Today (or rather yesterday), I was at the Texas Bitcoin Conference in Austin. It was awesome. I met a legion of capable individuals working in the Bitcoin space. But when I finally had a chance to sit down and read and talk about my experience online, I could only find people buzzing about how Newsweek had found Satoshi Nakamoto.
The article has, of course, now been debunked, but I am still peeved at Newsweek. They wasted a really good day for internal Bitcoin community education. Unless they were hoping for a quick fix or a rebranding, Newsweek’s owners should also be peeved. No credible news organisation would have published this article. And since an in-credible news organisation is just a tabloid, Newsweek has just lost the readership who reads this article and discovers the truth. This article is the front page story of their new first print edition. So, nice work there.
Mistakes were made aplenty in the printing of this article. One minor mistake would be to identify someone when there is no good reason to disrespect their privacy. Another mistake would be masquerading as your subject in order to obtain private records. This is clearly illegal and, to me, morally wrong. To me, the real first mistake is that finding Satoshi isn’t even really a newsworthy pursuit. I suppose it sells well, though. But enough about those mistakes; I’ll let others talk about them in detail. The mistake I would like to focus on is the mistake of not consulting the internet about any of this.
How do I know the reporter did not consult the internet about her find? Well, maybe she did. In some circumspect manner. But I find it hard to believe that anyone who has spent any time investigating Satoshi online would look at the evidence she saw, and say “I don’t have any doubt (it’s the creator of Bitcoin)”. If they would, I’d like to sit across the poker table from them someday (and I don’t play poker). Online, we have a couple standards of doubt we use to determine the truthfulness of claims about Satoshi.
One fairly speculative method of investigation is to compare writing styles. Satoshi can be more than one person, but at least one of them writes proper English. Below is Dorian’s writing style. A redditor found it from an Amazon review and reported it within less than a workday of this breaking story. An outside observer must have been amazed at his quick research, but once you realize that we’ve used this criterion for years (centuries in Bitcoinland), it seems rather obvious how we found this information so quickly.
A somewhat less speculative method is to find Satoshi’s hardware. In a series of blog entries, an excellent researcher uses artifacts in the Bitcoin public ledger to make some educated guesses as to what hardware Satoshi used to mine Bitcoins. No attempt was made to locate this artifact. The reporter did not indicate she asked Dorian or his family any questions about perhaps the only unencrypted physical evidence we can obtain about Satoshi.
The gold standard for proving that someone is Satoshi is definitely not claiming, without recorded evidence, to have heard him say “I am no longer involved in that”. It’s getting him to sign a message that only the creator of Bitcoin can sign. He can sign from his PGP key that he used to communicate with the world, or he can sign from the very first entry in the blockchain ledger that he created. He has various other keys too (Bitcoin-QT alert key), and any one of them will work. And even then, some people will still have doubts. Certainly, you cannot counterfeit cryptographic signatures and everyone can verify their authenticity. However, Satoshi could have given his keys away. At the very least, though, you can be sure that your subject is in possession of Nakamoto’s keys. These are among his most private, personal, and valuable of possessions. Unless there were huge red flags, I would then be comfortable using the words “without a doubt”.
So, how do I know all this? I know all this simply because I read the internet. This reporter, her editor, and her research team (“research team”? “research” team?) clearly don’t know how to use the internet. If Newsweek had simply proposed their Nakamoto in a way that protected their piece, the internet (Reddit, StackExchange, Quora, or various relevant niche forums) would have asked them about their criteria and debunked their theory immediately.
Instead, they used their own arbitrary contrived criteria that seemed credible to the general public to write a fantasy piece that wasted everyone’s time. When operators fail to work the basics of a system, engineers utter an expression that predates the internet era: “Read the fucking manual” (RTFM). This is a news organisation failing in a very basic way to report the news. And so, my advice as an engineer is this: Dear Newsweek, The internet is your “fucking manual”. Your interactive and extremely thorough manual. Try and use it next time you attempt journalism.