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A Snake In The Grass? The Controversy Over Cøbra And Bitcoin.org

By

Alison

Berreman

WriterETHNews.com

Some in the Bitcoin community question bitcoin.org co-owner Cøbra’s ability to ethically manage the website and are calling for the mysterious entity to step down or be ousted. What’s the beef? Is this just more FUD?

In a blockchain ecosystem created by an unidentified developer and lauded for the relative anonymity it provides, one powerful bitcoin actor's trustworthiness is under fire by the community. Cøbra, the co-owner of the bitcoin.org domain, is a long controversial figure in the Bitcoin community. While the community's discomfort with Cøbra's anonymity may at first seem a bit confounding, it's prudent to remember blockchain's central promise: trustlessness.

And therein lies the problem – one that Cøbra just doesn't seem to get.

The Beef

The criticism, in short, is that Cøbra has an oversized influence on the Bitcoin community, especially considering Cøbra's anonymity and seeming instability. For a community so short on trust, it puts a huge amount of faith in a person (or people – it's impossible to know for sure) about whom there are so many unknowns.

Wednesday, another powerful voice in the Bitcoin community, Amaury Séchet (better known as Deadal, or his Twitter handle @deadalnix) posted a provocative tweet linking to a GitHub post calling for Cøbra to either step down or be ousted as co-owner of bitcoin.org (originally registered and owned by Bitcoin's first two developers, Satoshi Nakamoto and Martti Malmi).

There is no reason to believe that the GitHub post author is Séchet, but he certainly seemed enthused at the prospect of Cøbra's ousting, and promptly used his Twitter to promote the message. And, as the lead developer and self-proclaimed "Benevolent Dictator" of Bitcoin ABC, Bitcoin Cash's first full node, he has a big platform. It's also notable that Cøbra and Deadal have had a very public beef in the past. The author of the GitHub post is someone with the handle beyourseff, who seems to be anonymous and posts almost exclusively about bitcoin.org.

Beyourseff claimed to speak on behalf of "a number of individuals within the Bitcoin Core #UASF [user activated soft fork] Slack channel." The author then stated that the community is concerned that Cøbra:

Cobra

Two possible solutions were then laid out:

Cobra

On one hand, beyourseff and (assuming beyourseff is truthful) the Bitcoin Core UASF community raise legitimate concerns. On the other, why did anyone think it was a good idea to centralize control of such an allegedly important outlet to an anonymous, unaccountable actor in the first place? What made him trustworthy before, and what's changed? Furthermore, why should the community trust theymos?

Some Background on Cøbra

Cøbra's often radical views are ever-evolving and frequently stated in bold, definite proclamations, or with a precious sentimentality that creates an impression of rashness.

One redditor posted an apt graphic detailing Cøbra's changing views: 

Cobra

In recent months, Cøbra has expressed clear, albeit nuanced and often critical, support of Bitcoin Cash.


Of course, it's apparent that Cøbra experienced some complicated feelings at points, but their propensity for purism is clear and, as beyourseff pointed out, potentially dangerous. What if Cøbra decides that Bitcoin is as "cancerous" as they once believed Bitcoin Cash to be?

Apart from Cøbra's sometimes extreme takes on Bitcoin Cash, they have represented some other unpopular opinions. Once, in November 2017, Cøbra posted a comment on GitHub calling on the Bitcoin community to rewrite the Satoshi white paper, or to write a whole new document and just "call that the Bitcoin whitepaper." This was obviously an unpopular opinion among immutability purists, but it seems to have been in earnest, and in their mind, a reflection of their allegiance to Satoshi's "true vision" (something Cøbra seems rather preoccupied with). As Cøbra stated in the post, the original white paper is "very easy to misunderstand." 

In February, Cøbra pulled yet another controversial move when they posted a letter calling the Bitcoin community to change its proof-of-work algorithm. The stated intention was to address the blockchain's centralization problem, which has been well acknowledged. However, again, Cøbra was blasted on social media.

Cøbra's Ego

In response to Deadal and beyourseff's attack, Cøbra provided a long-winded, wounded reply.

"Ouch. … . option 2 is a non-starter, I don't trust anyone with that responsibility except @theymos. … There's no way on earth I would transfer the site to random people I don't know or respect."

Cøbra goes on to talk about how only they, and theymos, can be trusted not to be corruptible: "I won't deny I can be erratic at times, but there's a difference between 'difficult to work with' and outright malicious intent."

They go on:

"I'm sorry if I don't call Bitcoin Cash "Bcash", or hate it with a fiery passion (I used too) [sic], or I don't have exactly the same set of opinions as you. But that doesn't mean you can attempt to pressure me into handing over the domain to some random group (of strangers no less!)."

Of course, it would be unfair to expect Cøbra to exactly represent the Bitcoin community and, at least so far, Cøbra does not seem to have used the bitcoin.org as a platform for those beliefs (something Cøbra is quick to point out).

What Cøbra doesn't seem to get is that their continued anonymity and centralized control require an immense amount of community trust. The site does belong to Cøbra, to be fair. However, their ownership was gifted to them by the Bitcoin founders, and Cøbra clearly has the self-image of a purveyor of Satoshi's intention and message, which is quite explicitly decentralization and trustlessness.

Cøbra, of all people, should get this. Instead, Cøbra is defensive of bitcoin.org and wants to protect it against "strangers" who they don't "know or respect" because they cannot trust them to be "incorruptible," and yet they seem to completely miss the fact that to the Bitcoin community, Cøbra is a stranger that has earned little respect and whose corruptibility is under question.

Also, again, why should anyone trust theymos, an almost equally anonymous party? At one time, it was commonly believed that theymos was Michael Marquart, but it is not clear if this is still the case or if he has transferred ownership of the name to someone else. In any case, theymos has been criticized for their outsized influence on the Bitcoin community and their mismanaging of that power. For example, theymos runs both the bitcointalkforum and the /r/bitcoin subreddit, as well as others, and has been widely accused of censorship on those platforms. He has also been accused of mismanaging /r/bitcoin forum donations.

It would seem from all of this that the only party talking any sense is Deadal, with his (albeit maybe unintentionally) apt framing of the issue in communist terms: Cøbra as representative of the out of touch capitalist bourgeoisie, and the UASF Bitcoin community (again, assuming beyourseff is honest) as the insane proletariat mob set to take back what's theirs – ultimately inexplicably okay with replacing one dictator with another.


Revision: A previous version of this article posted a tweet from Cøbra dated April 1 in which they declare support for bitcoin cash. Given that this is April Fool's Day and therefore could have been made in jest, the article has been revised to feature more nuanced tweets from Cøbra about bitcoin cash.

Alison Berreman

Alison is an editor and occasional writer for ETHNews. She has a Master’s in English from the University of Wyoming. She lives in Reno with her spouse and growing animal family. Her favorite things to do include binge listening to podcasts, getting her chuckles via dog memes, and spending as much time outside as possible.

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