Satoshi Nakamoto Is Whoever You Want Him to Be

We've ended the week with the same amount of information we'd started with, essentially.

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Mar 7 2014, 5:40pm
Image: Newsweek photo of Dorian Nakamoto, anonymized by Digital Trends

After Newsweek purported to unmask the legendary creator of Bitcoin, after journalists embarked on an absurd, live-tweeted car chase to get face time with the man, and after the 64-year-old San Bernadino resident named Dorian S. Nakamoto denied any involvement, a popular reaction was a dumb joke: "I am Satoshi Nakamoto." 

Which was telling. We'd ended the day with the same amount of information we'd started with, essentially—another candidate for the man behind the mask, another ridiculous, very public development in the Bitcoin saga, another event that confounded everyone's ability to decide whether they should take the cryptocurrency seriously. We'd ended up with, ultimately, with a cipher on which to imbue all of our pre-existing opinions of Bitcoin.

The big cover story claimed to reveal that Satoshi Nakamoto, the man who built the code and fine-tuned the ideology for the now-infamous cryptocurrency before vanishing from the web in 2011, had essentially been hiding in plain sight all the while. Despite numerous attempts by reporters and documentarians to unmask him, no one had thought to simply investigate the list of people actually named 'Satoshi Nakamoto.' Newsweek's Leah Goodman did, and soon came up with an extremely eligible candidate: A government-wary libertarian engineer given to reclusive behavior. 

He'd changed his name to Dorian, and seemed to fit the bill. When Goodman finally met him face-to-face, and she asked him about Bitcoin, she claims he offered a tacit admission before the police helped remove her from his property: "I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it."  

It wasn't enough information to confirm the identity of the internet's most infamous psuedonomous entity, but it was enough to usher forth an avalanche of bias confirmation the likes of which the internet hadn't seen for at least a couple days.

To Reddit and the Bitcoin community, who were already convinced that Bitcoin is a world-changing innovation, LA-dwelling Satoshi immediately became a misunderstood hero under fire:

This is unbelievable. How can we, as a community, protect Satoshi? It's on us. He gave us this gift. What can we do for him? I'm thinking bounties on the heads of any criminal that touches Satoshi? Is that too rash?

To many of those most intrigued by the saga, like the tech press, he became an "elusive" "recluse" who'd cannily cultivated an aura of anonymity under our noses (otherwise we would have been on to him sooner, naturally). "Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto revealed after years of mystery," Ars Technica's headline went. Ours was: "Has Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin's Elusive Creator, Been Unmasked?" To others, he was half kindred spirit, half curiosity. Gizmodo announced that "The Guy Who Invented Bitcoin Is a Reclusive Oddball (Surprise!)" 

To skeptics of Bitcoin's practicality, Satoshi became a target of ridicule:

Essentially, whatever your impression of Bitcoin was before the doxxing, the New Nakamoto confirmed it—which maybe should have been the first clue that Newsweek's story was too thin on details. 

Regardless, within hours, droves of reporters showed up at Nakamoto's house, the address of which had been published by Newsweek. Given that this was the tech press, armed with Instagram accounts and little tact, the scene became especially bizarre:

Nakamoto then decided to offer an exclusive to the AP, apparently because the august news organization had offered him free sushi. 

Nakamoto then reportedly got in the car with the AP reporter, and the throng of dejected journalists proceeded to give chase across the greater LA area. The so-called #bitcoincarchase was documented by dogged reporters given over to the surreal carnival. Nakamoto ended up at the AP offices, ostensibly so the chosen reporter could keep the throng at bay—nonetheless, one LA Times journalist threw herself into the elevator before they could escape. 

Then, over the course of a two-hour interview, Nakamoto denied any involvement in Bitcoin. According to the AP report, he repeatedly mistakenly referred to the currency as 'bitcom'—a detail that some observers find a bit rich for a retired libertarian engineer, and others see as confirmation that the media is hounding an innocent old man. Regardless, with Nakamoto's denial, we're left with next to nothing: after all, his family and relatives knew nothing of his involvement, and the one source that openly pointed to Dorian, the Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen, who'd never met him in person, regrets his involvment. Is Satoshi Nakamoto actually Satoshi Nakamoto? We still don't know.

To critics of the press, he became a victim, a flashpoint for the ludicrous obsession with Bitcoin in general, pro and con:

Meanwhile, on an original Bitcoin forum board, posting from the Satoshi Nakamoto profile that had been idle since 2011, a single-sentence comment appeared: "I am not Dorian Nakamoto."

So the story can safely continue being all of the above: it is still mysterious, ridiculous, fascinating, very much worth being skeptical of. Much like bBtcoin itself: with an exchange rate of $650 US dollars, volatile spikes in value, and ambiguity still shrouding its legal and commercial utility, it's alternatively described as 'growing,' 'struggling,' 'booming,' or 'fake' depending on the commenter, depending on the day.

Which is why the tweet/exhalation "I am Satoshi Nakamoto" proliferated online in the wake of the entire saga; you might as well have been. Satoshi Nakamoto is still whoever we want him to be.