Crowds, wisdom, and becoming a Bitcoin blackmail authority

Photo: pxhere

My knowledge of bitcoin is basic. I’m no expert on extortion, either. But Google is convinced I’m an authority on Bitcoin blackmail. This has made me wonder when crowds are, in fact, smarter than individuals.

On April 10, I posted about the letter I received suggesting I should pay $8,350 in Bitcoin or have my secrets revealed. That post has been viewed 23,000 times, shared on Facebook 223 times, and tweeted 44 times. More importantly for my blog traffic, it ranked on a search for Bitcoin blackmail.

When my friend received a Bitcoin blackmail request by email, I posted about that, too. That post is up to 28,000 views.

These requests appeared transparently fake to me. But then, I have a basic knowledge of what is and isn’t possible on the internet, and I have nothing to hide. I suppose if I were a little more guilty and a little more ignorant, I’d be worried.

The idea that I am an authority seems strange, but what’s happened since the original posts is making me wonder.

There are 138 comments on the first post. It’s very clear that people need reassurance that the blackmail is fake. But for whatever reason, commenters are beginning to feel they must share their own experiences. As a result, I now have a decent sample of what’s going on. (FBI, are you listening?) The blackmail letters are clearly going to people in upscale suburbs. They come from postmarks all over the south and midwest. The scammer goes by several different names.

But one consistent pattern is an increase in the amount. The demand for $8,350 in my letter has increased to $9,150, to $15,200, to $30,000. A commenter pointed out that the amounts vary so that the scammer can determine which letters are paying off (because Bitcoin does not reveal the payer’s name to the scammer receiving the payment).

My blog has become a focus of the wisdom of the crowd on Bitcoin blackmail. If you want to know what’s happening, in real time, just track the comments on my pages. So even if I, personally, am not an authority, my blog is.

A few wise crowds

Some communities I belong to are incredible smart, collectively.

I am a member of a Facebook group for non-fiction authors. Its membership is regulated — you have to ask to get in. There are a 336 people in the group, and about a hundred are active.

It’s an incredible useful place to be. Recent posts discussed recording audiobooks, blogging, self-publishing, chapter length, and the increasingly aggressive activities of the publisher Wiley. There is no self-promotion. People ask questions; others share their actual experience as authors. It is uniformly supportive and helpful. Taken as a group, these authors are very wise.

I have participated in weight loss and wellness groups run by my nonprofit partners. These are groups of ten or twelve people who meet each other every week or two for twenty weeks. We communicate in a shared email list. We are typically working on the same challenge at the same time — whatever the leaders set out in the previous group. We ask each other questions, ask for support, and hold each other accountable. (One of my favorite activities here is people who post pictures of food that they were offered or tempted by but didn’t eat.) It is uniformly supportive and helpful. Taken as a group, these participants are wise.

There are many stupid groups online. There are groups that share conspiracy theories. There are people who spread false memes and fake news articles. And there are mobs. Mobs are not smart. Mobs are emotional and collectively, very stupid.

LinkedIn is filled with self-promotion. Instagram is full of narcissists. Twitter is a seething mass of triviality and hate. Taken as a whole, these social networks are anything but wise.

But in smaller groups with a share interest, something valuable happens.

The best groups share a common interest and a culture of generosity. They provide support and answer questions. Groups like this can pop up anywhere online now — the platform doesn’t matter so much. What matters is starting with an ideal, and the support of the group for that ideal. Whether we’re blackmail victims, authors, or people losing weight, we feel for the other folks in the same boat. We contribute. Trolls aren’t welcome, and they wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with us anyway — we’re boringly, annoyingly helpful.

What valuable groups do you belong to? What holds them together? What makes them work?

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  1. I am an avid FB user. I have been in groups for weight loss, which was helpful at the time, but not in the long term. (Ahem…) I am in a group that calls for a shopping moratorium for a month about once a year where we buy nothing but food, medicine, and gasoline, a decluttering group where we got rid of stuff in a massive purge, and a family group where we figure out the logistics of six siblings supporting our elderly father.

    In addition, I belong to a few groups that are for parents of transgender children. This has been an amazing resource for personal support for us, and for information for our adult child as she determines how she wants to proceed in the process of transitioning.

    I have other groups for politics as I am a local election official and that helps us prepare for elections and find the poll workers that we need. We have one for outreach to our ward voters as well.

    I totally agree with you that many other platforms are not as useful as FB and its feature that allows people to form targeted groups.

    1. I should have answered your question — what makes them work well is a shared purpose, the intention of providing support, and the ability to stay on topic and be civil and courteous to everyone. Humor also can make a huge difference.

  2. Thank you for this. I just wish there were something that could be done.

    I’ve gotten a total of six of these blackmail emails. I do not think it’s the same scammer. I think others are seeing the relative success of the scam, and are ‘copy catting’ it to make their own incomes. I also think there’s probably nothing that can be done about it, just like the famous Nigerian scams.

    I will continue to quote you and link to your articles, because I too am an active anti-spam / anti cyber crime spokesperson — except I don’t have a following, and you do.

    Thank you again. Thank you very much. Keep up the great work — I think this blog is a real treasure. One of the few left on the internet.