Veteran magazine journalist Matt Taibbi just reported out the case for bitcoin (BTC) – perhaps without knowing it. On Tuesday, the Rolling Stone alumnus, known for his acerbic prose and a writing style reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson’s, published a new story about how PayPal (PYPL), the internet payments giant replete with its own founding “mafia,” has selectively deplatformed alternative media sites.
The story, “PayPal's IndyMedia Wipeout,” focuses on alt publishers Consortium News and MintPress, which Taibbi said have been consistently anti-war and critical (with the earned opinion from doing actual reporting) of U.S. intelligence agencies.
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But Taibbi is making a grander claim about censorship, and how it has recently moved from just the inconsistent, poorly explained suppression or boosting of online content to something more perverse: financial strangulation.
“Going after cash is a big jump from simply deleting speech, with a much bigger chilling effect. This is especially true in the alternative media world, where money has long been notoriously tight, and the loss of a few thousand dollars here or there can have a major effect on a site, podcast, or paper.”
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As readers of CoinDesk may already know, Taibbi isn’t tilting at windmills. Authorities are increasingly willing, it seems, to quash dissent through financial machinations – like during the Canadian Truckers protest where hundreds of mostly peaceful (if loud) protestors lost access to bank accounts without due process.
A similar sea change happened after SWIFT took the unprecedented move to cut Russia’s central bank from its global financial messaging service. Taken together, the two stories show how any pariahs operating with the U.S. dollar-denominated economy could be choked off.
The threat grows more severe in his mind now that the U.S. has its own “ministry of truth,” and as the government is increasingly willing to publicly say who or what is worth hearing.
As Taibbi said: “Deleting posts or censoring content is one thing, threatening an organization’s existence is another.” He also quotes MintPress founder and executive director Mnar Adley correctly placing this “current era of content moderation” as beginning with “PayPal’s historic decision in 2010 to halt donations to Wikileaks.”
Unsaid was how this moment in time led to a bifurcated path. There’s the tightly managed, heavily surveilled ecosystem of established media and powerbrokers, and its underbelly, the world of crypto.
Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto famously pleaded people to not fund WikiLeaks using his creation, thinking it would draw a “hornets’ nest” of suppression from the government to shutdown Bitcoin before it really got going.
Of course, bitcoin was already then bigger than its founder, and people decided to fund WikiLeaks anyway. Crypto today is still a primary source of funding for WikiLeaks, as it is for many offbeat operations like SciHub and Gab.
This is crypto at its best – functioning, non-state aligned financial rails open for anyone’s use.
Writers like Taibbi have been notably skeptical or silent about crypto, perhaps hoping that some alternative system will come along that offers similar solutions without crypto’s libertarian baggage.
And, indeed, there has been notable growth in that regard. In the reporter’s sphere alone, there are figures like Saagar Enjeti and Krystal Ball who fund a growing “alternative mainstream” media ecosystem (by which they mean they pay friends and politically aligned voices to do occasional reporting or commentary) through subscriptions.
Matt Taibbi is another example, who, after an ill-fated stint at The Intercept, was able to leave the pages of Rolling Stone magazine for Substack.
Insofar as Enjeti, Ball, Taibbi and others still have to clear their paychecks in dollars, however, they might still find similar financial exclusion (or at least the threat of it). Substack has owners and investors, and though the email platform seems committed to allowing a diversity of writers to use its financial system – ultimately, they only have their reputation to fall back on. The world waits for when it will finally be attractive enough to cash that in.
There is a sense that all of this could blow up in “the establishment’s” face – that in seeking to diminish or destroy critics it could instead be directing them support – if viable alternatives exist. The Streisand effect was in play recently, with some $25,354 in donations flooding to Consortium News after its PayPal was cut. That may be nearly halfway to Consortium’s $60,000 spring pledge drive, but something tells me it needs something a little more sustainable.
Crypto comes with its own problems – its environmental footprint, its weird politico-economic cults, its never-ending series of Ponzi-like scams – and I’d be thrilled if its use was kept to only the marginalized, only those who need it most (rather than onboarding the world).
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But it’s not for me to say who should or shouldn’t use it or for what, that’s its strength and hopefully it will be there for anyone when they need it. Crypto needs your support today – if only in your mind – and hopefully before you need to scramble to learn how to use a bitcoin wallet.