The value of cryptocurrencies across the board skyrocketed last year due to speculative investing, and it feels as though early attempts to position digital money as a populist and democratic alternative to traditional finance are falling apart at the seams. But cryptocurrency has always been about the rich getting richer. In 2013, for example, WIRED posited that Bitcoin could become the great equalizer in helping the homeless.

Only a few months later, the same writer would claim that “homeless men wish they’d gone hungry instead of spending Bitcoins.” The article describes the homeless “scrounging” for Bitcoin via services that award coins for things like watching ads. The brutal sadness of the article can only truly be realized in one quote: “They’re still using Bitcoin Tapper, a mobile app that doles out a tiny fraction of a bitcoin if you spent hours tapping on a digital icon over and over again.” The beautiful dream of Bitcoin equality, apparently, was that the homeless can be reduced to mashing a button repeatedly in the hopes of obtaining a sliver of an income.

Appealing to the homeless in problematic ways to boost the perceived altruism of Bitcoin is not relegated to this one article. In 2017, a story about a homeless man panhandling 0.35842588 BTC ($800 in May 2017—now over $3,000 as of writing) made the rounds in the Bitcoin community.

His wallet address’ last transaction was in August 2017. He may be dead.

He may be well. We’ll likely never know. Read more from…

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