Bitcoin in the Headlines: US Teen Sparks ISIL Media Frenzy

Bitcoin has been scrutinised in the past, but this week's criticism took a rather unexpected – and perhaps questionable – sense of humour.

AccessTimeIconJun 12, 2015 at 5:02 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 6, 2023 at 3:09 p.m. UTC
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Bitcoin in the Headlines is a weekly look at bitcoin news, analysing media and its impact.

Bitcoin has been scrutinised in the past, but this week's criticism took on a rather unexpected – and perhaps questionable – sense of humour.

The coverage over the last few days also exemplified just how unpredictable the media's attention can be. On the one hand, bitcoin's negative association with terrorist activity reached mass coverage by a wide range of mainstream outlets.

Criticism by a multinational financial services corporation, however, failed to launch the media into a reporting frenzy.

CoinDesk has looked at the top bitcoin-related headlines from across the world.

New York, North Korea

Bitcoin enthusiasts were faced with the release of New York's long-awaited BitLicense last week  – a hotly debated state regulation for business handling the digital currency –  and its coverage also weaved its way into this week's reporting.

The New York Post's Kevin Dugan said:

"Ben Lawsky is having a hard time winning over the bitcoin crowd," adding "ShapeShift, a Switzerland-based exchange for digital currencies, slammed the outgoing Department of Financial Services superintendent over new regulations for operating a bitcoin exchange in the Empire State."

He continued: "Lawsky's BitLicense, which went into effect last month, collects an "Orwellian" amount of information on its users and creates a security risk, according to Erik Voorhees, ShapeShift’s founder and chief executive. Voorhees, 31, likened Lawsky’s bitcoin crackdown to communist rule in North Korea."

Cited in the piece, Voorhees, said:

“He’s certainly not as bad as Kim Jong Un. Does he require some of the same spying provision on his citizenry? Absolutely.”

The comparison was also picked up by Dealbreaker, which featured an image of Lawsky with a characteristic North Korean haircut.

The article began:

"Life as an unregulated currency ain’t easy, just ask Bitcoin," adding: "but for Erik Voorhees, CEO of a Swiss-based digital currency exchange called ShapeShift, even a little regulation is pretty bad."

Thorton Mcenery, the author, said that Vorhees was angry that Lawsky's regulation compelled the users of a "brand-new currency to transact in at least a dim glow rather than the total darkness they prefer", concluding:

"Whether or not you agree with what bitcoin is trying to do – and good arguments are being made form both side – the passive-aggressive vitriol coming off of Voorhees is indicative of the bitcoin community’s general lack of interest in negotiating with its philosophical adversaries and finding a middle way to cryptocurrency acceptance."

Bitcoin and terrorism

It is obviously not the first time that bitcoin has been mentioned in the context of financing terrorist activities, with rumours of ISIS using the digital currency surfacing earlier this year.

However, this week, reports of a teenager pleading guilty to allegedly encouraging ISIL (or ISIS) supporters on Twitter and instructing them on how to fund terrorism with bitcoin sent the media into a reporting frenzy.

Unsurprising, given that the teenager, ISIL and bitcoin all in one sentence is nothing short of media gold – resulting in over 200 articles during a Google news search.

CoinDesk also covered the news, pointing out that Ali Shukri Amin, who if convicted faces a maximum of 15 years in prison, had previously written for digital currency news site CoinBrief.

The Washington Times, who went with "Va. teen caught teaching extremists how to covertly fund Islamic State," as its headline, noted how the teenager had created a pro-Islamic blog, where he exposed his technical expertise to aspiring jihadis and ISIL supporters. That report noted:

"The blog provided detailed descriptions of how to use security measures in online communications, encryption and anonymity software, tools and techniques and the use of virtual currency such as bitcoins to anonymously fund the Islamic state, court documents state."

Writing for the International Business Times, Mary Papenfuss also highlighted bitcoin's role in the teenager's involvement with the terrorist group.

The article read: "A 17-year-old Virginia boy has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organisation by suggesting ways Isis could use bitcoin to dodge detection of its ventures and posting thousands of pro-terrorist tweets on Twitter."

Interestingly, the news captured the attention of local news sources, with Jamaica Observer also touching upon the teen's interest in bitcoin.

Elsewhere, a loosely translated snippet of Venezuela-based El Universal report read: "Camouflaging funds is possibly because bitcoin, which emerged in January 2009, is a crypto currency, a payment mechanism whose encrypted data is backed its material value."

MasterCard talks bitcoin

Typically, whenever a renowned financial institution touts bitcoin or the blockchain, the media usually reacts with widespread coverage.

We've seen it happen before, specifically last month, when the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) announced it was launching a bitcoin price index (NYXBT) - resulting in over 50 online articles.

However, this week only saw a couple of media outlets pick up on MasterCard's submission to the UK treasury in response to a call for information on digital currencies last November, recently obtained by CoinDesk via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

MasterCard claimed the risks presented by digital currencies outweighed the benefits, and although its submission had the necessary ingredients to hit the big time with mainstream journalists, it failed to deliver. Could it be that criticising bitcoin is no longer trendy?

A Google news search only brought up a few articles – a stark, albeit predictable, contrast to the combination of bitcoin and terrorism.

That aside, Shelly Banjo, a regular on the bitcoin scene, summarised the findings and voiced her opinion on the matter for Quartz:

"Its [MasterCard's} claims are self-serving, of course, but the company has a fair point. If traditional financial companies that make loans, issue credit, and transfer money all have to follow globally agreed-upon rules to prevent institutional failures, consumer fraud, and illicit activity, then so, too, should the upstarts."

The International Business Times' Anthony Cuthbertson also covered the submission, as part of a crypto currency round-up which included mentions of a man being robbed at gun point for his bitcoin and Global Drugs Survey's (GDS) findings that online drug sales had surged since the closure of the infamous Silk Road marketplace.

Also writing for the same outlet, Ian Allison puts forward an interesting argument. quoting Marcel Roelants, a former MasterCard employee:

"If you asked 10 people you'd get 10 opinions, said Roelants, I think MasterCard initially was a bit like 'we don't like this.'"

Allison went on to note that the card provider was being careful, affected by the negative press provided by notorious scams in the bitcoin space.

Terrorism, criticism and regulation heartache. One can only hope that next week's coverage verges more on the somewhat positive, if not balanced, side of the spectrum.

Newspaper image via Shutterstock


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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

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