Dorian Nakamoto Wants To Sue Newsweek -- But It Seems Unlikely To Succeed And Could Cause More Problems For Him

from the freedom-of-the-press-isn't-always-pretty dept

As you may recall, earlier this year, Newsweek "relaunched" with a cover story by reporter Leah McGrath Goodman claiming to have unmasked the real creator of Bitcoin. Bitcoin was created by someone (or some people) using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, but no one knew who it really was, and over the past few years Nakamoto had more or less disappeared from the Bitcoin scene. Newsweek claimed that Nakamoto was really a person named Satoshi Nakamoto, who actually goes by the name Dorian Nakamoto. The article was weakly sourced, heavy on speculation and based its key arguments on some really clueless assumptions. The most ridiculous parts involved the "forensic analysis" that Newsweek supposedly relied on in identifying Nakamoto. Specifically, this "forensic analyst" looked at the original Bitcoin paper and noted what she said were "old-school technological tropes" -- specifically, discussions about saving disk space, mentioning Moore's Law, and the use of two spaces after a period. This, according to Newsweek, pointed to a much older engineer:
"The idea of conserving any kind of resources, and this is part of my formation, my long background in systems testing, that was a critical issue. But those are very very old-time concerns," she said. "To even mention disk space, things like that — disk space is cheap! And Moore's Law is an old maxim that computing power will double. We've gone exponentially away from Moore's law, but that was what it was all about in that interim period."
Except that while disk space is cheap, the size of the Bitcoin blockchain is a big deal since the whole basis of Bitcoin relies on an ever growing blockchain, and if you didn't figure out ways to minimize the need to redownload the entire blockchain, it would create a massive problem for Bitcoin. The concerns about space weren't archaic at all, but right on point. As for the claim that "we've gone exponentially away from Moore's law"? I mean, that's just flat out wrong.

Either way, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that Dorian Nakamoto wasn't Satoshi Nakamoto -- though Newsweek (bizarrely) still stands by its story. The latest, however is that Dorian Nakamoto has launched a crowdfunding effort to sue Newsweek on a website called NewsweekLied (and for those wondering, Nakamoto's lawyer has confirmed the page is legit).

I sympathize with Nakamoto, having his life shaken up by a shoddy reporting job, plucking him out of obscurity and incorrectly naming him as the creator of Bitcoin. But... I have a lot of trouble seeing how any lawsuit could possibly make sense. In fact, it seems likely that any lawsuit could actually make things worse for Dorian Nakamoto. From the details on the website, it appears that they're likely to use a combination of false light and defamation claims. Both would be pretty difficult to prove, though false light is perhaps a lower bar in this case. The real problem, though, is that most of what is in the article could be considered to reflect positively on Nakamoto, rather than negatively. Claiming he was a secret, if eccentric, creator of a global cryptographic currency phenomenon? Even if it's false (as it appears to be), how would that be "highly offensive to a reasonable person" as required under California law?

As for a defamation claim, they probably wouldn't have to show "actual malice" since Nakamoto wasn't a public figure (though, potentially Newsweek would argue that the Nakamoto they thought they were identifying was a public figure, and thus the higher bar should apply), but they would still have to show the harm to Nakamoto's reputation, leading to the same problem as the false light issue.

Also, Nakamoto's lawyers would likely have to show that Newsweek knew the story was wrong (which doesn't appear to be the case) or that it was "negligent" in reporting the story. While I think we agree that Newsweek was sloppy and there was just generally bad reporting and bad conclusions involved, to reach the level of negligence is not easy.

And here's where it gets even more difficult for Nakamoto. As we've discussed many times in the past, California (thankfully!) has a strong anti-SLAPP law that protects publishers from being sued in an attempt to silence their reporting on issues of public interest. We're big fans of California's anti-SLAPP laws and you'd have to imagine that Newsweek would seek to be protected under that law. And, the bigger issue for Nakamoto is that under California's anti-SLAPP law, if Newsweek were to win, it can go after Nakamoto for its legal fees. And, the law actually would allow Newsweek to go even further, and file a SLAPPback lawsuit, to seek compensatory and punitive damages (though, that might be a longshot for Newsweek).

As ridiculous as the original article was, and as sympathetic as I may be to Dorian Nakamoto's situation, it's difficult to see how his lawsuit has much of a chance. Conceivably, there could be other claims made, or additional evidence that Nakamoto's lawyers think they have on Newsweek, but it seems like a massive longshot and a situation that could potentially create more legal headaches for Nakamoto than it solves.

Filed Under: anti-slapp, bitcoin, california, defamation, dorian nakamoto, false light, inventor, leah mcgrath goodman, satoshi nakamoto, slapp
Companies: newsweek


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 10:58am

    Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

    Anyone who has ever played with LaTeX will tell you that it requires you to use two spaces after a period to delimit a sentence.

    Computer science and mathematics people often write papers in LaTeX.

    Ergo, two spaces after a period point to someone who ofter writes papers in LaTeX, therefore, it points to someone in the computer science or mathematics fields, irregardless of their age.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Kal Zekdor (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 1:02pm

      Re: Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

      https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/irregardless#Usage_notes
      Although well attested, this term is widely regarded as a nonstandard and incorrect. Its use is discouraged by many speakers, who consider it inappropriate in virtually any formal setting, except quoted dialog.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 2:37pm

      Re: Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

      It's not just a LaTeX thing. In grade school (well before LaTeX existed), I was taught that you always follow a full stop with two spaces, without exception. I still tend to do this in my formal writing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Eldakka (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 7:59pm

        Re: Re: Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

        In grade school (well before LaTeX existed)
        LaTex was released in 1984. Therefore if you were in grade school before 1984, that sorta proves the argument doesn't it that using 2 periods after a space is an indicator of someone not being young, say 40+?

        While I agree with this article stating that using/knowing about using 2 spaces after a period isn't a good indication of age, your comment has basically reinforced the argument that it is a good indicator of age ;)

        Also, 2 spaces are still sorta used after a period. With proportional fonts, the size of the space between the period and next letter is automatically set by the font, the actual measurement may be in fact equivalent to 2 spaces (even tho as it's only registered as 1 space). If you enter 2 spaces into a WYSIWYG editor (word and whatever other word processors are around today), or 1 space, or 5 spaces, it'll automatically adjust the distance between the period and the letter to what is defined in the font definition. Therefore you don't have to manually add any spaces at all if you don't want to. If you use a mono-spaced font (or a plain text editor like notepad or what have you) tho then you might have to enter the number of spaces you want.

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        • icon
          Roger Strong (profile), 15 Oct 2014 @ 7:47am

          Re: Re: Re: Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

          Two spaces is what I was taught in school. It has nothing to do with LaTeX or any other computer technology.

          I just tried it using Word 2007 and Word 2013. Both kept the two spaces. Granted, at some point I will have turned off "automatic bulleted lists" and other annoyances.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 15 Oct 2014 @ 8:08am

          Re: Re: Re: Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

          Yes, I wasn't disputing the age argument, but just saying that the two-space thing isn't from LaTeX.

          Also, I note that my very modern phone inserts a period whenever I type two spaces in a row.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 9:04pm

        Re: Re: Two spaces after a period == LaTeX

        It's not just a LaTeX thing.

        No, it's not. I've been doing this ever since starting using emacs. Then again, I may have learned this behaviour from LaTeX at the same time I was learning emacs. Whatever, ESC-q to reformat a paragraph leaves two spaces between sentences.

        ... To my chagrin. I recently learned this's been driving one of my friends nuts, because recent webbish developments transmute those two spaces into $something_else when rendered by HTML-ish/webbish interfaces. I can't imagine why it's bothering, but $kids_these_days. Meh.

        I really hate it when computers/software try to tell me I'm doing something wrong, when I know it's doing it wrong based on its shallow assumption of "what's right." !@#$ off! Computers are supposed to do what we tell them to do (barring obviously (standards incompliant) ignorant assumptions on our part), not the other way around.

        Hmm. Why am I thinking of e. e. cummings right now?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:03am

    True Names

    The idea that someone seeking to hide their identity would keep their last name the same seems the biggest stretch.

    And not in a "crazy like a fox" way, since it'd inevitably lead to people looking closer at you anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:06am

    the lawsuit's biggest weakness

    I feel for Nakamoto, but there is a mountain of evidence to support the defendant in such a lawsuit. For him to win, they would have to have known that what they were reporting was false and done so with malice. Newsweek has too well of a consistent, established history of journalistic incompetence. The only way Newsweek could surprise its readership is for a reporter to write an article without abject cluelessness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:38am

      Re: the lawsuit's biggest weakness

      For him to win, they would have to have known that what they were reporting was false and done so with malice.

      Again, as stated in the article, I'm not sure "actual malice" standard applies, since he wasn't a public figure. Though, they could argue that Satoshi was a public figure... But still...

      Newsweek has too well of a consistent, established history of journalistic incompetence.

      Except this is Newsweek in name only. This was the relaunch of an entirely new publication. Same in name only.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Eldakka (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 8:05pm

        Re: Re: the lawsuit's biggest weakness

        Though, they could argue that Satoshi was a public figure... But still...
        To me this doesn't make sense.

        The AUTHOR of Bitcoin MAY be a public figure, but Satoshi is saying he's not the author. If HE's not the author, then HE isn't a public figure. Wouldn't Newsweek have to prove that Satoshi is a public figure, and to do that wouldn't they have to prove (at least to a standard of on the balance of probabilities test) that he is the author?

        It seems nonsensical to me to have a party claim that a second party is a public figure, and it then being up to said 2nd party to prove they aren't. How do you prove a negative? Surely the claiming party would have to prove that the 2nd party is a public figure?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mark Gisleson (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:17am

    Newsweek should be held up to ridicule on this

    It's deeply offensive they have not withdrawn their allegation and publicly apologized. Nakamoto may not have the law on his side, but with crowdfunding he could embarrass Newsweek and I suspect that's his intent.

    The less the American media bothers to investigate and report real scandals, the harder they should be slapped for sloppy work that serves no point other than to serve up some mild titillation to their geekier readers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:30am

    I'm siding with Nakamoto on this one. Newsweek's shady practice of pushing a story, and disrupting a person's life, is inexcusable.

    The first time.

    However, Newsweek ran with the story again, making the situation more complicated than it is for Nakamoto, who probably was thankful the publicity finally waned and the public took away knowing he wasn't the creator.

    I'm disappointed Techdirt is only taking pity on the guy, when they've released a "dirt" article on how pathetic CBS for pushing a person who is actively lying about their life story.

    If there's going to be a push against CBS for this crap, then there should be a push against Newsweek for doing the exact same thing, only this time, without a willing participant.

    I don't expect Newsweek to "lose by paying millions", but it should, on the front page, publicly apologize for screwing with this individual based on "facts".

    Imagine, just for a second, if "Bitcoin" was replaced with "pedophile".

    Would the position Newsweek has still be justified?

    Highly doubt it, and this is no different.

    Newsweek failed Nakamoto and the public. They should be forced to own up to it, and it seems this is only possible through the court proceedings potentially about to happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 14 Oct 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Yeah, about that old-school math

    "And Moore's Law is an old maxim that computing power will double. We've gone exponentially away from Moore's law [...]"

    Would this be a good time to point out that Moore's Law IS exponential?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sorrykb (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 2:13pm

      Re: Yeah, about that old-school math

      Would that mean that overall processing power is now approaching (but will never quite reach) zero?

      Also, two spaces after a period. Forever. Even though I know it's going to be "corrected" in this comment. (And furthermore, sentence fragments. Verbs overrated.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 14 Oct 2014 @ 12:26pm

    One thing is for sure...

    If he WAS the creator of bitcoin, he could afford to sue them for a very long time. Heck, he could buy them just to put them out of business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 5:43pm

    Newsweek as far as he's concerned is lying, I'm not sure about anyone else but If a made up story about me got out, and messes with my personal life, I'd probably go after the asshole that created the issue and would not hold back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 15 Oct 2014 @ 3:46am

      Re:

      Newsweek as far as he's concerned is lying, I'm not sure about anyone else but If a made up story about me got out, and messes with my personal life, I'd probably go after the asshole that created the issue and would not hold back.

      Sure, but just because you're angry and it sucks, it doesn't mean there's a legal remedy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 6:01pm

    I don't understand why who created it is even a thing. What difference does it make? All this just seems to be trying to paint the creator as having done "something wrong" and the "guilty" must be unmasked.

    I'm sensing more than a little ulterior motive in all this. It's a little surprising that TD itself hasn't picked up on this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 14 Oct 2014 @ 9:20pm

    Also, thank you bitcoin community for supporting the guy.

    I think it's very cool that bitcoiners dumped a bunch of cash on him personally (not toward the lawsuit costs). They saw he's an innocent casualty unrelated to their agenda, and they stepped up to help out. Good on ya, guys. Decent of you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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