My knowledge of bitcoin is basic. I’m no expert on extortion, either. But Google is convinced I’m an authority on Bitcoin blackmail. This has made me wonder when crowds are, in fact, smarter than individuals.
On April 10, I posted about the letter I received suggesting I should pay $8,350 in Bitcoin or have my secrets revealed. That post has been viewed 23,000 times, shared on Facebook 223 times, and tweeted 44 times. More importantly for my blog traffic, it ranked on a search for Bitcoin blackmail.
When my friend received a Bitcoin blackmail request by email, I posted about that, too. That post is up to 28,000 views.
These requests appeared transparently fake to me. But then, I have a basic knowledge of what is and isn’t possible on the internet, and I have nothing to hide. I suppose if I were a little more guilty and a little more ignorant, I’d be worried.
The idea that I am an authority seems strange, but what’s happened since the original posts is making me wonder.
There are 138 comments on the first post. It’s very clear that people need reassurance that the blackmail is fake. But for whatever reason, commenters are beginning to feel they must share their own experiences. As a result, I now have a decent sample of what’s going on. (FBI, are you listening?) The blackmail letters are clearly going to people in upscale suburbs. They come from postmarks all over the south and midwest. The scammer goes by several different names.
But one consistent pattern is an increase in the amount. The demand for $8,350 in my letter has increased to $9,150, to $15,200, to $30,000. A commenter pointed out that the amounts vary so that the scammer can determine which letters are paying off (because Bitcoin does not reveal the payer’s name to the scammer receiving the payment).
My blog has become a focus of the wisdom of the crowd on Bitcoin blackmail. If you want to know what’s happening, in real time, just track the comments on my pages. So even if I, personally, am not an authority, my blog is.
A few wise crowds
Some communities I belong to are incredible smart, collectively.
I am a member of a Facebook group for non-fiction authors. Its membership is regulated — you have to ask to get in. There are a 336 people in the group, and about a hundred are active.
It’s an incredible useful place to be. Recent posts discussed recording audiobooks, blogging, self-publishing, chapter length, and the increasingly aggressive activities of the publisher Wiley. There is no self-promotion. People ask questions; others share their actual experience as authors. It is uniformly supportive and helpful. Taken as a group, these authors are very wise.
I have participated in weight loss and wellness groups run by my nonprofit partners. These are groups of ten or twelve people who meet each other every week or two for twenty weeks. We communicate in a shared email list. We are typically working on the same challenge at the same time — whatever the leaders set out in the previous group. We ask each other questions, ask for support, and hold each other accountable. (One of my favorite activities here is people who post pictures of food that they were offered or tempted by but didn’t eat.) It is uniformly supportive and helpful. Taken as a group, these participants are wise.
There are many stupid groups online. There are groups that share conspiracy theories. There are people who spread false memes and fake news articles. And there are mobs. Mobs are not smart. Mobs are emotional and collectively, very stupid.
LinkedIn is filled with self-promotion. Instagram is full of narcissists. Twitter is a seething mass of triviality and hate. Taken as a whole, these social networks are anything but wise.
But in smaller groups with a share interest, something valuable happens.
The best groups share a common interest and a culture of generosity. They provide support and answer questions. Groups like this can pop up anywhere online now — the platform doesn’t matter so much. What matters is starting with an ideal, and the support of the group for that ideal. Whether we’re blackmail victims, authors, or people losing weight, we feel for the other folks in the same boat. We contribute. Trolls aren’t welcome, and they wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with us anyway — we’re boringly, annoyingly helpful.
What valuable groups do you belong to? What holds them together? What makes them work?