No News Is Good News: The Role of the Media in Promoting Cryptocurrency Acceptance

Executive Brief

Cryptocurrency awareness and acceptance remains low among broad sections of society. Research has repeatedly shown that the public as a whole are distrustful of digital money, and mostly ignorant of the opportunities it may afford consumers and businesses alike. The reasons for this are often discussed, but few recognize the importance of trusted mainstream news providers and media outlets in forming public opinion of cryptocurrencies. A large number of high-profile negative stories about digital money in recent years has damaged the public profile of digital currencies, and unwillingness among large news outlets to openly discuss their pros and cons has stalled their more widespread acceptance. It is up to the industry now to apply pressure on major news organizations to modernize their approach to the presentation of cryptocurrency news, in order to better reflect the new place cryptocurrencies are carving for themselves in societies and economies across the globe. 

Read the full story below. 

A recent survey by America’s Digital Currency Council posed the question ‘How likely are you to use Bitcoin in 2015?’ Out of five hundred respondents, 73.6% (i.e. 368 respondents) ticked the box marked ‘highly unlikely’, with a mere 10% of respondents suggesting that they were almost definitely intending to make Bitcoin payments in the coming months. With Bitcoin by far the most popular cryptocurrency on the market at the moment, this survey serves as a stark indictment of public confidence in cryptocurrencies overall. Some of the technical reasons for this – the lack of business acceptance of cryptocurrencies, public confidence being marred by a lack of governmental oversight – are major themes in discussions of the future of cryptocurrencies. Less intensively examined, however, has been the media portrayal of cryptocurrencies.

Despite the proliferation of news sources available through the internet, the majority of consumers in the developed world still get a large portion of their information from a few select news outlets. With so few major news outlets dominating the international trust and readership rankings – including the BBC, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Al Jazeera – there remains an elite group of economic opinion formers among top media outlets, whose opinions are held in high regard by broad audiences globally. This problem is particularly acute in the case of cryptocurrencies.

News outlets are the ultimate example of what scientists call the ‘publishing bias paradox’. The paradox is simple: thousands of experiments that end up with negative results are carried out every day, and each of these negative results is an important confirmation that something is not the case; but while these results are important, they are not necessarily interesting, and so these important results are passed over by the editors of academic journals in favor of papers which claim to have ‘discovered’ something. News outlets take this problem to its logical extreme, only reporting stories considered ‘newsworthy’, regardless of whether such stories are in the public’s best interest.

For cryptocurrencies, publishing bias has resulted in a series of horror stories – the Mt Gox collapse, the use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the Silk Road website, and fears that cryptocurrencies could facilitate terrorism and money laundering – notable for their readability, but deliberately ignorant of the millions of safe, successful and legal transactions carried out using cryptocurrencies every day. Jared Marx, a lawyer asked by the International Business Times to comment on Bitcoin-related prosecutions summed up the public attitude these horror stories proliferate: cryptocurrencies are seen as ‘a bit weird and sinister’.

In response to this, a series of digital currency related news providers have popped up across the internet, providing a more positive spin on cryptocurrency related issues. This has been a welcome addition to the media landscape regarding digital money, but has in itself been problematic. Many of these news sources are perceived as overly laudatory in their tone, prompting a response among those outside of the industry which may be epitomized by the phrase ‘well, they would say that – wouldn’t they?’

Thus, the need has never been greater for impartial, critical, and reliable news stories regarding cryptocurrencies. But more than this, a number of these stories need to come from major and trusted news outlets to impact public opinion and influence decision makers. Major news organizations need to realize that Bitcoin, while popular, is far from the only cryptocurrency on the market: a fall in the price of Bitcoin does not say anything about the security and success of cryptocurrencies as a whole, and bad (or, conversely, good) PR moments for Bitcoin needn’t reflect on the hundreds of other digital currency options available to consumers. Media organizations must also begin to reflect the diversity of people and businesses associated with cryptocurrencies. Far from being a niche medium of exchange used by a limited number of tech-savvy individuals, digital money is taking on a new role as a dynamic and popular medium of exchange.

Until major and trusted media organizations recognize that they are in an important sense opinion formers, as well as reporters of events, publishing bias will continue to work against the widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency business, digital currency trade associations, and researchers need to apply pressure to these news organizations to modernize their approach to cryptocurrency news. In the meantime, it is up to the new and thriving cryptocurrency-oriented news sources to establish themselves as trusted news outlets, providing unbiased and informed news, analysis and opinion to a mainstream audience.

The views expressed by the authors on this site do not necessarily represent the views of DCEBrief or the management team.

Author: Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper is a doctoral researcher in ancient economic history at Merton College in the University of Oxford. His AHRC-funded research examines transaction costs in the ancient world, and the impact of the invention of money. But while Chris specializes in the cultures that created money in the first place, he is equally interested in digital currencies and their impact on modern societies, cultures, trade-flows and laws.

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