New Study Investigates Bitcoin As A Tool Against Financial Censorship – Forbes

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People carry banner during a protest to commemorate one year anniversary of EndSars, a protest … [+] movement against police brutality at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, on October 20, 2021. – Hundreds of youth match to commemorate one year anniversary of Endars protest that rocked the major cities across the country on October 20, 2020. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP) (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images)
After over a decade of existence, bitcoin is still often associated with drug deals, money laundering, and other illicit activities. A new study conducted by Ville Kokkomäki of the Åbo Akademi University in Finland now shows how nonviolent resistance movements are using bitcoin to circumvent state financial censorship.
“Bitcoin enhances personal autonomy and serves as a form of resistance against financial censorship by enabling borderless, censorship-resistant, and permissionless transactions,” the study reads.
As part of Kokkomäki’s master thesis in peace, mediation and conflict research, the study is the first to gather a comprehensive dataset of the use of bitcoin in nonviolent resistance campaigns.
“My first impression when I learned about bitcoin and money was how atrocious and unequal the current monetary system is,” Kokkomäki tells me in an interview. “But there was also hope, because now the people had an alternative.”
Kokkomäki focuses on two cases in particular: The Feminist Coalition, a UK-based NGO which supports the ongoing EndSARS movement in Nigeria, and Canada’s Freedom Convoy, which protested against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. Both campaigns were nonviolent in nature yet faced severe financial censorship on state-level, turning to increased bitcoin fundraising shortly after censorship was evoked.
The Feminist Coalition provides funds for resources, such as food and water as well as medical and legal aid, to EndSARS protesters in Nigeria. EndSARS demands an end to police violence and the disbandment of the Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known for human rights abuses and maltreatment of suspects.
As The Feminist Coalition saw its primary donation account inaccessible and its bank account restricted, the NGO was able to continue to raise funds via bitcoin, amounting to 38.4% of overall donation volume.
Canada’s Freedom Convoy quickly faced a similar fate. As thousands of people gathered in Ottawa for a rally at Parliament Hill in January 2022 blocking the streets with hundreds of vehicles, GoFundMe shut down its services for the campaign and restricted access to the remaining funds, which had collected over $10 Million CAD at the time.
Over 200 bank accounts were frozen following the enactment of the Emergency Act, giving the Canadian government permission to seize funds without a warrant in attempts to contain the protests. With bitcoin, the campaign was still able to receive donations and distribute funds to protesters and organizers, amounting to an overall donation volume of roughly $1 million CAD.
Despite its use to circumvent state financial censorship, Kokkomäki also points towards the cryptocurrency’s shortcomings, particularly highlighting its lack of privacy. “Bitcoin lacks private transactions, which undermines its fungibility, increasing the likelihood of censorship,” the study reads.
“It (bitcoin) needs a holistic approach, focusing not only on the tool but the context in which that tool is used in,” Kokkomäki tells me. “People who really need bitcoin usually do not have the technical know-how and education to safely use bitcoin, so there is a lot to improve socially and politically in these developing economies.”
The study further highlights how the current need for currency exchange presents a choke point through over-the-counter desks or trading platforms, which could be alleviated with broader bitcoin adoption. If bitcoin were to be accepted as a medium of exchange necessities could be purchased with bitcoin directly, eliminating external parties as single points of failure.
“Bitcoin allows users to securely send, receive and store value without reliance on any third party, and without violence, enhances personal autonomy and serves as a form of resistance to financial censorship,” the study concludes. “Policymakers and media outlets should be cautious about overemphasising the connection between cryptoassets and crime.”

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