By Jon Matonis
Friday, June 29, 2012
In their annual donation drive to attain $29.5 million for 2012, the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and its largest project, Wikipedia, will accept donations in four of the 12 ‘Enemies of the Internet’
currencies. Far from bastions of liberty, these are regimes noted for
their egregious censorship and systematic repression of Internet users
– Bahrain, China, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. Of course, it’s great to
get donations from the suffering and violated netizens of those regimes.
But just don’t try to donate safely in bitcoin — it’s not accepted.
Here’s a list of notable organizations that accept bitcoin donations and Wikimedia is mysteriously absent. Following the disappointing example last year from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Wikimedia specifically excludes donations in bitcoin and explains it with this odd statement:
does the Wikimedia Foundation not currently accept Bitcoin? The
Wikimedia Foundation, as a donor-driven organization, has a fiduciary
duty to be responsible and prudent with its money. This has been
interpreted to mean that we do not accept ‘artificial’ currencies – that
is, those not backed by the full faith and credit of an issuing
government. We do, however, strive to provide as many methods of
donating as possible and continue to monitor Bitcoin with interest and
may revisit this position should circumstances change.”
It is not a breach of fiduciary duty
to accept near-frictionless bitcoin instead of funneling 3% or more to
the PayPal-credit card oligarchy. That is just a silly statement because
cryptocurrency donations are far more efficient than dealing with
payment processors and physical in-kind donations. Donations are
distinctly different than regular consumer purchases and it behooves the
non-profit organization to provide flexibility to donors and to
maximize fundraising efforts.
Also, let’s look at some of those issuing governments that provide their full faith and credit
as backing for “non-artificial” currencies that Wikimedia Foundation is
so pleased to accept. I realize that to a certain extent currencies do
not have a morality. However, political Statist currencies that are
underwritten by repressive regimes and then further manipulated by the
regime’s corrupt monetary authority would at least carry some stigma
when donated to an entity that depends on Internet freedom.
decentralized nonpolitical ‘real’ bitcoin would appear to be the least
tainted of the bunch, Jimmy. Bitcoin is immune to the political
pressures faced by PayPal, VISA, and Mastercard during the infamous Wikileaks payment blockade. Given that Wikipedia ‘blacked out’
on January 18, 2012 in ardent opposition to SOPA and PIPA, bitcoin
would also appear to be amazingly aligned with objectives for a free and
In their Internet Enemies Report 2012,
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders details some of the countries (I
mean… issuing governments) that pose the gravest threat to basic
Internet freedom through their aggressive deployment of online
surveillance and content filtering:
“offers a perfect example of successful crackdowns with an information
blackout achieved through an impressive arsenal of repressive measures:
exclusion of the foreign media, harassment of human rights defenders,
arrests of bloggers and netizens (one of whom died behind bars),
prosecutions and defamation campaigns against free expression activists,
disruption of communications.”
China perhaps may
have the most sophisticated online censorship and surveillance system
in the world. “The soaring expansion of the ‘Participative Web’ and
related impact on social and political debates are making it harder each
day for Chinese censors to do their job. Harsher controls and
crackdowns on netizens and their online tools have been symptomatic of
the regime’s increasing concern over potential fallouts from Arab Spring
and the Internet and social networks’ role as sounding boards.”
with harsh censorship and intolerant of criticism, “did everything
possible to dissuade the population from supporting the Arab
revolutionary movement. Its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on
the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to
stifle all political and social protests.”
is aware that they cannot impose complete control over the news and
authorities are afraid of an increasingly connected population. “The
regime’s attention is focused on the Arab world and its protest
movements. Paranoid authorities have stepped up repression and control
to stave off any possibility of a regime collapse, favoring surveillance
over increased filtering. Bloggers have been the target of a new wave
There you have it. The Bahraini dinar, Chinese yuan, Saudi riyal, and Vietnamese dong are all acceptable
to Wikimedia as currencies backed by the full faith and credit of their
governments! Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are two other declared enemies
of the Internet but Wikimedia allows them to select Russian rubles as
the donation payment currency.
In the slightly less offensive “countries under surveillance”
category, selected entries represent the following donation currencies
acceptable to Wikimedia: Egyptian pound, Indian rupee, Kazakhstani
tenge, Malaysian ringgit, Russian ruble, South Korean won, Sri Lankan
rupee, Thai baht, Turkish lira, and United Arab Emirates dirham.
Shining a spotlight on repressive Internet cultures points out that it may be only a matter of time until freedom of payment to politically incorrect
causes is threatened as well. Moreover, it might become extremely
dangerous for some of those citizens to be personally attached to a
traceable Wikimedia credit card donation. Accepting anonymous bitcoin in
addition to political currencies can be a way of declaring that freedom
of speech still does matter. Sensibly, the New York City chapter of Wikimedia rejects the party line and is accepting bitcoin donations for its local outreach programs.
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