the dark web

silk road – the largest online black marketplace in the world – has been shut down.

read an article from sydney morning herald here

this is something that many people said was virtually impossible – the way the infrastructure of silk road works seemed to be practically impenetrable, untraceable, and yet somehow, someway, the FBI have found a way to shut it down. while it may be the end of silk road specifically, this is definitely not the last we’ve seen of the dark web. where there is a demand, supply comes. somebody will pop up and fill the void that has been left by the breakdown of silk road. now that people have gotten used to the idea of an online marketplace for buying their illegal substances I doubt people would be eager to go back to meeting in dark alleyways, trecking to far off suburbs, constantly looking over their shoulders… and to be perfectly honest, the way the site was constructed (it was completely functional and efficient for many years) was practically ingenious. the founder Dread Pirate Roberts (just look at this dudes name, this is one badass guy) kept his real identity secret for years thanks to the anonymity of the web, known merely as the faceless person (or persons – they couldn’t even pin point whether it was a person or a group who was behind silk road) who started this gigantic operation.

my point is…silk road is definitely a relevant example of many of the things we have looked at in network media. online footprint or identity, databases, small-world networks, hubs… so in an attempt to pay my respects to one of the biggest events in the history of the internet (I’m not exaggerating) I am going to breakdown how silk road relates to a couple of the key concepts of the course-

technology and culture:
silk road is a fantastic example of how changing technology affects our culture today. silk road revolutionised the trafficking of black-market substances. since the introduction of such a technology which allows users to gain access (easily) to drugs from across the globe it has changed both the quality and variety of drugs consumers have access to. users are no longer limited to what they have access to in their personal networks- you can import pure columbian blow, marijuana of the finest grade, everything, anything you can think of. now that this change has occurred, I don’t think drug culture is going to go back to the way it was.

hubs & links
silk road discouraged sales taking place outside of the network or without going through the ‘hub’. within the ‘hub’ of silk road there were many sections and links out to smaller distributors. categorised into sections according to type of substance, the site then branches out into specific products.

shifting technologies – make it and they will come
silk road is constructed to mimic an ‘ebay’ or ‘amazon’ online marketplace type of format. it has taken an existing idea – a vast online marketplace – and directing it towards an un-targeted sector of the market. the idea of having an online marketplace is not a new thing. using it to deal drugs and guns is.

you can be anonymous online but there is no such thing as total anonymity
while dread pirate roberts kept his identity secret for a very long time, he was eventually caught. it proves that maybe total anonymity is not achievable. and maybe anonymity is not a good thing. I know friends who have used the site and had numerous things delivered to their addresses under different names (incase their package was seized at customs, so they could deny it was theirs) but I doubt authorities – if they were to seriously chase up every person who has ordered something from the site – would be fooled by a fake name. they have a postal address and no doubt a way of accessing an IP address from which the drugs were ordered… they can most certainly prove that it was you who ordered the gram of cocaine and not John Doe (to be fair, they’d use a name more subtle than John Doe). 

why now?
I can remember the example of Vine and a few other applications being brought up a while ago. why were these successful when the same thing has been introduced years earlier and failed miserably. would silk road have been so successful if it had been introduced, say, ten years ago? and now that it has been destroyed, what will be the new thing to pop up and take its place?

it’s an interesting thought that silk road wasn’t as indestructible as everybody seemed to think it is… but I doubt we’ve seen the end of online marketplaces such as this one…

here’s another example of a site that functions on the silk road mentality- atlantis (which shut down a week before silk road did, but boy did they have some interesting and unsubtle advertising campaigns!)

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