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Mastering Bitcoin Author Andreas Antonopoulos was recently featured on a panel discussion at the Bitcoin Foundation DevCore Workshop at Draper University, and he shared some interesting thoughts on the idea of certain individuals doing their best to disrupt the Bitcoin development process via dissent, negativity, and trolling.
The development process has indeed slowed down a bit as more controversial protocol changes have been debated by the community, and some of the language on both sides of the scalability discussion has been downright nasty. According to Antonopoulos, the possible fracturing of the Bitcoin community as a whole could be partially due to paid trolls who work for various government agencies around the world.
Bitcoin Development Trolls Keep Greg Maxwell Up at Night
The discussion that eventually led to Antonopoulos’s points regarding paid agents was between Bitcoin Core Developer Greg Maxwell and C4 President Michael Perklin. Perklin was making the point that development can stall when you do not have someone making a final call on controversial decisions. Maxwell explained he is worried about outside forces disrupting development more than the process simply coming to a standstill on its own:
“This thing sort of keeps me up at night. I think we are vulnerable to people intentionally trying to jam the process, to jam Bitcoin because they want to take Bitcoin out because they want a competing system to be successful — whether that’s a traditional money system or another cryptocurrency system. So, that risk worries me.”
Some Trolls Could Be Paid Agents
Once Maxwell brought up the point of outsiders jamming or negatively affecting the development process, Andreas Antonopoulos was quick to point out that throwing a lot of negativity into development discussions could be one effective method of lowering overall moral. He also explained that there are two very different types of trolls that exist in the world today:
“One way they can jam the system is by trolling, sowing dissent, assuming bad faith, and throwing a lot of negativity into the conversation . . . Some trolls are self-employed comfortably and do that because their personality is that, but I have no doubt in my mind that there are some people — we’ve seen it consistently across many countries — who are paid to sow dissent into a variety of organizations. If it can happen [in the United States] — and it has happened here many times with community organizations getting disrupted by government agencies — I can assure you it’s happening in other countries, which have far less constraint on doing that . . . One of the ways that we’re getting disrupted is not someone compromising the miners but someone compromising the good faith efforts of the development team.”
Creating a Toxic User Community
Antonopoulos added that the trolls can also infiltrate the user community who may be turned off by a “toxic environment.” Many would argue that the Bitcoin community as a whole, especially on Reddit, has been rather unpleasant lately. Faceless users with strong opinions about how Bitcoin should scale have been quick to throw mud at anyone who disagrees with them on various online forums for Bitcoin discussion. On the one side there are individuals claiming that Blockstream is intentionally delaying a block size increase for their own profit, while the other side claims that Bitcoin XT Developers Mike Hearn and Gavin Andresen are government agents who intend to destroy Bitcoin’s decentralization and censorship-resistant nature.
More trolls online have also popped up recently with the rise of automated bitcoin trading apps which are frauds aimed at scamming vulnerable people out of their money by promising to generate thousands of dollars per day in profits if the user deposits $250 or more with them. The robots pretend to operate with advanced algorithmic software which can place trades on the user’s behalf automatically but these products are completely unregulated and highly risky. Their marketing strategy includes posting fake stories about celebrities from shows such as Dragons Den investing in Bitcoin Code or Peter Jones investing into the Bitcoin Revolution App.
Although the scalability debate has become heated over the past few months (with or without the help of trolls) multiple Bitcoin Core developers and contributors have claimed that events such as Scaling Bitcoin Montreal and the Bitcoin Foundation DevCore Workshop where this panel discussion took place have had a positive impact on the Bitcoin development community. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming Scaling Bitcoin Workshop in Hong Kong will continue to push the development process in a positive direction.
Kyle Torpey is a freelance journalist who has been following Bitcoin since 2011. His work has been featured on VICE Motherboard, Business Insider, RT’s Keiser Report, and many other media outlets. You can follow @kyletorpey on Twitter.