The intensifying civil war between the pro and anti block size increase camps has escalated to a new level following a posting by one of the preeminent Bitcoin subreddit moderators.
Theymos, also the head administrator on Bitcointalk, is by far the longest serving moderator on the Bitcoin subreddit (4 years). He and three other mods have full permissions, allowing them to moderate content, approve/ban users from the subreddit and grant permissions to other mods.
Theymos says he was on vacation when the acrimony broke out this past weekend. As debate over Bitcoin XT intensified, moderators began removing posts on the topic, even those that were popular with a high number of upvotes. A fellow mod asserted at the time that Theymos’ position is that “bitcoin-xt is an alt-coin, indistinguishable from dogecoin or litecoin.” In a thorough and firmly worded post, theymos now makes this clear in no uncertain terms:
“/r/Bitcoin exists to serve Bitcoin. XT will, if/when its hardfork is activated, diverge from Bitcoin and create a separate network/currency. Therefore, it and services that support it should not be allowed on /r/Bitcoin.”
Lack of progress on the debate of increasing Bitcoin’s block size had motivated the pro camp to launch a fork of Bitcoin Core, called “Bitcoin XT”. It caters toward future increases in block size, subject to future adoption by 75% of the mining network. Proponents say the changes are necessary for Bitcoin’s future usability. Opponents say the change may be detrimental and that there may be better solutions. Significantly, they disapprove of the “forced solution” implemented without their approval.
The crisis, shaping up to be one of the worst in Bitcoin’s adventurous history, underscores the challenges inherent with systems seeking high levels of decentralization.
Theymos’ message is a “stickied” post on top of the subreddit, a feature only available to those with privileged access on the forum. Such postings carry the same priority as others pinned on top on a continuous basis, such as those dealing with the forum’s rules. Thus, it is not susceptible to falling in rank by virtue of downvoting, no matter how unpopular it is.
Currently, the post has a total score of 0, and is only 27% upvoted. It has attracted 635 comments. It is titled, “It’s time for a break: About the recent mess & temporary new rules.”
Will the real Bitcoin please step forward?
One of the premises for Theymos’ argument is that the current definition of Bitcoin is Bitcoin as it exists today. If it changes, then it is no longer Bitcoin. He concedes that this may change in the future:
“In the extremely unlikely event that the vast majority of the Bitcoin economy switches to XT and there is a strong perception that XT is the true Bitcoin, then the situation will flip and we should allow only submissions related to XT. In that case, the definition of “Bitcoin” will have changed. It doesn’t make sense to support two incompatible networks/currencies — there’s only one Bitcoin, and /r/Bitcoin serves only Bitcoin.”
Opposing views point out that the notion of Bitcoin XT being an alternative currency is absurd. Litecoin or Dogecoin are altcoins since they are completely different schemes. While Bitcoin XT- if it would indeed “hard fork”- may in fact continue as a separate blockchain, the changing of a few attributes shouldn’t render it another coin. Furthermore, they point to other recent changes to the protocol, which have not been uncontroversial, but yet did not render the currency as non-Bitcoin.
Theymos points to a posting, apparently originating from Satoshi Nakamoto’s e-mail, supporting his argument. It is unclear if Satoshi was indeed the author, especially considering last year’s reported events with his e-mail. It seemingly contravenes the claims made by Mike Hearn and others that Satoshi’s original vision supported future block size increases as they envision. The poster writes:
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“I have been following the recent block size debates through the mailing list. I had hoped the debate would resolve and that a fork proposal would achieve widespread consensus. However with the formal release of Bitcoin XT 0.11A, this looks unlikely to happen, and so I am forced to share my concerns about this very dangerous fork.
“The developers of this pretender-Bitcoin claim to be following my original vision, but nothing could be further from the truth. When I designed Bitcoin, I designed it in such a way as to make future modifications to the consensus rules difficult without near unanimous agreement. Bitcoin was designed to be protected from the influence of charismatic leaders, even if their name is Gavin Andresen, Barack Obama, or Satoshi Nakamoto. Nearly everyone has to agree on a change, and they have to do it without being forced or pressured into it. By doing a fork in this way, these developers are violating the “original vision” they claim to honour.”
The most divisive aspect of theymos’ posting is the apparent imposition of temporary “emergency law” on the Bitcoin subreddit:
“In particular, posts about anything especially emotionally-charged will be deleted unless they introduce some very substantial new ideas about the subject. This includes the max block size debate (any side) and /r/Bitcoin moderation. Also, people are continuously spamming links to inferior clones of /r/Bitcoin and the XT subreddit — these links will be removed and the posters banned unless the links are remarkably appropriate for the given situation. When this sticky is removed, the rules will return to what they were previously.
“It is possible that some people have been or will be banned too readily due to the increased moderation. If this happens to you, mail /r/Bitcoin with a justification of your actions, then wait 2 days and mail again if there’s no satisfactory response, then wait 4 days, then 8, 16, 32, etc. If your mail to /r/Bitcoin is too high-volume, we may block all further mail from you, which will make it impossible for your to appeal your ban.”
Here, we have the age-old question of freedom versus anarchy, stability versus control, playing out on the forum once envisioned to reflect Bitcoin’s apparent ideal of a democratic and decentralized system. Theymos argues that the approach taken to the hard fork thus far wasn’t so democratic. “This isn’t some democratic country where you can always get your way with sufficient politicking. Get consensus, live without the change, or create your own altcoin,” he writes.
He later takes it a step further, implying a belief that there are better systems of governance than democracy. “You might reasonably believe that democracy is the best we can do in government (though I disagree), but it’s not the best we can do with private and independent forums on the free market.”
Thus, he puts his foot down, possibly instigating the exodus of the majority of the subreddit’s users, and extending the split in Bitcoin’s code and blockchain to the online discussion channels:
“Do not violate our rules just because you disagree with them. This will get you banned from /r/Bitcoin, and evading this ban will get you (and maybe your IP) banned from Reddit entirely.
“If 90% of /r/Bitcoin users find these policies to be intolerable, then I want these 90% of /r/Bitcoin users to leave. Both /r/Bitcoin and these people will be happier for it. I do not want these people to make threads breaking the rules, demanding change, asking for upvotes, making personal attacks against moderators, etc. Without some real argument, you’re not going to convince anyone with any brains — you’re just wasting your time and ours. The temporary rules against blocksize and moderation discussion are in part designed to encourage people who should leave /r/Bitcoin to actually do so so that /r/Bitcoin can get back to the business of discussing Bitcoin news in peace.”
The crisis has increased calls for the strengthening and migration to alternative discussion forums, such as Voat and new Bitcoin subreddits. During another crisis last month on other popular subreddits, users flocked to Voat, whose stated mission is ‘no censorship’. Moderators had locked down the subreddits in protest of a reddit employee being let go.
Like during the weekend’s uproar, calls for mods to resign continue to pour in; the edicts by theymos have intensified calls specifically for his ouster. Even those opposed to Bitcoin XT have expressed shock and disapproval over the apparently radical censorship of the forum. Some have mockingly hailed theymos as the new “king of Bitcoin.”
A few supporters have expressed support for the mod for maintaining “law and order” on the forum and for ensuring only “peaceful” discussion ensues. Severely downvoted, they have pleaded with fellow users not to use downvoting to “manipulate” the discussion.