Secret Bitcoin Troll Army Pushes for SegWit Adoption: Emin Gun Sirer

As Bitcoin has not yet arrived at a consensus for a scaling solution, the most popular scaling proposals, Segregated Witness (SegWit) and Bitcoin Unlimited, remain in gridlock.

Meanwhile, the scaling debates have reached a turn for the ugly. Johns Hopkins University professor of cryptography Matthew Green remarked on the hostile tone taken in recent online debates:

Lightning Network developer Joseph Poon, who came under fire for his involvement in the Extension Block scaling proposal, recently claimed that he learned about a secret channel in the Bitcoin Core Slack meant for organizing online PR strategies and trolling campaigns. According to Poon, this Slack channel, #dragonsden, was accidentally revealed on the screen during a presentation by Bram Cohen, containing several usernames which have been prominently featured in spirited online debates over Bitcoin’s scaling issue.

Emin Gun Sirer, professor of computer science at Cornell University and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts, tells Cointelegraph about the likeliness of existence of this “Bitcoin troll army”.

Cointelegraph: What is the Dragon's Den?

Emin Gün Sirer: The Dragon's Den is a chatroom, allegedly used to organize "trolling" and related activities that help advance Core's agenda.

CT: Can you define "Core"? Is it the entire Bitcoin Core development team?

EGS: No, Bitcoin Core is a piece of software that constitutes the predominant Bitcoin client. It draws on a large base of contributors. The various Core contributors will repeatedly remind us that "Bitcoin Core" is not a singular entity -- as such, they will get upset at any effort to taint "Bitcoin Core" with Dragon's Den. However, these efforts are a way to shirk off responsibility, by trying to shape the discourse, by trying to make themselves unnameable.

By "Core" here, as distinct from "Bitcoin Core", I am referring to those individuals who collectively launch campaigns to serve interests of a selected group of individuals whose economic interests coincide with those embodied in the "Bitcoin Core" software. These individuals may include contributors to Bitcoin Core, and they likely include people with zero contributions to Bitcoin Core. Being a Bitcoin Core does not automatically include one in this group.

Social scientists are perfectly happy to use fuzzy definitions when identifying such tribal formations.

What I call "Core" is this tribe. They have rituals they perform to achieve the outcomes they seek. The Dragon's Den is a channel where these tribe members gather and organize their efforts to manipulate social media. This includes brigading, reputational attacks, slander, libel, and the like.

CT: What evidence have you seen as to the existence of this project?

EGS: The Dragon's Den got exposed when Bram Cohen was giving a talk, and his slides got minimized, exposing a channel with 21 of these trolls in it. It was later confirmed with Joseph Poon, Lightning Inventor, exposed that the Dragon's Den was used by Core.

I personally have been on the receiving end of such trolls, on and off, as the one thing that the trolls cannot stand is someone who counteracts their narrative. And counteracting unscientific, manipulative narratives is what I do.

CT: What is the end goal of this group?

EGS: To advance their general agenda. I am not privy to their internal goals, but from having observed the various sock puppets they use, the current agenda seems to be to hold back Bitcoin's scaling by opposing any and every straightforward move to increase Bitcoin's transaction rate and to instead push for a Bitcoin Core-authored solution that is complex, does not go far enough in increasing Bitcoin's capacity, and redirects transaction fees into the hands of a new class of financial players.

CT: I've noticed you've publicly outed this initiative. How has the response been?

EGS: As expected, I received a torrent of responses from members of the Dragons Den and their sock puppets. A few dozen sockpuppets outed themselves, with their vitriolic responses.

The problem, of course, is that humans are incredibly social animals. We have reptilian circuitry in our brains that are carefully attuned to social acceptance. Online, we look for measures of social emphasis, in the form of upvotes or re-tweets.

The trolls exist to subvert this circuitry. And they manage to enroll naive people into their cause. The weaker individuals, especially those people at the periphery, vying to get in, tend to get dragged into the troll brigades.

I am happy to report that there wasn't that much of the latter, but that is the intended effect of a brigade. There was also talk about calling my employer, and the like, but I have tenure, precisely for this reason.

CT: Now, time to play devil's advocate: "All this is purely coincidental and conspiratorial, there is no vast trolling project, and if there were, it's in no way affiliated with anyone on Bitcoin Core's team." How would you respond?

EGS: My response to that statement is simple: it's an established fact that there is indeed a trolling project. It's not vast. It's just 21 trolls, most of whom are likely unemployed and unemployable dwellers. It's also an established fact that this "Core" group is loosely affiliated with some of the contributors to "Bitcoin Core."

Finally, it's a fact that they do the dirty work of pushing the Core agenda and the contributors of Bitcoin Core tacitly reward these trolls, at least by providing them with attention and legitimacy, if not in other ways.

CT: Have your findings at all changed your opinion on the scaling debate? Have they changed those of anyone else to your knowledge? Should they?

EGS: Yes, this has changed my opinion on the scaling debate. A strong technology, the technology with the better science behind it, does not need social manipulation techniques. And that should change opinions.

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