After a watershed year for Bitcoin in 2017, cryptocurrencies have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight.
News outlets, TV shows, celebrities and well-known broadcasters couldn’t just sit back while virtual currencies announced themselves to the world, spearheaded by Bitcoin’s spiralling bull run that came to a head in December.
As Bitcoin peaked at $20,000, it was almost impossible for any reputable media outlet not to cover the news. But the lofty high was followed by a plunging correction, which was reported on with just as much fervor.
While the naysayers rejoiced, many were and are currently trying to wrap their heads around Bitcoin, Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.
It’s hardly surprising then that some of the world’s most popular TV and radio show hosts have waded into the crypto realm.
However, their assessment and explanation of Bitcoin leads one to question the motives behind the message being sent out to an audience of millions - if not hundreds of millions.
Ellen’s bizarre take on Bitcoin
Ellen Degeneres is a comedian - let’s make that clear from the outset. Her flagship programme, the Ellen Show, has won over 50 Emmy Awards and its Youtube channel is rated in the top 20 for the most subscribers.
She is loved by many and her opinion matters. That’s maybe why her recent segment on Bitcoin on her show, while admittedly tongue-in-cheek, didn't do much to actually unpack or define what the preeminent cryptocurrency actually is.
Comically speaking, she summed up the sentiments of many people who’ve struggled to come to grips with what Bitcoin is. Poking fun at people who go along with Bitcoin conversations, she suggested most of us just pretend we know what we’re talking about, as summed up by CNBC.
"Everybody is talking about Bitcoin, nobody understands it. It's like a plot twist in a confusing movie, when you're watching a movie and your friends are acting like they know what's going on, and you're like, 'Yeah, I do too.'
"Pretend like Bitcoin is a goat. Now it's adorable... and you want to pick it up and you want to pet it. But you can't because it's not there, it doesn't exist except for on that Internet right there, just like Bitcoin is digital currency."
While her explanation is hilarious - you can watch a snippet below - it does make one take a step back and wonder what kind of perception the mainstream media is creating around cryptocurrencies.
It’s not surprising that a comedian would take this line with Bitcoin, as Ellen did with her Bitcoin-goat reference. The goat is cute, but you can’t interact with it because it exists as a picture on the Internet.
She made skeptical remarks about hardware wallets as well, and touched on the global trade of Bitcoin. Her parting sentiments were that she’d rather own a baby goat than Bitcoin - effectively distancing herself from ever owning cryptocurrency.
John Oliver - satirical insights
Renowned for his highly skeptical take on current affairs on his show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver offers up a far more insightful, no holds barred critique of the Bitcoin phenomenon.
The astute, intellectual comedian treats the issue of cryptocurrencies far more seriously and goes about unpacking what Bitcoin is, how it works and the arguments for and against it.
Mix it in with his usual humour and it makes for some interesting viewing. Oliver muses in the episode:
“Many people believe that the really exciting thing about it is the potential of the innovative technology it’s built on and that is called Blockchain.”
He goes on to highlight the power of the Bitcoin Blockchain, using the example of a Bitcoin transaction across the globe versus a transaction made by a traditional bank, which could take a few days to be verified.
In comparison to Ellen’s segment, Oliver’s analysis is far more informative. What he does well is provide the pros and cons of cryptocurrencies - from conventional companies using the word ‘Blockchain’ to bolster the value of their stocks, to the absurdly long list of cryptocurrencies created by startup companies through initial coin offerings.
Of course, Oliver also takes the unconverted through a crash course of the most commonly used words of the cryptocurrency community. Namely HODL, FUD, MOON and REKT.
The likes of Dogecoin get a mention because of its original purpose as a parody cryptocurrency.
Good for a laugh - but not quite objective
As entertainers, both Ellen and John Oliver have given their fans what they’re looking for, perhaps at the expense of cryptocurrencies.
While still in its infancy, the market has had its fair share of growing pains, in the form of hacks, scams, bull runs and market corrections. However it is easy to highlight all the negatives, which most news outlets have jumped on.
As is the case with many of the top cryptocurrencies, their applications have shaken up the financial world in particular. Users now have, at their fingertips, a number of virtual currencies that have expedited the need for foreign exchanges, bank transfers and the bureaucracy that comes along with it.
The rhetoric being spread by the likes of Degeneres and Oliver has one potentially damaging consequence. People who are still learning the basics, the ins and outs of Blockchain, are being told to stay clear of the sector altogether.
Watched by millions, these videos can potentially stifle future adoption of Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, as people are influenced against supporting the developing technology. Why would you need to do your own research when these celebrities are telling you it’s best to stay clear?
Giving the prolific coverage of Bitcoin over the past year, many pundits have thrown their weight behind assumptions.
Over that time many other publications, journalists and broadcasters have made their own predictions on various platforms.
In August 2017, BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones stated that Bitcoin was in a bubble in an exchange on Twitter, echoing his own sentiments in his own reports months earlier.
There was more of this apathetic rhetoric, along with calls for further regulation at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, as Cointelegraph reported from the event. It must be said that well-informed members of the crypto community stood up against these views, highlighting the often biased views against the sector.
Bitcoin has even featured on famous TV sitcoms like Big Bang Theory, but as Motherboard writer Jordan Pearson suggests, the episode only scratches the surface and has a massive focus on the volatile value of Bitcoin - which is a common trend in most media references.
For the initiated, the likes of Max Keiser has often offered in-depth, insightful commentary on Bitcoin since its inception. With his financial background, he has always had a focus on the market side of things but he is finely in tune with the fundamentals of Blockchain technology,
These commentators do the industry justice, and their efforts create the right environment for positive developments in the sector. While some media piggyback off the cryptocurrency craze, others do their part to continue the growth of what is sure to be one of the biggest innovation of the 21st century.