Editors Note: A version of this column originally appeared on PaymentsSource.
Bitcoin's mysterious inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, has apparently been discovered by Newsweek reporter, Leah McGrath Goodman.
And I'm torn.
On one side, the crypto-community is outraged, attacking Goodman's integrity for the level of personal detail revealed in her report, including a photo of Nakamoto's house.
On the other side of this story there's a journalist who dug persistently into the folklore that has become Bitcoin's mysterious creator. Did she use conniving tactics in posing as a model train enthusiast to win his trust? Absolutely. But she put in far more effort and research than the writers of the many hasty articles on Bitcoin's "collapse" or its "worthlessness" that are published almost daily.
There was a time I wanted to find Satoshi. That would be my break-out story. After conspiring with dozens of people in the space, I found wisdom in the words of George Papageorgiou, a Bitcoin aficionado who sat with me at a wrought iron table in the sun on the last day of the Bitcoin conference in San Jose in May 2012.
"Do we really need a face behind an idea that is so transparent?" he said. "It would possibly make it more approachable to attach a picture or a Facebook profile to it, but that would also make the idea vulnerable. I have also come to the conclusion that identity is not important; the idea behind the pseudonymous mask is [what's important], even if only because it is more 'anti-fragile' than a person is."
But that transparency is also in contrast with many in the Bitcoin community. Is it not a tad hypocritical to fight to uncover all government agencies are doing and saying only to then ask for their individual lives to remain anonymous?
I get the crypto community's annoyance with the media. But Goodman's piece, "The Face Behind Bitcoin," is not cringe-inducing. Goodman presents strong evidence and has seemingly done a fair amount of research.
Many in the Bitcoin community say Goodman is incorrect about whether this Satoshi Nakamoto is the currency's inventor. There are longstanding theories that Nakamoto was a name adopted by a group of people, or that the currency was the product of a government project.
The Bitcoin community might want to be grateful that a journalist, merely wanting to shine light on the man behind the math, found him before a fraudster used the same means to hunt down Nakamoto and extort the private keys to his bitcoin wallet. The man supposedly has approximately $400 million in bitcoins from the protocol's inception in 2009, when he was one of the few miners authenticating transactions (Miners who authenticate transactions receive bitcoins as compensation for their work).
Granted, journalists can be scavengers; they're nosey and can be positively annoying when they want information.
So I get it.
But why does a whole group of crypto-anarchists and technologists think they have the moral high ground?
These criticisms come off as hypocritical. When the Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox recently went under, reporting that it lost 750,000 bitcoins belonging to its customers, what was the reaction from the Bitcoin community? A blatant lack of sympathy with a touch of "you should've known better."
By that same logic, shouldn't Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of the most popular digital currency, have known people would come looking for him?
At the Bitcoin conference, Papageorgiou left me with this: "The undeniable fact that [Bitcoin] merely exists, lends itself to more potential than the prize of discovering said person."
But the mainstream media still struggles to see the true potential of not only Bitcoin but the idea of a distributed peer-to-peer network authenticated with a public ledger, the technology Nakamoto created.
Many journalists seem to have a clear misunderstanding of what exactly Bitcoin and other digital currencies are. Most recently, the Washington Post, Fox News and other prominent media outletsran reports on the suicide of Autumn Radtke, the CEO of First Meta, which these publications incorrectly described as a Bitcoin exchange. First Meta actually sells credits used in online games.
Journalists and crypto enthusiasts alike have taken on finding the creator of Bitcoin, and each time their assumptions have been debunked. Maybe this is another story that will prove incorrect.
If that happens, the next time a journalist unmasks Satoshi Nakamoto I hope the Bitcoin community doesn't lambast him or her, because the media is still the mouthpiece, disseminating information to the masses. It could even be said the media was largely responsible for Bitcoin's rise to prominence.
Bailey Reutzel is a reporter with PaymentsSource.