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"The Most Trustworty Coin": How Ideological Tensions Drive Trust in Bitcoin

by: Megan Knittel, Shelby Pitts, and Rick Wash


Bitcoin is an innovative technological network, a new, non-governmental currency, and a worldwide group of users. In other words, Bitcoin is a complex sociotechnical system with a complex set of risks and challenges for anyone using it. We investigated how everyday users of Bitcoin develop trust in Bitcoin on one of the largest online communities devoted to Bitcoin: the r/bitcoin forum. Using qualitative content analysis, we examined how trust in Bitcoin develops based on contributions to this community. On r/bitcoin, trust in Bitcoin is driven by a pervasive ideology we call the “True Bitcoiner” ideology. This ideological viewpoint in centered on the interpretation of Bitcoin as functionally “trustless” and risk-free. Despite widespread evidence of emerging individual and system-level risks with using Bitcoin, participants continue to maintain this ideological perspective. This ideology consists of three primary beliefs: viewing Bitcoin’s technology as more trustworthy than its people; rejecting ‘corrupt’ social hierarchies related to money; and the importance of accumulating or ‘HODLing’ quantities of Bitcoin as a strategy to create an ideal future. We conclude that this “True Bitcoiner” ideology is maintained despite contradictory evidence in the world because it allows participants to more easily interpret Bitcoin and make decisions by reducing perceived risk and uncertainty in the system. The role of this ideology on r/bitcoin demonstrates an expanded conceptualization of how trust is created and socially-mediated in socio-technical contexts. Humans represent one of the most persistent vulnerabilities in many computing system. Since human users are independent agents who make their own choices, closing these vulner- abilities means persuading users to make different choices. Focusing on one specific human choice – clicking on a link in a phishing email – we conducted an experiment to identify better ways to train users to make more secure decisions. We compared traditional facts-and-advice training against training that uses a simple story to convey the same lessons. We found a surprising interaction effect: facts-and-advice training works better than not training users, but only when presented by a security expert. Stories don’t work quite as well as facts-and-advice, but work much better when told by a peer. This suggests that the perceived origin of training materials can have a surprisingly large effect on security outcomes.


Megan Knittel, Shelby Pitts, and Rick Wash. ““The Most Trustworty Coin”: How Ideological Tensions Drive Trust in BitcoinProceedings of the ACM: Human-Computer Interation (CSCW). Vol. 3November 2019.

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