Navigating FUD and Fake News in Crypto Journalism
In an industry that’s flooded with money, it’s sad to see some crypto media outlets succumb to the perils of so-called fake news, not to mention misinformed readers falling for scams during the ICO craze.
2018 was a controversial year in the crypto media sphere. Disappointingly, it was uncovered that stories people may have read on certain crypto news outlets had been paid for without any “sponsored content” labels.
On the flip side, we’ve seen quality media publications cover the rise and fall of the Initial Coin Offering (ICO) craze, the bull and bear crypto market and heard from global financial regulators about their reserved stance on the industry, as well as the traditional financial world’s perspectives about it.
Media sentiment on cryptocurrencies is ever evolving and often fluctuates with the volatility of the cryptocurrency market. In 2018, media reports on the industry have had its ebbs with enthusiastic coverage of emerging startups promising to revolutionize a particular sector, as well as FUD stories about exchange hacks and funds disappearing from exchanges.
To get to the heart of where the industry is heading in 2019, it’s important to understand how to read past the media headlines. It’s time enthusiasts and newcomers alike become more informed about the leaders and companies that are truly building real projects and shaping discourse in the crypto sphere.
Beware of Speculative Bias Content
The media narrative surrounding the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry has the potential to shape crypto user behavior. Often the media’s narrow focus on price movements can be detrimental to the industry as it incentivises users to treat cryptocurrencies as a way to get rich quickly, rather than used as an everyday currency. So be wary of speculative articles that make predictions on whether the price of bitcoin is about to go up or down. Before reading an article, put it to the test and ask: is this a story about biased market speculation, or is merely recounting facts?
It’s not news that the cryptocurrency market is volatile and unpredictable. There’s also not very many real world and tangible ways to predict where the market is going to go. A story about the price of bitcoin going up in the morning can change in the space of a day or a matter of minutes. For instance, the figures in this story about the price of bitcoin “struggling to stay above US$4000” is already irrelevant today and only really serves to inform interested investors. It has little impact on a new privacy protocol that a privacy coin is going to introduce or a new cryptocurrency wallet feature integration.
2018 has already proven that the market can soar into the green and then dramatically drop by US$18 billion in a matter of three days (October 2018). Yes, it’s a shocking figure, and large figures often capture reader attention. But it should be read in the context of the bigger picture because earlier in the year in May 2018, it was reported that cryptocurrency wealth dropped by US$52 Billion during Blockchain Week.
While these stories are timely and informative, it’s important not to get too caught up in watching the prices of cryptocurrencies go up and down but, rather, look at them in the wider context of the developments that have taken place in the industry. After all, Satoshi’s white paper described Bitcoin as a “Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”—not an investment vehicle.
Real Use Cases Build Credibility
Once the ICO madness started to simmer down by mid-2018, it gave the media more room to pay attention to the projects that are already building tangible use cases. But 2018 taught us not to just take stories about these use cases at face value, even though they have the power to build credibility. As a former journalist, I was taught to question a story from all angles and ensure I use various sources to verify a fact. This is what I encourage readers to do as well.
In March 2018, it was widely reported that Sierra Leone ran the first blockchain election with the help of the blockchain voting system Agora. However, not long after the story came out, the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone put out a statement denying the use of blockchain technology in their national election for their next President. Agora only manually recorded the tallies on a private blockchain.
It turned out reporters were misinformed and credible media publications, like CoinDesk, maintained their journalistic integrity by acknowledging what went wrong with the story. Meanwhile, the point Coindesk made in its explanation article is an important one— “exaggerating [blockchain technology’s] real-world accomplishments can only sow public distrust and set the industry back.”
Several months later in November 2018, Thailand’s Opposition Party actually held a blockchain vote for its primary election. The story covering how more than 120,000 votes were cast using the Thai-developed Zcoin blockchain during the 1-9 November vote made the front page of Thailand’s Broadsheet English-language daily newspaper, The Nation. This front page story was significant recognition of blockchain technology and its ability to transform national voting systems in the future.
When reading future stories about blockchain technology use cases, ensure credible sources are cited before taking a story as a fact—whether it be a national body, a real user, or the blockchain itself. It’s time to forget about who is the “first” to an achievement and instead pay attention to what was achieved and how.
Go-to Sources that Measure the Pulse of the Industry
Readers have a number of options on where to get their information about blockchain and cryptocurrencies. While there are several credible news sources to choose from, there were also plenty of not-so-credible sources— especially in the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry with questionable journalistic ethics.
Let’s look at some trustworthy resources you can rely on moving into 2019. You can expect niche publications such as CoinDesk, CCN, CryptoSlate, CryptoBriefing, and Coin Journal to continue to cover stories that measure the pulse of the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry. Readers of these publications are also more crypto literate and therefore can expect the articles to be more technical and in depth.
And to check what the traditional finance and crypto-finance worlds have to say about the cryptocurrency and blockchain sphere, mainstream top-tier finance and business outlets like Bloomberg and CNBC are growing their crypto reporting sections. Additionally, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal cover developments in the industry. It’s encouraging to see these newsrooms dedicating resources to covering this beat. Of course, to hear from the cryptocurrency leaders and developers themselves, Medium, Hacked and Crypto Twitter is the place to go.
We often need to take a step back and remember that the crypto industry is still very young and not very many people understand it yet. In 2019, I believe we’ll see mainstream news publications like the Guardian or the BBC continue to touch on this emerging industry.
Explainer Pieces Set the Tone
Do not underestimate the power of explainer pieces and educational articles about this emerging technology to inform and shape the mainstream public’s perceptions of this industry.
When global, top tier media publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times started to put out explainers about ICOs, the mainstream public started to learn about the technology and take it more seriously. This year we started to see explainer pieces about Security Token Offerings (STOs) emerge.
Moving into 2019, it’s time media publications do away with overused buzzwords like “decentralisation” and “distributed ledger” when explaining how blockchain technology works or what cryptocurrencies are. Rather, it’s time to look at how they can break down the often technical and complex aspects from different angles with case studies and improved illustrations. It’s time for different examples and analogies.
Improved Media Crypto Literacy in 2019
Media coverage of cryptocurrency in 2019 is going to be more in depth and have better quality than in previous years. For starters, audiences are more informed about blockchain and cryptocurrencies than ever before. It’s important that moving forward, quality media cryptocurrency publications start to correct misinformation and better explain the technology and the communities at play.
At the same time, to ensure that mainstream readers are able to understand and keep up with media developments, it’s important for journalist and editors to go back and explain the significant pivotal points in the history of bitcoin and development of cryptocurrencies.
To the audience, remember to question everything you read. View every story with a critical eye. If the sources don’t add up, do your own further research before you invest more time, energy, and money into a project.