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The	
  Virtualisa-on	
  of	
  the	
  
Marginal	
  
Does	
  moving	
  online	
  make	
  illegal	
  drug	
  
access	
  more	...
Overview	
  
•  What	
  is	
  Silk	
  Road	
  and	
  what	
  is	
  our	
  research	
  ques-on(s)?	
  
•  Method:	
  unstru...
What	
  is	
  Silk	
  Road?	
  
•  Online	
  drug	
  market	
  place	
  operated	
  from	
  
February,	
  2011	
  to	
  1	...
What	
  is	
  Silk	
  Road?	
  
•  Es-mated	
  sales	
  revenue	
  of	
  9.5	
  million	
  bitcoins	
  
(approx	
  USD1.2	...
The	
  research	
  ques+on	
  
How	
  does	
  online	
  purchasing	
  of	
  drugs	
  in	
  an	
  unregulated	
  
environme...
OTR	
  interview	
  
• 
• 
• 
• 

Encrypted	
  online	
  interviewing.	
  
Instant	
  messaging	
  using	
  Jabber.	
  
De...
Life	
  history	
  diagram	
  
•  Annota-ng	
  trajectories	
  of	
  drug	
  use,	
  purchase,	
  silk	
  
road	
  access,...
Ethics	
  
•  Designing	
  research	
  for	
  the	
  dynamic	
  
environment	
  of	
  the	
  Darknet.	
  
•  Ethics	
  app...
Recruitment	
  
•  Establishing	
  research	
  credibility	
  amongst	
  a	
  
suspicious	
  research	
  popula-on	
  who	...
Closing	
  reflec-ons	
  
•  Preliminary	
  impression:	
  	
  Yes,	
  anonymous	
  
purchasing	
  in	
  a	
  choice-­‐base...
Closing	
  reflec-ons	
  
•  Purchasing	
  in	
  this	
  environment	
  appears	
  to	
  be	
  
linked	
  to	
  an	
  ini-a...
Possible	
  research	
  leads	
  
•  Self-­‐direc-on:	
  par-cipants	
  are	
  ac-ng	
  autonomously	
  or	
  
in	
  peer	...
Acknowledgements	
  
•  The	
  par-cipants	
  have	
  given	
  generously	
  of	
  their	
  
-me	
  and	
  experience.	
  ...
The virtualisation of the marginal: does moving online make illegal drug access more comfortable?
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The virtualisation of the marginal: does moving online make illegal drug access more comfortable?

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Buying drugs online was the first e-commerce conducted through the Internet; one might say that online drug transactions were part of the inception of the Internet itself. This paper presents research into the impact upon perceptions of risk and availability of illegal drug purchase through the online drug marketplace Silk Road.
Silk Road is reputation-based trading system similar to that of Amazon or eBay, however the main products for sale are illegal drugs. To purchase drugs through Silk Road, buyers learn technical skills to access the DarkNet through TOR, trade with the crypto-currency Bitcoin and employ several techniques to hide their identities. These practices blend these buyers with Hacker and cryptographic cultures, but are they the same? The main question this paper seeks to explore is when and how does an online drug marketplace become ‘normal’ and comfortable for participants?
Twenty online interviews will be conducted with buyers on Silk Road through encrypted, anonymous and synchronous text chat. A life history interview approach will be taken to provide a contextual understanding of participants’ experiences of buying illegal drugs, both online and offline over time. Thematic analysis will be conducted through NVivo to identify participants’ perspectives and experiences towards perceived risk and sense of comfort in the environment.
For users of Silk Road, this space and technical practice appears to be about risk management and anonymity when obtaining illegal drugs. However, even in the DarkNet, this marketplace is set up within the context of an online community with a forum and a technical space founded on the anarcho-libertarian philosophy of Agorism. This raises the questions as to how the users of Silk Road perceive their engagement with this online space that is both marketplace and an underground forum of people with shared values and technically anonymous identities.

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The virtualisation of the marginal: does moving online make illegal drug access more comfortable?

  1. 1. The  Virtualisa-on  of  the   Marginal   Does  moving  online  make  illegal  drug   access  more  comfortable?     A  study  of  drug  purchasing  on  the  Silk   Road  (v1.0)   Alexia  Maddox,  Na-onal  Drug  Research  Ins-tute,  Cur-n  University   MaKhew  Allen,  School  of  Communica-on  and  Crea-ve  Arts,  Deakin  University   Monica  BarraK,  Na-onal  Drug  Research  Ins-tute,  Cur-n  University   Simon  Lenton,  Na-onal  Drug  Research  Ins-tute,  Cur-n  University  
  2. 2. Overview   •  What  is  Silk  Road  and  what  is  our  research  ques-on(s)?   •  Method:  unstructured  IM  interviewing  using  OTR  and   life  history  diagram.   •  Ethics:  dealing  with  upheavals  in  the  dynamic   environment  of  the  Darknet.   •  Recruitment:  Research  credibility  and  where  to  place   the  call  for  par-cipants?   •  Data  collec-on:  6  interviews  conducted,  20-­‐25   intended.   •  Closing  thoughts  and  research  leads  
  3. 3. What  is  Silk  Road?   •  Online  drug  market  place  operated  from   February,  2011  to  1  Oct,  2013.    June  2011   Gawker  ar-cle  thrust  into  limelight*.   •  Operated  ‘outside  of  legal  jurisdic-ons’  through   the  Darknet  and  was  one  of  several  such   marketplaces.     •  Works  like  ebay**,  with  a  recommenda-on   system.   •  The  environment  is  socially  regulated  and  has   community  discussion  forums  that  are  ac-ve  and   cohesive.  
  4. 4. What  is  Silk  Road?   •  Es-mated  sales  revenue  of  9.5  million  bitcoins   (approx  USD1.2  billion).   •  The  tech  founder,  DPR,  has  been  arrested  but   vendors  and  customers  have  moved  to  other   market  places  and  the  SR  v1.0  moderators  are   sebng  up  a  new  Silk  Road  (v2.0).  
  5. 5. The  research  ques+on   How  does  online  purchasing  of  drugs  in  an  unregulated   environment  (choice-­‐driven)  affect  the  rela-onship   between  drug  purchase  and  consump-on?  
  6. 6. OTR  interview   •  •  •  •  Encrypted  online  interviewing.   Instant  messaging  using  Jabber.   Dealing  with  anonymity.   Does  it  gather  valid  data?   •  Member  checks   •  Building  trust  and  using  humour   •  Use  of  -meline  for  connec-ons  between   events    
  7. 7. Life  history  diagram   •  Annota-ng  trajectories  of  drug  use,  purchase,  silk   road  access,  life  -meline,  online  purchasing   prac-ces  and  internet  use.   •  Used  to  assist  inves-ga-ng  connec-ons  in   par-cipant  experiences  during  the  unstructured   interview.   •  Helps  when  the  narra-ve  is  not  inherently   chronological  and  events  and  experiences  are  not   reported  within  the  tech  or  personal  contexts.  
  8. 8. Ethics   •  Designing  research  for  the  dynamic   environment  of  the  Darknet.   •  Ethics  approval  gained.   •  Pilot  interviews  launched.   •  Silk  Road  v1.0  was  taken  down  with  the  arrest   of  DPR  on  1October  2013.   •  Ethics  amendments  and  recruitment  launch.   •  Focus  of  research  beyond  Silk  Road.  
  9. 9. Recruitment   •  Establishing  research  credibility  amongst  a   suspicious  research  popula-on  who  wants  to   get  their  message  out.   •  Being  visible  and  findable  while  your   popula-on  remains  anonymous.   •  Establish(ing)  an  interac-ve  self  in  the   environment.   •  Figuring  out  where  to  recruit  (Why  did  we   seKled  on  reddit).  
  10. 10. Closing  reflec-ons   •  Preliminary  impression:    Yes,  anonymous   purchasing  in  a  choice-­‐based,  online  environment   is  preferred.       •  For  par-cipants  it  is  felt  to:   –   be  less  risky  than  street  purchase;     –  decrease  drug-­‐related  violence;  and   –  augment  social  supply.   •  Opera-ng  in  the  Darknet  requires  tech  and   research  skills  and  is  not  likely  to  appeal  to  most.  
  11. 11. Closing  reflec-ons   •  Purchasing  in  this  environment  appears  to  be   linked  to  an  ini-al  increase  in  drug  use.   •  But  does  not  appear  to  lead  to  further  personal   harm  when  seen  in  context  of  life  trajectory  and   changes  in  focus.   •  Harm  reduc-on  appears  to  occur  through:   –  Gaining  experience  in  drug  use;     –  learning  life-­‐lessons  and  changes  in  focus;  and   –  drawing  on  ac-ve  online  community  discussion  and   support  surrounding  drug  use.      
  12. 12. Possible  research  leads   •  Self-­‐direc-on:  par-cipants  are  ac-ng  autonomously  or   in  peer  groups.   •  Mis-­‐direc-on:  through  Tor  &  iden-ty  concealment  and   strategies  for  receiving  illicit  drugs  in  the  post*.   •  Test  kits  and  community-­‐driven  purity  tests  of  vendors,   for  example  the  ‘LSD  Avengers’**.   •  Par-cipants  show  a  libertarian  approach  to   informa-on  and  drugs.     •   Ideas  I  am  hearing:  ‘We  live  in  a  surveillance  state,   trust  no  one,  be  anonymous  and  ‘do  no  harm’.  
  13. 13. Acknowledgements   •  The  par-cipants  have  given  generously  of  their   -me  and  experience.    This  research  would  not  be   possible  without  them.    We  are  grateful  to  them.   •  We  are  grateful  to  the  moderators  and  readers  of   the  Silk  Road  subreddit  for  allowing  us  to  post   and  engaging  with  our  call  for  par-cipa-on.   •  The  long  term  researcher  presence  and   community  engagement  of  Monica  BarraK  has   made  this  research  credible  with  this  popula-on.   •  This  research  is  funded  internally  by  NDRI,  Cur-n   University.  

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