An amazing year for Bitcoin but not for the reason you think

The dang thing worked

Yes the price is going up. But something much more important happened for Bitcoin in 2020. It was used in a much more tangible way than we’ve seen before. 

Sure, there are people who have been using it for savings (or speculation, based on your perspective), and hedging against potential inflation, but those are abstract things. 

Two things happened in 2020 that should have put Bitcoin on everyone’s radar before the price did. 

  • In Nigeria, the #EndSARs protests erupted in response to obscene police brutality. Among other more harsh responses, protest organizers found their accounts frozen and payments disrupted. At least 20 activists had their bank accounts frozen as the central bank works to investigate their sources of funds. Activist groups like the Feminist Coalition reported problems as well. 

    The Nigerian diaspora and other sympathizers who want to fund the cause have found a workaround: Bitcoin

  • In Belarus, protests also erupted as a dictatorial president attempted to hold on power by obviously stealing the election with a rigged vote. These were met by the violent crackdowns and internet shutdowns typical of a dictator. The machine of the state has been openly working against the population. And political activities can make a person unhirable for fear of association. 

    Enter BYSOL, a non-profit that began making grants via Bitcoin to protesters who lost their jobs. Per CoinDesk BYSOL is aware that the government is using their financial surveillance capabilities to monitor their funds. In this case I think privacy is warranted. 

Nigeria and Belarus. Not one but two moments that I would consider watershed for Bitcoin. At the same time. On different continents. 

In 2020 Bitcoin was used to challenge authoritarians around the world, and that is incredible to see. A threshold was crossed. I think it’s just the beginning. 

For more information on these, check out: 

Decrypt - Nigeria Is Emerging as a True Bitcoin Nation

WhatBitcoinDid - How Bitcoin is Helping Protesters in Belarus with Alex Gladstein & Jaraslau Likhachevski (podcast)


Facebook and Vietnam continue their battle over censorship on the platform. Vietnam wants Facebook to “comply with local laws.” Better said, Vietnam wants Facebook to censor material that criticizes the government. 

In April, Facebook revealed that Vietnam had beaten it into some level of compliance by using the state-owned telecommunications companies to slow the website’s bandwidth to a crawl. 

Guess what? Vietnam wants more censorship now. Per Reuters:

“We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the subject.

“They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.”

The official said the threats included shutting down Facebook altogether in Vietnam, a major market for the social media company where it earns revenue of nearly $1 billion, according to two sources familiar with the numbers.

I have a feeling that this game will continue and be replicated in any country with sufficient Facebook users to make a dent in their margins. 

While reading about proposed expanded uses of China’s pandemic tracking app, I caught something that raised a question. 

There have not been many concrete examples of the Chinese government tracking individual spending, though I don’t think anyone doubts they do. 

In Venezuela, a food charity with opposition ties is raided and their bank accounts frozen. NYT reports

The government has accused the food charity, Feed the Solidarity, of channeling foreign donations for political subversion, without providing evidence. The charity and its allies called the accusations and raids a callous political ploy that threatens the lives of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

. . .

Mr. Patiño said the charity will have to interrupt its service next week because the  freezing of their bank accounts prevents them from purchasing food.

The crackdown began last week when banking regulators and secret police raided Venezuela’s largest private bank, Banesco, to investigate the charity’s money transfers to vulnerable families, according to Mr. Patiño. The bank issued a statement distancing itself from Mr. Patiño, but did not respond to request for comment on the regulator’s raid.

It seems to me that, by operating, this charity was creating goodwill toward ideological opponents of the Maduro regime among the populace. So, accuse them of some vague financial crimes and shut down their bank accounts. No more food, no more problem. 

Here’s some articles I found interesting but didn’t discuss for the sake of space. 

The Markup - How Private Is My Pay App?

FT - Fear is the new normal for Hong Kong democrats

Coda - Coming soon: Turkmenistan’s government-backed email and messaging app

Bloomberg - Turkey Has No Cure for a Gold Craze That Leaves Lira Vulnerable

Rest of World - China’s fugitive writers find a home online

Vice - China Is Creating a Watch List of ‘Stubborn Taiwan Separatists’

The Guardian - Cambodia: mass trial begins of 130 government critics charged with treason

The Guardian - Encrypted apps and false names: new Taiwan book club takes no chances

Finally, if you are like me and know that mac & cheese is the best Thanksgiving side, please enjoy this reaction to a horrible looking avocado version. 

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