Bitcoin Price: Study Reveals How Social Media Shaped Cryptocurrency's Rise

It's not the bots. 

by James Dennin

Bitcoin prices and social media sentiment are closely linked, but it’s the infrequent posters who actually end up influencing the cryptocurrency’s highs and lows, according to a new study of early forum posts and Tweets. According to the findings, rare posters had up to ten times the impact of their power-using counterparts.

The reason why may have to do with how people interpret bias, the paper’s lead author tells Inverse. The matter still needs further study, but early cryptocurrency investors may have been more biased than the later investors who piled on during last year’s climb. That meant their posts simply carried less weight.

“When it comes to bitcoin, this bias effect is much much stronger than traditional financial markets,” says Feng Mai, a professor at Stevens School of Business who led the study. “The early adopters of bitcoin really want to be on the right side of history. They’re more emotionally invested than simply investing in a stock.”

The study analyzed more than two years of forum posts on Bitcointalk, along with 3.4 million Tweets. They then analyzed the posts in terms of content using natural language processing, and factored in the daily market performance of a few other assets like stocks and gold.

What they found was that the infrequent posters actually had up to ten times as much influence on the price of bitcoin than the people who were posting every day, in what may be the first rigorous study teasing out the relationship between bitcoin’s price and the chatter on social media.

“The cryptocurrency market and bitcoin market in particular are less efficient than traditional markets,” Mai says. “Earlier users who really bought into this idea that cryptocurrencies can change the world are less practical and more idealistic, and they are the vocal minority, while the silent majority users are more or less practical.”

This may help explain why bitcoin prices grew more volatile as it went from a fringe topic of discussion on internet forums into the domain of Thanksgiving dinner conversations, Mai says, though that might be changing.

“What looked at earlier stage of bitcoin and we realized it was becoming even more volatile as it moved from the fringe of the internet to even grandmas or grandpas buying it,” he said. “The influence of the social media might not be as strong today as it was in earlier stages.”