Marc Hochstein is the managing editor of CoinDesk. The views expressed here are his own, so please don't blame his colleagues.
The following article originally appeared in CoinDesk Weekly, a custom-curated newsletter delivered every Sunday exclusively to our subscribers.
Did you hear the one about the crypto day trader who got struck by lightning? He'd read the weather forecast and heard the thunder, but scoffed and said "It's all FUD."
The term FUD ("fear, uncertainty and doubt") refers to the spreading of false or misleading information by the foes of a movement or organization, with the aim of undermining confidence in a project. It's a close cousin to "gaslighting" and "concern trolling." And it is, as the kids say, a thing.
According to La Wik, the acronym dates back to the mid-70s and may have been coined by Gene Amdahl, a computer architect who quit IBM to start his own eponymous firm, only to have his former employer badmouth the new business.
"FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products," Amdahl reportedly said. Not cool, Big Blue, not cool. (Yeah, I know, most of the people working at IBM now weren't born or were in diapers back then. But don't get any smart ideas.)
The term is popular in cryptocurrency circles, and for good reason. A lot of the critiques of bitcoin in the mainstream media over the years certainly smack of FUD. Setbacks such as a sharp price correction or a government writing burdensome regulations are often exaggerated as fatal blows.
Hey, pajama boy, it's a global, decentralized network. When the IRS issues a ruling that Americans have to pay capital gains taxes every time they buy a cup of coffee with bitcoin, that's a nuisance, a First World Problem – not "the end for bitcoin." The Venezuelans using bitcoin to survive aren't going to care.
That said, setbacks do happen, and simply reporting incremental bad news or long-term challenges is not spreading FUD.
A fine line between paranoid and stupid
"Thunderstorms expected today" is the weatherman's way of helping us avoid getting drenched or electrocuted; it's not a fiendish plot to trick us into spending the rest of our lives indoors.
Yet if you read crypto Twitter, Reddit discussions or some of the comment threads on CoinDesk, you'll see there's a noisy contingent out there who view the world through a lens of bad faith and seldom bother to read an article past the headline.
You're reporting that the coin I invested in just dropped in price? FUD! You must be long a competing digital asset, and trying to tank the price of mine. That's the only possible explanation.
The government thinks crypto is being used by terrorists? FUD! Who cares what the government thinks? It's not like they have guns and can seize a business' servers or throw people in jail or anything. Oh, you're "warning" they could do something? Well, it's just obvious you think they should.
"There's a car coming"? FUD! You just don't want me to cross to the other side of the road. That "don't walk" sign flashing red is FUD too. So are all those horns honking...
Eyes wide open
I will cop to being biased.
I've stuck my neck out many a time to argue that cryptocurrency is, all things considered, good for the world. I left one of the oldest publications in the U.S. after 17 years to join CoinDesk. And yes, I HODL a small amount of crypto, mainly bitcoin. I believe this space has a bright future.
But I also know there are going to be bumps along the way. Or, rather, New York-sized potholes, the kind that can wreck your front tire. Keeping a spare in the trunk is not falling for FUD, it's prudent risk management.
Volatility, scaling difficulties and hostile governments are all real. They can't destroy a truly decentralized network like bitcoin, but they can slow adoption, stymie innovation and make life miserable for individuals.
To simply note that these problems exist or that they are hard to solve does not imply they are insurmountable. And ignoring them won't make them go away. Ask an ostrich.
Bitcoin is often aptly compared to the red pill in "The Matrix." But it seems these days that a lot of people pinning their hopes on short-term price gains in their cryptocurrency of choice just want to take a new kind of blue pill. Good luck with that.
Edvard Munch's "The Scream" via Wikimedia Commons