How Sony’s New Show “Startup” is a Step Backwards for Bitcoin

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around the new show called “StartUp” on the Sony-owned streaming site—Crackle.

I’ve watched the show, read a few reviews and even watched a Today Show interview of the show’s star, Adam Brody. The show is about a digital currency startup, illegally started by Brody’s character, and the FBI’s efforts to take them down.

Though the show is highly fictionalized, my initial opinion is that the show does a disservice to an image that the digital currency is working very hard to shake.  The industry, still in its infancy, and as I have written about in the past, much of the world is unfamiliar with digital currencies such as bitcoin. The other half have some conceptual knowledge but still believe it’s a secret form of money used for drug trafficking and money laundering, and shows like “StartUp” may only reinforce this false line of thinking.

While I am a fan of shows that spotlight the interesting world and lives of the startup community and their founders, as someone who works with the digital currency community to educate policymakers, regulators, and the general public on digital currency, I see this show as setting the industry back.

It has the potential to jeopardize the credibility of digital currency companies like Coinbase, which has raised over $100 million and has a valuation of $400 million.  Coinbase’s co-founder, Brian Armstrong recently wrote, “digital currency may be the most effective way the world has ever seen to increase economic freedom.”  This may very well be true, but one of the biggest hurdles for the company and others in the industry is that it’s still not widely accepted because people don’t “get it.” This is especially true, for the lawmakers who are seeking to regulate digital currency.

For example, recently North Carolina updated its money transmitter legislation to include digital currency but the education of state legislators on bitcoin was a huge challenge that had to first be tackled as it was clear that many members of the legislature were not convinced that digital currency was legal, not tied to criminal activity or the funding of terrorism.  Other states, such as California recently re-introduced digital currency legislation that was so harsh that it would have essentially shut the industry down through extensive paperwork and new legislative requirements.

It’s quite likely the creators of “StartUp” did not think about the adverse impact on the industry this negative portrayal of digital currency would have on the overall industry, but it certainly will have that impact. Additionally, I am sure when the show’s stars are making their rounds to promote the show, that they may not think to caveat that digital currency is actually a legitimate form of currency with a growing number of merchants doing over $1 billion in bitcoin transactions annually, including national online retailer Overstock.com.

I also get that a show about a legal digital currency startup would not be as sexy and attractive to viewers. That said, I hope those who watch the show are informed about the facts of digital currency, and that the show does not drive lawmakers to regulate the industry in a way that will prevent the upsurge of this innovative way of exchanging money.

Digital currency businesses, most of which are startups have a legitimate place in the financial industry. I’m not yet sure if I will watch all 10 episodes of the “StartUp” but I will do is to continue to support the digital currency community by redefining and shaping public perceptions of it so that it can be trusted and hopefully, provide the economic freedom that Brian Armstrong believe that it will do.

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