Op-ed: Here’s What Twitter Should Do with the @Bitcoin Account
Over Easter weekend, there was a debate raging on Bitcoin Twitter over the use of the @Bitcoin account. Over the past year or two, the account has been used by its owner (or whoever is currently controlling the account) to promote the Bitcoin Cash altcoin, which has infuriated Bitcoin users.
Many Bitcoin users are upset because, in their opinion, the @Bitcoin account should not be used to promote an altcoin. There have been calls by Bitcoin users to ban the account due to its promotion of Bitcoin Cash under the @Bitcoin account name.
The vast majority of Bitcoin Cash users are on the other side of the argument, where they believe banning the @Bitcoin account or assigning it to someone else would amount to censorship. Many Bitcoin Cash users have contrasted the calls to ban the @Bitcoin account with Bitcoin’s underlying utility as a censorship-resistant payments platform.
So, what should be done in this sort of situation?
This Isn’t Your Normal Twitter Account
@Bitcoin is not your average Twitter account. It’s sort of like @pizza or @McDonalds. These sorts of accounts are valuable pieces of digital property for the brands associated with them.
Much like McDonald’s would be upset if Burger King were in control of @McDonalds account, it makes sense for Bitcoin users to be upset about who is currently behind the @Bitcoin account. From an editorial perspective, it also wouldn’t make much sense if the @pizza account were controlled by a steakhouse that kept tweeting out reasons everyone should eat steak instead of pizza.
Accounts with well-known words as their handles are valuable because (1) these accounts are more easily found by other users and (2) there is an expectation that the account will tweet out useful information (likely as an authority) regarding the topic or brand related to the account handle.
The value of the @Bitcoin account is known as well. Due to a change in style and activity by the account in late 2017, many Bitcoin users have accused Bitcoin.com CEO Roger Ver of purchasing the account.
While Ver is well-known as one of the earliest investors and evangelists of bitcoin, earning the nickname “Bitcoin Jesus” along the way, he has also been criticized for his use of the Bitcoin.com domain to mislead people and generate propaganda for Bitcoin Cash.
The /r/btc subreddit is also effectively a Bitcoin.com property, as some of the current moderators are current or former employees of Bitcoin.com (plus Ver himself is also a moderator) and there’s literally a banner ad for Bitcoin.com’s mining pool in the sidebar.
These sorts of activities bring into question whether it should be acceptable for altcoins to use the word “Bitcoin” in their names (see my past op-ed on this topic).
There is not sufficient proof to show that Ver has purchased the @Bitcoin Twitter account, but according to CoinDesk Editor-in-Chief Pete Rizzo, the @Bitcoin account has been leased out to third parties in the past. Previously, I had heard rumors of this sort of activity from the @Bitcoin account, and Rizzo confirmed it to me as I was working on this article.
According to Rizzo, CoinDesk leased the @Bitcoin Twitter account from the account holder from 2013 to 2017. Rizzo said the mandate for the CoinDesk employee behind the account at the time was to create a “Techmeme for Bitcoin” that focused on promoting stories around Bitcoin-related technologies.
It should be noted that Rizzo was not in a managerial role at CoinDesk during the time the @Bitcoin account was leased from its owner.
I reached out to @Bitcoin about this on Twitter, but had not heard back from the account holder at the time of publication.
Twitter as an Editor
While no one really cared about who was behind the @Bitcoin account before, things have changed now that the style and tone of the account has shifted. The issues around this account point to a greater question of how Twitter should handle known words as account handles and whether they should be taking on an editorial role of sorts.
On Twitter, I proposed the idea of allowing the @Bitcoin account holder to retain their followers under a different account name, but Castle Island Ventures Partner Nic Carter rightly pointed out that the account holder didn’t exactly earn the followers on the back of the quality of their own tweets.
In the view of pseudonymous cryptocurrency researcher Hasu, no one should be allowed to operate under the @Bitcoin handle (nor other similar handles) due to the power that’s attached to it.
Whether Twitter likes it or not, they’re already an editor of sorts. They’ve been known to remove tweets and ban accounts for a variety of reasons, so they’ve already become curators of content in that regard.
With this in mind, the most logical solution for accounts like @Bitcoin may be for Twitter to lease out the accounts themselves (rather than the first person to claim the account as their own).
In reality, these accounts are owned by Twitter, and they’re simply renting them out to users at no cost. Twitter would likely incur increased costs associated with moderating these accounts more closely (they’d want to ensure these accounts were providing quality content to their followers); however, this should be more than made up for via revenue from those who wish to lease the accounts on a yearly basis. Just think about it: How much would someone be willing to pay for the right to control the @Bitcoin handle for a year?
In terms of the @Bitcoin account, a key editorial question for Twitter would be whether or not it’s a good idea to have that account be used to promote Bitcoin Cash. What are Twitter users’ expectations when they follow that account?
So, What Should Be Done About the @Bitcoin Account?
Note: Before getting into specifics about what I think Twitter should do with the @Bitcoin account, I’d just like to point out that Twitter has the right to do whatever they want with the account and I assume they’ve definitely thought about this topic much more than me.
If I were in control of Twitter, I would auction off the @Bitcoin account to the highest bidder, while also considering the quality of content that the new owner would generate for Twitter users.
My reasons are as follows:
- Twitter users expect Bitcoin news when they follow the @Bitcoin account, not Bitcoin Cash news. Bitcoin Cash is a dying project anyway. Why would anyone follow the @Bitcoin account with the intention of receiving news, updates, and commentary on a cryptocurrency that has block rewards that are worth less than Bitcoin’s transaction fees and less on-chain activity than Dogecoin.
- Having a Bitcoin Cash proponent behind the @Bitcoin handle is similar to having Burger King run the McDonald’s handle. Bitcoin Cash is a competitor to Bitcoin. It wouldn’t make sense to have a company tweeting under the name of one of their competitors. Companies (or in this case the consensus of Bitcoin users) should have the right to speak for themselves. At this time, it’s clear @Bitcoin is speaking for Bitcoin Cash users.
- There are too many examples of Bitcoin Cash proponents using Bitcoin-branded account handles or domains (e.g. Bitcoin.com and /r/btc) to trick people into thinking either (1) Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash are two flavors of the same project or (2) Bitcoin Cash is “the real Bitcoin”.