Bitcoin has been around for a few years now, and while you can’t really mine for it anymore, it’s hung on as the Internet’s favorite untraceable currency. That untraceability is key to its popularity on the dark web, which in turn has led to bitcoin’s reputation as being good for little more than drugs and beef jerky, despite its viability as actual currency. But over the weekend it got one high-profile backer that might help assuage bitcoin’s image problem: Wordpress, which now accepts bitcoin in exchange for its range of blogging services.
Wordpress started accepting bitcoin for a reason that bitcoin advocates will surely be happy about: It’s the only method of exchanging currency online that is totally from political restriction. According to a post on the Wordpress blog,
At WordPress.com, our mission is making publishing democratic — accessible and easy for anyone, anywhere. And while anyone can start a free blog here, not everyone can access upgrades (like going ad-free or enabling custom design) because of limits on traditional payment networks.
Today, that changes: you can now buy WordPress.com upgrades with bitcoins.
PayPal alone blocks access from over 60 countries, and many credit card companies have similar restrictions. Some are blocked for political reasons, some because of higher fraud rates, and some for other financial reasons. Whatever the reason, we don’t think an individual blogger from Haiti, Ethiopia, or Kenya should have diminished access to the blogosphere because of payment issues they can’t control. Our goal is to enable people, not block them.
I feel like the discussion around internet freedom, especially in U.S. politics, too often gets stuck on privacy and copyright issues. The base concern of internet freedom advocates, and internet users in general, is keeping the internet open. We talk a lot about Beijing’s latest Google ban and North Korea’s intranet, but limiting people’s access to web services by limiting their ability to pay for them is a huge, underreported problem. And it remains so partly because it doesn’t have a central figure. It’s easy to pit the Chinese government versus Google, but when Kenyans can’t buy things online because of fraud, who do you wave your finger at?
It’s an argument that Wordpress was willing to make, which is a big boost for bitcoin. It’s also an argument that may resonate with other entities. Wordpress has partnered with Bitpay to run processing, and I’m not sure if they might save or lose money on processing fees as compared to Paypal and credit cards. There is also the obvious issue of bitcoin’s exchange volatility, but Bitpay bases its transactions off current rates, just like any other currency exchange, and an increasing, steady volume of bitcoin use may stabilize rates anyway. In any case, a high-profile client like Wordpress accepting bitcoin for the purposes of internet freedom is a sign that bitcoin is finally finding legitimacy outside of hardcore geeks and denizens of the web underground.
Image via Zach Copley
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.