Study Argues that Online Sales of Illegal Drugs Actually Reduce Violence

Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Ross Ulbricht (photo: Facebook)

Dealing drugs anonymously through the Internet can cut down on violence in a business notorious for homicides, two researchers claim.


The researchers, criminologist David Decary-Hetu of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and law professor Judith Aldridge of the University of Manchester in England, examined the dealings of Silk Road, the successful online drug bazaar that was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last year.


They concluded that by eliminating in-person drug buys and conducting sales through the Web, Silk Road managed to reduce killings and attacks that often characterize back-alley deals.


“This new breed of drug dealer is…likely to be relatively free from the violence typically associated with traditional drug markets,” they wrote in their paper. “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.”


The U.S. Department of Justice would undoubtedly disagree with the authors, given its indictment of alleged Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) on charges of hiring hit men to murder half a dozen individuals. Aldridge, for her part, disputes the government’s case and proposes that the murders either occurred outside of Ulbricht’s Silk Road business or didn’t happen at all, and may have in fact been scams conducted by con artists who posed as hired killers.


Some may also question how Aldridge and Decary-Hetu reached their conclusion, given that they didn’t rely on crime statistics to back up their case.


Wired’s Andy Greenberg noted: “Instead, it [the paper] uses slightly convoluted logic based on assumptions about the source of violence in the drug world.”


In their paper, the researchers said Silk Road was not, as many others had characterized it, an eBay for drugs, servicing low-level deals between sellers and consumers of drugs.


Rather, Silk Road was more of a business-to-business operation that facilitated deals between suppliers. And because these arrangements were conducted anonymously, there was no need for late night meet-ups in abandoned warehouses, which have often turned ugly in the street world of narcotics sales.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Silk Road Reduced Violence in the Drug Trade, Study Argues (by Andy Greenberg, Wired)

Not an 'Ebay for Drugs': The Cryptomarket 'Silk Road' as a Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation (by Judith Aldridge and David Décary-Hétu) (abstract)

Silk Road (Wikipedia)

FBI Arrests Alleged Underground Drug Website Operator in San Francisco Library (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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