For its return to print this week, Newsweek has a splashy story: Senior Writer Leah McGrath Goodman found the mysterious Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto. She did it with public records:
It was only while scouring a database that contained the registration cards of naturalized U.S. citizens that a Satoshi Nakamoto turned up whose profile and background offered a potential match. But it was not until after ordering his records from the National Archives and conducting many more interviews that a cohesive picture began to take shape.
Two weeks before our meeting in Temple City, I struck up an email correspondence with Satoshi Nakamoto, mostly discussing his interest in upgrading and modifying model steam trains with computer-aided design technologies. I obtained Nakamoto’s email through a company he buys model trains from.
This kind of derring-do plays well with journalists: “How to find Satoshi Nakamoto: The phone book. Wow,” BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith tweeted. But on Reddit, “doxxing” (releasing personal information about someone) is a cardinal sin. And Goodman’s revelations about Nakamoto — including his picture and one of his house — are not terribly popular on r/bitcoin.
“[D]oxxing people is apparently fine if you are a ‘journalist,’” one commenter wrote. “Well, yeah, sorry Reddit’s rules don’t apply to the real world in that regard, they never really have,” another replied.
“Can anyone here locate the address of one Leah McGrath Goodman – perhaps we should post her address, license plate and picture of her home, so people can come and comment on the article?” wrote another. “if you can please post it here; She probably can’t wait for people to knock on her door.. I mean obviously – she doesn’t care about privacy.”
(On Twitter, Leah McGrath Goodman noted that addresses and car registrations are already public.) “Reddit users are welcome to share their own opinions on the whereabouts and identity of Mr. Nakamoto but we would encourage them to abstain from ad hominem attacks on our reporter, Leah McGrath Goodman,” a Newsweek spokesperson told Capital.
It was Redditors who falsely identified Sunil Tripathi as the Boston bombing suspect. Reporters from Politico, BuzzFeed and Newsweek carried his name forward. Tripathi was later found dead, and Reddit General Manager Erik Martin apologized for the site’s role in spreading misinformation:
A few years ago, reddit enacted a policy to not allow personal information on the site. This was because “let’s find out who this is” events frequently result in witch hunts, often incorrectly identifying innocent suspects and disrupting or ruining their lives. We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong. The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different.
— CRYPTO CO฿AIN (@CryptoCobain) March 6, 2014
I’m disappointed Newsweek decided to dox the Nakamoto family, and regret talking to Leah.
— Gavin Andresen (@gavinandresen) March 6, 2014