My partner has recently been holding a curious fascination with what is known as the dark web. In turn, I delved into the available information in the ‘safe’ internet we all are familiar with, also known as the clear web. The more I had read, the more I wanted to know about it. The internet we know comprises of only 4% of all web pages – 96% resides in the dark web. Think of that unsettling iceberg metaphor – most of it you can’t even see. And the services provided on the dark web range from the subjectively illegal such as drug trafficking, to the downright morally abhorrent such as human experimentation, child pornography, and torture.
Silk Road by Eileen Ormsby details the rise and fall of one of the more tame sections of the dark web; encrypted online drug vending. It explains how another critical invention – the purely digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin – allowed Silk Road, the first of it’s kind, to flourish into the ‘eBay of Drugs’ with a dedicated fan base that may have come for the safer drug purchases, but stayed for the libertarian revolution, helmed by the infamous online persona Dread Pirate Roberts.
This was a great read, primarily because the author held a very level and informative tone about the overall drug trafficking trade that didn’t slip into a manic fever, like the majority of columnists and television news reporters so often do. And there was good reason to not wear the loud critic’s hat, because against the mainstream media’s expectations, Silk Road actually flourished into a civil online community with helpful advice on overcoming addiction, safe use of drugs, and the site even had a resident qualified doctor to answer user questions for free (or very small voluntary donations).
However, nothing lasts forever, and the combined efforts of the LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) scouring for human mistakes, the big-time scammers misusing customer trust, and the crippling hacking events, had all played a part in the original movement’s downfall.
The supposed capture of the enigmatic Dread Pirate Roberts, the man behind it all, accelerated the site’s demise. But in a world centred on anonymity, is the man the police captured so easily the same man that was so very careful and paranoid online?
Ormsby, Silk Road’s community, and I all have our doubts. Hence, the book doesn’t really reach a satisfying conclusion, because it seems to suggest that the Silk Road story is far from over. But the inclusions of interviews and quotes from people who were a part of the community, and letters from Dread Pirate Roberts himself, all make for Silk Road to be a great insight into a world few know about and fewer visit themselves.
Check it out for yourself here.