A new study conducted by a law professor and a professor of criminal science outlines that dark net markets, Silk Road in particular may be breeding a new kind of geekier, less violent drug dealer. The paper (which can be seen here) argues that by reducing physical contact between drug dealers (particularly between dealers and their suppliers), Silk Road’s drug trade may have prevented bloodshed that would have occurred in the street-level illegal drug market.
Before it was shut down by the FBI in October, Silk Road was the go-to place for people looking to anonymously buy drugs and other illegal contraband online. Since its demise, dozens of other hidden markets have appeared with Agora and Silk Road being the most popular.
“This new breed of drug dealer is likely to be relatively free from the violence typically associated with traditional drug markets,” reads the paper, the title of which calls Silk Road “a paradigm-shifting criminal innovation.”
“Whereas violence [in the traditional drug trade] was commonly used to gain market share, protect turfs and resolve conflicts , the virtual location and anonymity that the cryptomarket provides reduces or eliminates the need – or even the ability – to resort to violence”.
“In the drugs cryptomarket era,” the paper adds, “having good customer service and writing skills…may be more important than muscles and face-to-face connections.”
The study is still being reviewed for publication by a journal, which they declined to name.
The paper doesn’t actually contain statistics to back up their argument.
But instead, it uses slightly convoluted logic based on assumptions about the source of violence in the drug world.
Using a crawler, Aldridge and Decary-Hetu managed to scrape Silk Road in September 2013, just before it was shut down.
The collected the data from all feedback and reviews from venfor profiles.
This provided a good insight into the past transactions on the site, including their frequency and size.
From the data collected, they discovered that the average transaction price was quite high which implies that a large number of buyers were not necessarily consumers, but could have been dealers buying wholesale.
So based on the findings of larger transactions, this leads the professors to believe that bloodshed would have been reduced compared to the same transactions that would have occurred in person.
Silk Road has previously been described as an eBay for drugs, so this study looks at the site from a completely different angle.
Aldridge and Decary-Hetu say their data shows a vast portion of the Silk Road’s sales were “business-to-business.”
That finding moves the market’s role farther up the drug market supply chain than was previously thought, they argue, placing it closer to the cartel-controlled drug producers behind much of the trade’s violence.
And since the study argues the traders on both sides of a Silk Road deal were often drug dealers, the researchers claim Silk Road’s business-to-business deals mean twice as many opportunities for violence were prevented.
This of course assumes that transactions between drug dealers and their suppliers lead to dangerous conflicts more often than transactions between dealers and their customers.
But Aldridge argues you don’t have to swallow that premise to take her larger point about how the Silk Road model reduces violence: Virtual drug deals don’t allow for physical attacks.
“People who don’t meet face to face can’t hit each other or shoot each other,” she says.
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