Media Caught Up in Search for Satoshi: Bitcoin in the Headlines
Bitcoin in the Headlines is a weekly analysis of industry media coverage and its impact.
Speculation about the identity of bitcoin's mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, reached a new high this week after tech publications Wired and Gizmodo published reports which both pointed to the likelihood that an Australian entrepreneur named Craig S. Wright played a big role in the birth of the digital currency.
The potential unmasking caused ripples of excitement across international mainstream media outlets that covered the news of the big reveal and the subsequent police raids and signs of an inquiry by Australian tax authorities.
Bitcoin enthusiasts, perhaps fatigued by previous attempts to decipher Nakamoto's identity including a much-maligned effort by Newsweek that mistakenly pointed to a California resident named Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, reacted to the news with a degree of skepticism.
In the wake of the Gizmodo and Wired reports, some outlets moved quickly to offer their own takes on the evidence, casting further doubt on the initial claims.
The hunt for Nakamoto
Following on from Newsweek's attempt at identifying Nakamoto last year, Wired and Gizmodo led the week's newsflow by identifying Wright as the possible person behind bitcoin.
As Wired's piece begins:
"Even as his face towered 10 feet above the crowd at the Bitcoin Investor's Conference in Las Vegas, Craig Steven Wright was, to most of the audience of crypto and finance geeks, a nobody."
Wright, the journalists explained, had Skyped into the meeting and was wearing a discreet outfit, consisting of a black blazer and a casual shirt.
"His name hadn't made the conference's list of 'featured speakers'," they added, noting that "even the panel's moderator, a bitcoin blogger named Michele Seven, seemed concerned the audience wouldn't know why he was there".
Wright reportedly began to introduce himself when Seven interrupted him, asking who he was, to which the Australian responded that he was "a bit of everything".
According to the trio, Seven questioned Wright further on his introduction to bitcoin, noting how he seemed like he may be hiding something:
"He seemed to suppress a smile. The panel's moderator moved on. And for what must have been the thousandth time in his last seven years of obscurity, Wright did not say the words Wired's study of Wright over the past weeks suggests he may be dying to say out loud. 'I am Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin'."
A possible hoax
The Wired journalists said that the publication had acquired the "strongest evidence yet" of Nakamoto's true identity.
All signs, they added, pointed to Craig Steven Wright, "a man who never even made it onto any Nakamoto hunters' public lists of candidates, yet fits the cryptocurrency creator's profile in nearly every detail".
Despite the available evidence, however, the reporters asserted that it was impossible to determine with absolute certainty whether Wright is Nakamoto.
"But two possibilities outweigh all others: Either Wright invented bitcoin, or he's a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did," reported Wired.
Gizmodo said that it had been contacted by someone who allegedly hacked Wright's email, though as in the case of Wired, the original source's true identity is unknown at this time.
Further fanning the flames of controversy: the fact that at least two other journalists, including the New York Times' Nathaniel Popper, had also received the tip about Wright months before.
Doubts over PGP keys
In the hours after the Gizmodo and Wired reports were published, other journalists moved to take a closer look at some of the forensic evidence presented – namely the PGP keys said to connect Wright to the Nakamoto identity.
Motherboard's Sarah Jeong had this to say:
"A lot of this evidence isn't authenticated, so there's that. A lot of this evidence isn’t authenticated, so there’s that. But there’s one really big problem with the case for Craig S. Wright as Satoshi: at least one of the key pieces of evidence appears to be fake. The “Satoshi” PGP keys associated with the Wired and Gizmodo stories were probably generated after 2009 and uploaded after 2011."
Jeong explained the plural usage of "keys", adding that Wired and Gizmodo examined two different sets of data and that "neither of them check out".
Having noticed this discrepancy, Jeong confirmed that Motherboard had reached out to Gizmodo for comment. Gizmodo editor Katie Drummond reportedly said that the keys were "just one (relatively small) data point among many others, including in-person interviews and on-the-record corroboration".
Jeong went on to write that the keys are important, not only because they seem outright suspicious, but also because there is evidence to suggest tampering.
At this point, Jeong adds that Wired's Andy Greenberg had said that this had been considered, and served as proof that the Wright/Nakamoto connection may be a hoax, going on to conclude:
"Listen, PGP is hard. Maybe the ingenious Craig-Satoshi-Nakamoto-Wright, like most ordinary people, can’t stop losing access to his PGP keys and keeps having to upload different keys to the keyserver. But the metadata, Greg Maxwell’s chatlogs, and the online trail just don’t really add up. And as Kashmir Hill pointed out at Fusion, “there are obvious incentives for an entrepreneur active in the blockchain and security space”—like Craig Wright—“to be known as the talented developer behind Bitcoin.”
Unconvinced by the arguments put forward, Jeong adds: "Whatever’s going on here, it’s pretty fishy."
Why should we care?
Media outlets scurried to cover the news, some even questioning the link between the relatively unknown Australian businessman and what is known about Satoshi Nakamoto, who played an active development role and regularly posted online in bitcoin's early years.
Others simply questioned why the public should be concerned with the identity of the digital currency's creator. Alex Fitzpatrick over at Time may hold the key as to why the rest of the world should care, writing:
"Bitcoin is beloved by free-market types because it has no central bank, no Fed, no Janet Yellen controlling the money supply. But if Bitcoin’s alleged creator really is sitting on a half-billion dollar stockpile of the stuff, he will have become the kind of central banker archetype that Bitcoin’s die-hard fans consider their personal boogeyman."
"Should Wright cash out and make off with a more widely-accepted currency like dollars, Bitcoin may never recover from the price shock triggered by the sudden glut in supply," Fitzpatrick went on to write. "Thus, the destiny of a supposedly decentralized currency may rest in the hands of one person — exactly the fate it was created to avoid."
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