Bitcoin in the Headlines is a weekly analysis of bitcoin media coverage and its impact.
With celebrities playing an increasingly important role in modern culture, it is easy to see why their endorsement might add credibility to a new technology.
From serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson through to revelations that Hollywood A-lister Lucy Liu was in favour of distributed ledger technology, both digital currency and the blockchain have had their fair share of glitzy supporters.
This kind of attention though, as evidenced earlier this week, has not always been positive for bitcoin, with the media scrutinising its reputation yet again.
Elsewhere, one of the ecosystem’s most ambitious projects, Ethereum, received little mainstream coverage despite it being 18 months and $18m in the making.
Bitcoin in the ring
Mike Tyson, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, surprised his 4.9 million Twitter followers with his decision to lend his image to a bitcoin ATM.
Under other circumstances, this would probably have just been seen as yet another celebrity endorsement – but clearly bitcoin calls for special treatment.
To say that the digital currency needs a reputation makeover is probably an understatement, but is Tyson, the man who notoriously wasted away a $400m fortune the right person to do it?
It was not long before the mainstream media reacted to the announcement and subsequently begun to question its veracity. Interestingly, however, it was not Tyson’s involvement that raised eye-brows among journalists, but the company behind the bitcoin ATM.
Duncan Riley, a SilliconANGLE reporter beat others to the punch as he shed some light on the new partnership:
“Former heavyweight world boxing title holder Mike Tyson may be bitting off more than a rival’s ear in August with the news over the weekend that he is apparently getting into the bitcoin ATM ring. But an investigation by SiliconANGLE has revealed that Tyson may have been scammed.”
The first issue, Riley noted, was with the domain’s registration (miketysonbitcoin.com), thought to belong to Peter Klamka. According to the reporter, Klampa is listed as being the CEO of Bitcoin Brands, Inc, which encompasses two different business: Bitcoin for Miles, a site to buy airline frequent flyer miles; and the Bitcoin Vending Network, whose business offering is unclear.
Interestingly, Riley also found BitMD, another service offered by Bitcoin Brands Inc, which claims to provide bitcoin payment services for the medical marijuana industry.
“Doesn’t sound too bad in theory, and if it was providing those services it would be, but there’s only one serious problem: We can’t find any solid evidence, outside of the company’s own press releases, that they are.”
The best guess, Riley speculated, was that Mike Tyson had “been suckered into a deal by a fast talker who has promised him millions if he gets involved and lends his name to the enterprise, despite the company behind the enterprise having a market cap that is probably about half the value of one bottle of the champagne Tyson prefers to drink”.
Venture Beat echoed SilliconANGLE’s findings, noting: “Mike Tyson is either getting into the bitcoin game or is getting scammed out of a bunch of money.”
Despite the ongoing debate, Klampa spoke to CoinDesk and refuted the scam allegations. Under the condition they were not shared, he supplied images of the Mike Tyson branded ATMs, which he said were ready to launch at any time.
Additionally, he told CoinDesk that Tyson had an “even split” of equity due to the way the license was structured.
A tainted brand
Kudos goes to BTC China’s Bobby Lee, who discussed bitcoin with Bloomberg‘s Rishaad Salamat this week.
“We are discussing bitcoin as a brand, but I mean, it’s a tainted brand, it doesn’t have a leadership. It’s been associated with this Mt Gox bankruptcy, it’s been associated with volatility, money laundering etc. How do you get respectability for it and legitimacy?” probed Salamat.
Samalat continued: “You’re hoping for stability, aren’t you? Because with stability comes respectability and legitimacy and that’s what you are really trying to get, isn’t it Bobby?”
Then the inevitable happened. Samalat drew on the connection between bitcoin and the dark web, noting how Silk Road enabled users to buy drugs with bitcoin, adding that bitcoin’s image had been “tarnished.”
Lee tried to abate the criticism during the interview, representative of some of the misconceptions surrounding the digital currency – but to little avail.
Writing for the Huffington Post, Céline Hervieux-Payette, the former Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian Senate, wrote a piece titled “Approach Bitcoin with Caution.”
“There remain major security issues regarding bitcoin and digital currency which must be resolved before it can be considered safe. Despite all the fanfare I think there is some need for sober second thought.”
She continued: “Criminals like bitcoin due to its unregulated and anonymous nature.”
If Lee had a chance to reply he would have probably repeated what he told Salamat. The reality, Lee said, is that it is hard to control what people use bitcoin for, just like it is hard to control what people use cash or the Internet for.
This week’s most entertaining story was handed to the media by Daniel Sobey-Harker, a British man who spent over £350 worth of bitcoin on pizzas for strangers in the US during a drunken spree.
Although the crypto community has long celebrated the connection between bitcoin and pizza, it seems that the digital currency and the Italian culinary delight are destined to go hand in hand.
Or least that is what the mainstream media would have you believe.
The Mirror covered Harker’s purchase in its “Weird News” section, perhaps unaware that this was not the first time bitcoin had been used to buy pizza online.
In his article, Alexander Lerche, said:
“Daniel Sobey-Harker generously put a post on social media site Reddit offering to buy a pizza for someone in the US, but the 27-year-old got into a bit of hot water when he was struggling with payment options. He eventually purchased two digital bitcoins, completely unaware that they were worth £350.”
Although the focus of the articles was indeed Harker and his pizza purchases, the coverage also served to portray one of bitcoin’s most valid use-cases: international payments.
“After trying to buy pizza for someone in the States – he became frustrated by an inability to pay for said takeaway, resorting to the controversial online currency of bitcoin.”
Whether its with the help of celebrities, industry players or pizza, it seems bitcoin’s credibility is still being questioned from all sides.