Ctrl + Alt + Delete … The Unwritten Rules (And Risks) Of Crypto Journalism

As a contributor on the crypto space, I found this story troubling as it highlights the somewhat volatile journalism practices in the digital era that put crypto journalists at risk. Last week an influential blogger known as Scott Alexander deleted his entire Slate Star Codex blog – seven years worth of insightful essays – because the New York Times
NYT
was about to reveal his identity, which would risk his safety. This has sparked an important debate around pseudonyms and source privacy in a digital era.

In response, Marc Hochstein, Executive Editor of CoinDesk, the world’s leading blockchain and cryptocurrency news publication – an industry with one of the most famous pseudonymous people, Satoshi Nakomoto (the creator of Bitcoin) – has come out to offer a different approach where sources’ skin in the game still exists even when pseudonymous. Doxxing is the internet-based practice of researching and publicly broadcasting private or identifying information about an individual or organization.

On why CoinDesk maintains a forward-thinking approach to pseudonymity, Hochstein notes that, “Many of the influential figures in our space (software developers, for instance) are known by their internet handles. If we demanded to know their real names every time we interviewed them, we might not get them to talk on the record, or at all.” “I believe it is possible to conduct an “on the record” interview without revealing or even knowing the subject’s legal name. “On the record” really means the interviewee has skin in the game; that person is attaching words to his or her reputation along with the well-known pseudonym”, says Hochstein.

So what can we learn from all of this? One thing is clear; the internet, and the crypto community in particular, have shown that one can build a reputation without revealing ones true identity: “I was delighted a few years ago when a colleague profiled the iconic Bitcoin Sign Guy without disclosing his identity (though BSG later did so on his own volition). I have no issue quoting the crypto researcher Hasu as Hasu and running his op-eds with Hasu as the byline. Hasu has established credibility, more than some people who use their real names. None of us would be here were it not for Satoshi, whose identity will almost certainly never be conclusively determined, and neither does it need to be”, says Hochstein.

While the tech world rallies behind blockchain and distributed tech for their uniquely transparent solutions, we too must also acknowledge the importance of anonymity and the true value of privacy. Hochstein concluded, “One of the core values of the audience CoinDesk serves, one that we wholeheartedly embrace, is privacy, often defined as ‘the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.’ Publicizing someone’s personal details without his or her consent, using the megaphone of a large media platform, is taking that power away. If you’re going to do that, you’d better have a damn good reason.”

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