didn’t need to be spun into something it wasn’t.

Through all his cheekiness, Bjarnason is correct. Its possible that there was never even a fleeting moment where the politicians took the feedback from the citizens seriously, and there is surely nothing now that makes the project remotely crowdsourced.

When it comes down to it, I was one of the foreigners Bjarnason warned about. I was duped into following the story that the rest of the papers in the states plastered into their world news sections. I was too intrigued by the idea of group-think being involved in such a paramount document. While the drafting of the constitution was put in the hands of citizens on Facebook and other social media platforms, I as many failed to internalize and stress that it would just end up back in the hands of parliament afterwords. That’s not a crowdsourced constitution, its a democratic one, with a little input here and there from you’re average Icelander.

Journalists and activists alike, we need to make sure that we clearly define the processees behind legislations and law. We need to learn to differentiate actual shaping of law by a majority of the population occurring from a parliament or other institutional body telling us that’s the case. As a former reporting professor used to say to the class I attended every week, “If your mother says she loves you, you better look into it.” Affirmation is key.

So as many rightfully angry Icelanders continue to protest this week over the death of what could have been massive progress in direct democracy, don’t let that idea die in vein. Instead, bury the jumping to conclusions in the ground, right next to the use of that empty buzzword. Do not mourn them. Let lay false examples of crowdsourcing, and maybe go read some Evgeny Morozov over a cup of tea.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Bipartisanism Bytes – A Digital Outcry for Transparency in Outside Political Spending

ProPublica’s “Free The Files” Map. (Screengrab from 10/18/12)

It speaks volumes about our the state of bipartisan politics when a Green Party presidential candidate is arrested outside of a debate , peacefully attempting to enter the building where two main candidates were answering cherrypicked questions and arguing about who’s pension is bigger. Not to mention the fact that a majority of the Presidential Debate Commission is chaired by corporate lobbyists and funded by wealthy corporations. Yes, every next election year it becomes more and more apparent just how much money talks.

As I watched Obama and Romney jab at each other’s policies in each debate, each time my twitter feed (as it so commonly is during election events) was flooded with quirky responses, jokes, and general knee-jerk tweets geared toward both candidates’ monologues. But amongst a sea of puns and bad memes, there swam several journalistic groups who trickled bits of noteworthy information on the election, and more specifically, campaign finances. From their mobile phones and computers, these groups have slowly helped shape the way weary voters looked at the campaigns this year. Turning to a more constructive way of conveying the information being dispersed, they’ve sought to unearth both the facts and the flow of cash beneath the bipartisan rhetoric.

Back in late September, non-profit investigative journalism site Propublica announced their election outside spending project, “Free the Files“, geared towards compiling specific data from recently released FCC political ad buyer files:

This summer, the Federal Communications Commission ordered TV stations to pull back the curtain a bit, requiring them to publish online detailed records of political ad buys. Before, these records were only available by visiting stations in person, an issue ProPublica spotlighted in our Free The Files coverage. So far the new rule only covers the top 50 markets, and it’s impossible to search these files by candidate or political group—meaning it’s impossible to get a full picture of the spending.

We want to change that.

The project has been quite a successful case of crowdsourcing. Promoted across social media platforms, the moderators encouraged anyone interested in following the trail of outside campaign money to contribute to the cause by simply copying required information presented in the files they chose to a simple interface on the same page and submitting them when finished. Only a few blanks to fill in, ending with the click of a button, and voilà.

The Layout of a File’s Page from Propublica’s “Free The Files” Project.

As of November 3rd, 8,846 files have been ‘freed’ (out of the total 22,800), totaling to $516 million so far. The trove of data that has been revealed has revealed that the top committee buying ads was Obama For America, with a 1,045 ads purchased for a grand total $94.1 million. The Committee that placed second was Romney For President, with 353 ads purchased to total $32 million. The data retrieved from the project also paints a geographical picture of where each buyer’s ads were being targeted in the country. It is no surprise that a majority of both of the top two committees’ ads were purchased to be aired in Ohio, arguably the most important swing state. In Cleveland, Akron, and Canton a total $102 million has been logged from ads so far. That’s 19.88% of the current total from all ads logged across the nation.

Keep in mind, this project has been as successful as it is due to the contributions of volunteers; ‘citizen journalists’, twitter users, and political junkies from across the internet. It’s quite impressive how many files certain individuals have logged according to the leaderboard. Having participated in in the data crunching myself, I thought the leaderbaord was a great concept for encouraging friendly competition geared towards exposing the money flow.

Besides ProPublica, there are other important examples of investigative journalism geared towards exposing influence behind the campaigns. The Sunlight Foundation is another nonprofit, nonpartisan organization pushing for government transparency which has been educating the general public during this year’s election with their ‘Dark Money’ and other ‘Track the Influence’ projects

OpenSecrets (The Center for Responsive Politics) has been doing their part during the elections, piling up data on outside spending and create several well-crafted infographics highlighting the contrast between the candidates and their campaigns.

OpenSecret’s list of top contributing organizations to the Obama and Romney campaigns.

The very same Center for Responsive Politics has predicted that the total spending amount could top a record-breaking $6 billion, setting a record in overall election spending. If it wasn’t clear before now how much outside spending and the creation of Super-PACs has shaped the influence of candidates, it’s become more and more obvious as we near election day.

So why is this information so important? Why should we care where the money is coming from when we know it’s been deemed legal? It is very easy to get bogged down by the harsh realities of plutocratic funding of campaigns, and feel completely helpless. With investigative journalism sifting through piles and piles of data, at least we know who to hold accountable for the funding, which I would argue is a first step in encouraging a more democratically based mode of influence. What it boils down to is that many times when these comittees and donors contribute to a campaign, they are doing so assuming or hoping their needs will be served by the candidate they are pandering to. Through careful analysis of the data presented, these investigative reporters can convey to the general public which organizations are shaping each campaign with a heavy flow of cash.  In other words, they expose to us which side some of the weathiest organizations stand on in the parted sea of red and blue.

Consider donations in this case to be a powerful networking tool for groups to attain a possibly incredibly beneficial ‘relationship’ with a politician or political party. Using this logic, it’s easy to understand why voters and the public in general might want to know just who is monetarily supporting each candidate before they fill out their ballot in the fall. I consider such forementioned investigative journalism groups to be of the utmost importance in terms of progression for a democratic system. The more factual information the citizens of a country are given about outside campaign spending and money trails, the better. Transparency by the people, for the people as a product of non partisan/non for profit groups is truly an exciting venture with a pure nonpartisan intention.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized