December 15, 2013 10:14 PM UTC

More Than Half of Americans Have no Clue What Bitcoin is

Most Americans are confused about Bitcoin.

A few days ago, Bloomberg conducted a random telephone survey of Americans (through Selzer & Co. Research), asking them to correctly define and identify Bitcoin. Unsurprisingly, only 42% of Americans knew that Bitcoin is a virtual currency. Furthermore, many of those who knew about Bitcoin still weren’t sure about how it can be used.

Take Olga Ruff, for instance. Ruff is a 62 year old woman from Dallas, Texas who knows the definition of Bitcoin. But beyond that, she’s really unsure of what to make of the whole Bitcoin scene.

“I’m not sure what the value of it is, and what I’d be able to exchange it for…What use would it be for me?”

Ruff is the owner of a small jewellery business, and is unlikely to begin accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment.

Another respondent, Jeremy Labadie, is a 32 year old from New York. Labadie works in Internet security, and is familiar with Bitcoin. However,

“I don’t necessarily know if it’s something I would think about using to make purchases.”

Labadie and Ruff represent some of the most knowledgeable about Bitcoin. Many others were completely clueless. Amusingly, 6% of respondents thought that Bitcoin was an Xbox game while another 6% thought that it was an iOS app.

No, Patrick. Bitcoin is not an instrument. Litecoin is not an instrument either.

It’s really not all that surprising that most Americans don’t know or understand Bitcoin. The virtual currency has only recently become a hot topic in mainstream news. Furthermore, most Bitcoin-related news in mainstream media is overwhelmingly negative as it focuses on crime such as the Silk Road shutdown. As a result, most who have heard of Bitcoin think of it as an illegal money-laundering/ponzi/pyramid scheme.

For instance, 62 year old John Berg from Minnesota heard about Bitcoin through crime news.

“There was someone who was using it for something illegal, and it took the FBI a long time to sort it out.”

Most of those who did know what Bitcoin was said that they favoured regulation. Younger Americans, those under the age of 35, were most likely to know what Bitcoin was and favour an unregulated currency. It’s clear that Bitcoin still has a long way to go before it becomes widely accepted in everyday transactions, and such a lack of public knowledge of the currency certainly doesn’t help.

Neil Sardesai @neilsardesai

I enjoy keeping up with the latest stuff in science and technology and have been following Bitcoin for a few years now. I also occasionally post cool stuff on twitter.