Maybe it’s the halo effect, but bitcoin is making otherwise rational business journalists go bonkers.
Let’s review a few headlines from this past week:
- CNBC: Bitcoin’s price tanks after report China may shut down exchanges
- TheStreet: Bitcoin Prices Are Crashing After China’s Bitkan Suspends OTC Trading
- Business Insider: Bitcoin tanks 11.5% since Jamie Dimon called it ‘a fraud’
- Forbes: Collateral Damage From The Inevitable Bitcoin Crash
On LinkedIn, an abundance of such headlines led to the summary:
- “Bitcoin is tanking again: Here’s why”
With words like Crash! Tank! Dip! Dive! Slide!, you can be forgiven for thinking the bottom’s fallen out of bitcoin. Even articles with less sensationalist headlines, like this one from Bloomberg, still display frightening graphics:
And then you realize that the Y-axis begins at $4,100 and tops off at $4,400. And that the headlines and articles conveniently omit:
- Normal volatility. Over the summer, there were 21 days when bitcoin either went up or went down by more than 5 percent. That’s almost twice a week! Was bitcoin “crashing” or “soaring” every time? Of course not.
- Context. Bitcoin began the year at $600; it’s $4,000 today. In the context of this growth, what does “tanking” even mean? Bitcoin could lose 70 percent of its value and still show a 100 percent return on the year.
- Bitcoin Cash. The price of bitcoin doesn’t factor in forks, like the free Bitcoin Cash distribution holders received last month. Bitcoin cash now trades for $500 per unit, so even if the price of bitcoin falls, holders may still see a gain.
Can you imagine the headlines if cryptocurrency actually imploded: “Bitcoin super-ultra-crashes, for real this time!”
Obsessively reporting on dips and gains, with exaggerated headlines, might have precedence in how stocks are covered, but for bitcoin it’s especially misleading.
Why this approach doesn’t work
The day-to-day price of bitcoin doesn’t matter. Invest in the blockchain if you think it will one day replace gold or power infrastructure. Don’t if you’re looking for stable, short-term gains. Bitcoin is a 0 to 1 bet, closer to a seed investment in a startup than a publicly-traded stock.
Jumpy headlines about price fluctuations help the bad guys. One strategy among bitcoin heavyweights is to wait until bad news hits (like the China ICO ban), then sell off just enough bitcoin to spark a consumer and media panic, then rebuy to inspire a rally. The biggest losers in this scheme are new investors who haven’t been properly educated.
Jumpy headlines also make life miserable for those working in the space. I’m chipping away at an esports blockchain project and, as you can imagine, friends forward me “bitcoin has finally crashed!” articles all the time. My heart skips with every ping.
A narrative pushed this week is that bitcoin lost value because the CEO of J.P. Morgan, Jamie Dimon, called it a “fraud.” You’ll see cause-and-effect attributions like this a lot in cryptocurrency coverage and they’re astonishingly naive. As an example, let’s scrutinize the Dimon claim:
- Dimon has slammed bitcoin since 2014, so there was nothing new about his remarks.
- There are many, many celebrity quotes about bitcoin, positive and negative, by people with more clout and fame than Dimon (Warren Buffet? Bill Gates? Al Gore? Mark Cuban? William Shatner?). Every day new ones surface and they might get press, but they don’t trigger mass sales from bitcoin holders.
- Bitcoin is global. Investors in China and Russia don’t even know what J.P. Morgan is.
- The crypto community is likelier to cheer Dimon’s naysaying than sell over it. That’s because the entire point of the blockchain is to disrupt financial companies like J.P. Morgan. To them, hearing Dimon rant against bitcoin is like hearing an oil executive badmouth Tesla. It’s validation that bitcoin is doing something right.
- These attributions never include sources or convincing data analysis, just blind speculation. Why not find one major bitcoin holder who was swayed enough by Dimon’s interview to liquidate their ownership? With the blockchain, you can actually verify their 50,000 bitcoin sell-off. The reason why is because no such person exists.
It’s extremely difficult for the average journalist or observer to track down the causes of cryptocurrency fluctuation. A retired programmer finds an old hard drive containing $100 million in bitcoin. He anonymously cashes out, triggering a butterfly effect. That same week Jamie Dimon criticizes bitcoin. And there you go, a neatly-explained 7 percent “crash.”
Improving bitcoin media coverage requires nothing special, just common sense: Don’t go overboard on headlines. Don’t obsess over pricing fluctuations if they’re within normal volatility. Don’t blindly attribute causes to every jump or dip. Report on context; if in one week bitcoin rises 200 percent but then falls 20 percent, is that fall significant or just a few people cashing out gains? Visit bitcoin message boards and learn what actually drives movements. Most importantly, stop treating bitcoin like you would a normal stock; it’s fundamentally different (for example, bitcoin is a 24/7 market).
Bitcoin coverage doesn’t have to be positive, there’s a lot wrong with the space, but it doesn’t have to be a circus either.