2017 finished with cryptocurrency and social media ruling the roost. But, in the spirit of “new year, new me,” governments all over the world are cracking down.
The new year is upon us and, with it, fears abound of challenges yet to face. On the digital drama front, 2017 finished strong, much in the same manner that Vesuvius redecorates. Considering we shift ever closer to our reality being entirely virtual, the challenges we face may have no shadow, but they certainly have a shape, one which our elected officials are looking to mold to better safeguard their citizenry. Or themselves. Whichever.
The Clamping and Devaluing of Cryptocurrency
If cryptocurrency investing was a rowdy house party, then they should expect a very stern knock on their door very soon. You see, bitcoin, in particular, has long been a stone in many a government’s shoe, primarily because it eliminates the need for a system of completely traceable banking, which had public servants dabbing their forehead in sweaty paranoia. Drugs, arms-trading, free love, whatever. Hideousness, thy name is Bitcoin. However, governments around the world seldom acted, because they didn’t have to. Until now.
The crypto grip may be in the final throes, as the searing, confusing bitcoin-lubricated financial love-in that was 2017 will now be substantially less fun and, potentially, substantially more regulated. Coinbase, another cryptocurrency provider, is currently under investigation in the Federal Court of California. The IRS filed a “John Doe” summons, which ostensibly calls for all users between 2013 and 2015 to come forward and offer some please explains. The reason behind the summons was that the Internal Revenue Service believes the users in that period “have not been or may not be complying with U.S. internal revenue laws.”
And yes, Coinbase is not Bitcoin, but if the court establishes a legal precedent, things could get rather grim rather quickly. To support their case, the IRS referenced anonymous cases of taxpayers who had used virtual currency to evade paying tax. Two of which were “corporate entities with annual revenues of several million dollars” who happened to be Coinbase users, who apparently hid bitcoin transactions as vague tech expenses on their yearly returns.
In response, pro-crypto types decided to blame the government, pointing to a report by the U.S. Treasury’s Inspector General which stated the IRS was not doing nearly enough to regulate and investigate cryptocurrencies, perhaps silently inferring that it was a case of the fox investigating the chicken coop.
If that certainly is the case, it raises a more towering question. If the chicken crossed the road of investment to Crypto Street, will every other chicken it knows grow tired of the endless clucking heard on that topic?
Not happy to merely swing at Facebook, Collins also wrote a particularly stern letter to Twitter stating, “The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate…It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you.
Pushing Social Media to Become More Transparent (or, To Lock the Russia Gate)
Trying to skewer the shapeless beast Facebook (and you too, Twitter) is very much like trying to harpoon a whale made of jelly. While one may hurl your best spear with your best gusto, you may just end up joining it in the watery abyss of cat videos and unintelligent hot takes from those you once shared a syllabus with.
Nevertheless, the two giants that are usually resistant to criticism (as they’ve stripped the value of critical thought) are facing exactly that, as the UK government are asking very much for the papers, please over their suspected proliferation of Russian influence (read: fake news) that may (or may not) have swung the EU referendum. Facebook denied all knowledge, but they have until January 18 to hand over the documents or you’d rather not know what will happen, Mr. Zuckerberg.
Frankly, I don’t think Zuckers is too concerned about a broke island in the Atlantic he could probably buy, but nevertheless, it’s a problem he must face. Damian Collins, the chair of the (extremely Soviet sounding) Department of Culture, Media and Sport correctly stated that, “…there has to be a way of scrutinizing the procedures that companies like Facebook put in place to help them identify known sources of disinformation, particularly when it’s politically motivated and coming from another country.”
Not happy to merely swing at Facebook, Collins also wrote a particularly stern letter to Twitter stating, “The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate…It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you.”
As for what the mysterious sanctions might be, we’re unsure, but there are rumors that the English could follow the German example, as ze Germans rebuked Facebook back in December, accusing the company of scything EU data protection principles by merging information gathered through WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook user accounts. So, in English (or German), it’d probably result in a blanket tightening of aforesaid protection laws.
All of which is fair enough, and rather familiar, as this pickle echoes the problem he faced on the far edge of the same ocean in 2017. Or, in plain English, that whole Russiagate thing.
Now, that extremely fractile issue in two hundred words or less, soon after Trump rose to the top of Rome, fingers were pointed. Some of those were pointed at Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg disagreed, calling it a “crazy idea” that his platform may have swayed voters, despite the apparent presence of hoaxes and lies had been spread on his platform during the campaign.
As the calendar turned to April, the company about-faced, publishing the findings of an investigation that described all the “subtle and insidious forms of misuse” that could occur on the site, “including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive.”
One thing notably absent from the findings was a surmisal of who was actually responsible for the whole thing. The face underneath the electric ghoul mask. In, fact, it later emerged that the company had cut mentions of Russia from the document prior to publication. September gave us a naked follow-up, outing the extent of Russian interference, noting that almost 500 inauthentic accounts had spent almost $100,000 on ads during the campaign. Facebook has since thrown open the books, reaching its bare zenith in October, as the company shared further information about the ads and how many people had seen them (126 million at the latest count), and it testified to that fact at a rather churlish hearing at the U.S. Congress.
So, a problem not solved, but articulated. The fact that Facebook has been reluctant to hand over the documentation regarding the EU pickle is both rather suspect and extremely familiar.
As Collins stated, the challenge is certainly upon them, “…they have an opportunity to be seen to be proactive. This is taking place in the context of the broader debate of their responsibilities.”
There’s only one thing left to say and it is rather obvious.
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!