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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Don’t shoot the messenger: are social media giants really “consciously failing” to tackle extremism?

MPs today accused social media companies of failing to combat terrorism, but just how accurate is this claim? 

Today’s home affairs committee report, which said that internet giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat extremism, was criticised by terrorism experts almost immediately.

“Blaming Facebook, Google or Twitter for this phenomenon is quite simplistic, and I'd even say misleading,” Professor Peter Neumann, an expert on radicalisation from Kings College London, told the BBC.

“Social media companies are doing a lot more now than they used to - no doubt because of public pressure,” he went on. The report, however, labels the 14 million videos Google have removed in the last two years, and the 125,000 accounts Twitter has suspended in the last one, a “drop in the ocean”.

It didn’t take long for the sites involved to refute the claims, which follow a 12-month inquiry on radicalisation. A Facebook spokesperson said they deal “swiftly and robustly with reports of terrorism-related content”, whilst YouTube said they take their role in combating the spread of extremism “very seriously”. This time last week, Twitter announced that they’d suspended 235,000 accounts for promoting terrorism in the last six months, which is incidentally after the committee stopped counting in February.

When it comes to numbers, it’s difficult to determine what is and isn’t enough. There is no magical number of Terrorists On The Internet that experts can compare the number of deletions to. But it’s also important to judge the companies’ efforts within the realm of what is actually possible.

“The argument is that because Facebook and Twitter are very good at taking down copyright claims they should be better at tackling extremism,” says Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

“But in those cases you are given a hashed file by the copyright holder and they say: ‘Find this file on your database and remove it please’. This is very different from extremism. You’re talking about complicated nuanced linguistic patterns each of which are usually unique, and are very hard for an algorithm to determine.”

Bartlett explains that a large team of people would have to work on building this algorithm by trawling through cases of extremist language, which, as Thangam Debonnaire learned this month, even humans can struggle to identify.  

“The problem is when you’re dealing with linguistic patterns even the best algorithms work at 70 per cent accuracy. You’d have so many false positives, and you’d end up needing to have another huge team of people that would be checking all of it. It’s such a much harder task than people think.”

Finding and deleting terrorist content is also only half of the battle. When it comes to videos and images, thousands of people could have downloaded them before they were deleted. During his research, Bartlett has also discovered that when one extremist account is deleted, another inevitably pops up in its place.

“Censorship is close to impossible,” he wrote in a Medium post in February. “I’ve been taking a look at how ISIL are using Twitter. I found one user name, @xcxcx162, who had no less than twenty-one versions of his name, all lined up and ready to use (@xcxcx1627; @xcxcx1628, @xcxcx1629, and so on).”

Beneath all this, there might be another, fundamental flaw in the report’s assumptions. Demos argue that there is no firm evidence that online material actually radicalises people, and that much of the material extremists view and share is often from mainstream news outlets.

But even if total censorship was possible, that doesn’t necessarily make it desirable. Bartlett argues that deleting extreme content would diminish our critical faculties, and that exposing people to it allows them to see for themselves that terrorists are “narcissistic, murderous, thuggish, irreligious brutes.” Complete censorship would also ruin social media for innocent people.

“All the big social media platforms operate on a very important principal, which is that they are not responsible for the content that is placed on their platforms,” he says. “It rests with the user because if they were legally responsible for everything that’s on their platform – and this is a legal ruling in the US – they would have to check every single thing before it was posted. Given that Facebook deals with billions of posts a day that would be the end of the entire social media infrastructure.

“That’s the kind of trade off we’d be talking about here. The benefits of those platforms are considerable and you’d be punishing a lot of innocent people.”

No one is denying that social media companies should do as much as they can to tackle terrorism. Bartlett thinks that platforms can do more to remove information under warrant or hand over data when the police require it, and making online policing 24/7 is an important development “because terrorists do not work 9 to 5”. At the end of the day, however, it’s important for the government to accept technological limitations.

“Censorship of the internet is only going to get harder and harder,” he says. “Our best hope is that people are critical and discerning and that is where I would like the effort to be.” 

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