Website generates off-the-shelf cryptocurrencies (so of course NewStatesmanCoin now exists)

It's completely useless, though. Don't bother downloading it. There's no point.

Things are very weird right now for those of us living in the future. Dogecoin - a digital cryptocurrency based on a funny picture of a shiba inu - has a market cap of more than $5m. We were promised jetpacks, we got dog-themed money.

There are so many new Bitcoin ripoffs (mostly by those hoping to make a fast buck) that it was inevitable that someone would create a site that automatically generates them. Coingen, created by a reddit user called Blue Matt, lets users customise their own cryptocurrency (taking either Bitcoin or smaller cousin Litecoin as inspiration), download a wallet, and get mining.

For this, users pay a fee of between 0.05 and 0.2 BTC (roughly £30 to £122 as of writing, going by the average trading price on Mt Gox), with fees for removing Coingen’s logo or getting access to the source code. That’s a tidy fee considering you can only tweak four numerical values for each coin, and the source code for Bitcoin is open and available for free already. Perhaps Blue Matt is taking inspiration from the California Gold Rush, where the biggest profits weren’t in looking for gold, but in selling equipment like picks and buckets to prospectors.

Very Dogecoin. Much currency. So zeitgeist.

And, because why not, we’ve created NewStatesmanCoin - you can download a wallet and start mining here. That’s its rather half-hearted logo up top (we considered replacing the Queen on a pound coin with a picture of deputy editor Helen Lewis, an effort you can enjoy here).

Don’t ask what the block halving rate is, or which mining algorithm it uses - random, now forgotten, numbers were used. We can probably assume from their names that many of the other coins created using Coingen use values that are just as arbitrary: jesuscoin, arbitrarycoin, starvingartistcoin, wethepeoplecoin, silvioberluscoin, realcoin, beercoin, and the catchily-named “wake_up_sheeples_banker_owned_federal_reserve_notes_equals_more_debt”. (There are also a lot of coins with racist names on there. Really, you’ve been warned.)

NewStatesmanCoin is just a joke, but the fact there are so many people who have created their own silly coins - and paid for the privilege - is worth noting. There are dozens of alternatives to Bitcoin, a tiny minority of which have support from any kind of community, and fewer still of which have any practical real-world purpose. While there are uses for cryptocurrencies, they're niche, and not without competition from more traditional companies or other technologies. Not for nothing are people like Gigaom's David Meyer asking what the point of Bitcoin is.

Looking over the transaction volume day-by-day since Bitcoin launched, it's clear that the value of the cryptocurrency has been faster and unlinked from its growth as a medium of exchange. Speculation is still the main drive of Bitcoin value, and the entire drive of Litecoin, Namecoin, and even Dogecoin value, and thus there's surely demand for Coingen's new coins, off-the-shelf and ready to, perhaps, become the next £xm-worth market. While Bitcoin's certainly popular, it's tempting to instead think that it may be the first iteration of a concept yet to be perfected.

You don't have to tell us it's a crappy logo.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Clickbaiting terror: what it’s like to write viral news after a tragedy

Does the viral news cycle callously capitalise on terrorism, or is it allowing a different audience to access important news and facts?

On a normal day, Alex* will write anywhere between five to ten articles. As a content creator for a large viral news site, they [Alex is speaking under the condition of strict anonymity, meaning their gender will remain unidentified] will churn out multiple 500-word stories on adorable animals, optical illusions, and sex. “People always want to read about sexuality, numbers of sexual partners, porn habits and orgasms,” says Alex. “What is important is making the content easily-digestible and engaging.”

Alex is so proficient at knowing which articles will perform well that they frequently “seek stories that fit a certain template”. Though the word “clickbait” conjures up images of cute cat capers, Alex says political stories that “pander to prejudices” generate a large number of page views for the site. Many viral writers know how to tap into such stories so their takes are shared widely – which explains the remarkably similar headlines atop many internet articles. “This will restore your faith in humanity,” could be one; “This one weird trick will change your life…” another. The most cliché example of this is now so widely mocked that it has fallen out of favour:

You’ll never believe what happened next.

When the world stops because of a tragedy, viral newsrooms don’t. After a terrorist attack such as this week’s Manchester Arena bombing, internet media sites do away with their usual stories. One day, their homepages will be filled with traditional clickbait (“Mum Sickened After Discovery Inside Her Daughter’s Easter Egg”, “This Man’s Blackhead Removal Technique Is A Complete And Utter Gamechanger”) and the next, their clickbait has taken a remarkably more tragic tone (“New Footage Shows Moment Explosion Took Place Inside Manchester Arena”, “Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and More React to the Manchester Bombing”).

“When a terrorist event occurs, there’s an initial vacuum for viral news,” explains Alex. Instead of getting reporters on the scene or ringing press officers like a traditional newsroom, Alex says viral news is “conversation-driven” – meaning much of it regurgitates what is said on social media. This can lead to false stories spreading. On Tuesday, multiple viral outlets reported – based on Facebook posts and tweets – that over 50 accompanied children had been led to a nearby Holiday Inn. When BuzzFeed attempted to verify this, a spokesperson for the hotel chain denied the claim.

Yet BuzzFeed is the perfect proof that viral news and serious news can coexist under the same roof. Originally famed for its clickable content, the website is now home to a serious and prominent team of investigative journalists. Yet the site has different journalists on different beats, so that someone writes about politics and someone else about lifestyle or food.

Other organisations have a different approach. Sam* works at another large viral site (not Buzzfeed) where they are responsible for writing across topics; they explains how this works:  

“One minute you're doing something about a tweet a footballer did, the next it's the trailer for a new movie, and then bam, there's a general election being called and you have to jump on it,” they say.

Yet Sam is confident that they cover tragedy correctly. Though they feel viral news previously used to disingenuously “profiteer” off terrorism with loosely related image posts, they say their current outlet works hard to cover tragic news. “It’s not a race to generate traffic,” they say, “We won't post content that we think would generate traffic while people are grieving and in a state of shock, and we're not going to clickbait the headlines to try and manipulate it into that for obvious reasons.”

Sam goes as far as to say that their viral site in fact has higher editorial standards than “some of the big papers”. Those who might find themselves disturbed to see today’s explosions alongside yesterday’s cats will do well to remember that “traditional” journalists do not always have a great reputation for covering tragedy.

At 12pm on Tuesday, Daniel Hett tweeted that over 50 journalists had contacted him since he had posted on the site that his brother, Martyn, was missing after the Manchester attack. Hett claimed two journalists had found his personal mobile phone number, and he uploaded an image of a note a Telegraph reporter had posted through his letterbox. “This cunt found my house. I still don't know if my brother is alive,” read the accompanying caption. Tragically it turned out that Martyn was among the bomber's victims.

Long-established newspapers and magazines can clearly behave just as poorly as any newly formed media company. But although they might not always follow the rules, traditional newspapers do have them. Many writers for viral news sites have no formal ethical or journalistic training, with little guidance provided by their companies, which can cause problems when tragic news breaks.

It remains to be seen whether self-policing will be enough. Though false news has been spread, many of this week’s terror-focused viral news stories do shed light on missing people or raise awareness of how people can donate blood. Many viral news sites also have gigantic Facebook followings that far outstrip those of daily newspapers – meaning they can reach more people. In this way, Sam feels their work is important. Alex, however, is less optimistic.

“My personal view is that viral news does very little to inform people at times like this and that trending reporters probably end up feeling very small about their jobs,” says Alex. “You feel limited by the scope of your flippant style and by what the public is interested in.

“You can end up feeding the most divisive impulses of an angry public if you aren’t careful about what conversations you’re prompting. People switch onto the news around events like this and traffic rises, but ironically it’s probably when trending reporters go most into their shells and into well-worn story formats. It’s not really our time or place, and to try and make it so feels childish.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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