December 11, 2010. Obama’s in the White House, Bruce Jenner is best known for his exploits in the Olympic arena, and everyone still trusts Zuckerberg – while Bitcoin is worth just $0.20. Satoshi Nakamoto takes to his Bitcointalk account in response to users trying to contact WikiLeaks to see if they will accept donations in the still largely unknown cryptocurrency:
No, don’t “bring it on”. The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way. I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.
Ten days later, when a PC World article on Wikileaks and Bitcoin brings exactly the kind of heat Nakamoto warned against, he posts what would be his (almost) final message on the forum:
It would have been nice to get this attention in any other context. WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet’s nest, and the swarm is headed towards us.
Nakamoto did make one more post later that day regarding some technical aspects of Bitcoin, but it’s these two posts that resonate the most given his absence from the platform from then on. His use of “hornet’s nest” and “swarm” are interesting and very telling. There are a number of theories as to what he meant by this, but two stand out.
The Media Angle
One argument has it that Nakamoto was worried by the media exposure Bitcoin would get as a result of the Wikileaks coverage and that his anonymity would inevitably be under threat. Once the press got hold of the fact that Bitcoin had been started by an anonymous figure, the “swarm” would have stopped at nothing to out him, which would have undermined one of Bitcoin’s core values, as well as putting Nakamoto in the media spotlight for life against his will. This was borne out in 2014, when various media organizations hounded a completely unconnected individual until he had to hold a press conference to deny that he had created Bitcoin. The real Satoshi Nakamoto went further underground as price, momentum, and exposure accelerated, cutting all ties in April 2011.
The Authorities Angle
Another argument is that the “hornet’s nest” were in fact governments and police forces, who would get wind of Bitcoin’s anti-establishment message through all the exposure and try to shut it down. Nakamoto was clearly worried about the ability of Bitcoin to withstand such an attack, hence why he was so concerned about it being promoted so early on in its development. As it happened the authorities did start to take an interest in Bitcoin, but only insofar as banning the currency and taking action against individuals who used it illegally. It would have been possible to shut down Bitcoin for relatively little in 2010, but today it will cost interested parties $237,000 per hour at current prices (if they can buy enough mining equipment), so these entities would need to decide if it’s worth their time, effort and money to do so.
Whatever his reasons behind going underground at the very time Bitcoin was gaining exposure, Satoshi Nakamoto’s last public posts offer a tantalizing glimpse into his mindset at the time and perhaps why he would quit the project just four short months later.