When Silk Road Founder Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison two years ago, it was designed to send a message to others aiming to set up an illegal drug marketplace on the dark web. But according to new research covered by Wired, making an example of Ulbricht hasn’t served as a deterrent for others.
According to the report in Wired, citing a study that is being published in the upcoming issue of British Journal of Criminology, Boston College sociologist Isak Ladegaard offers up quantitative evidence that the drug trade on the dark web actually saw a pick-up in sales when the Silk Road founder was sentenced to life in prison.
Beginning in 2014, the researcher used a homegrown software tool to troll what, at the time, was the biggest Silk Road-type dark web drug marketplace to get sales data. Focusing on a ten-month window after the sentencing, the researcher found a big uptick in sales.
“The timing suggests that people weren’t discouraged from buying and selling drugs,” says Ladegaard in an interview with Wired. “The data suggests that trade increased. And one likely explanation is that all the media coverage only made people more aware of the existence of the Silk Road and similar markets.”
The researcher pulled sales listings and customer feedback from Agora, the biggest drug market at the time, and found that sales more than doubled in the days after the sentencing — jumping from less than $40,000 a day to more than $100,000 daily over the course of just two weeks. International sales went from $100,000 to $250,000 each day.
While Ladegaard said the results can’t be definitively explained, he did say the sales uptick came as the media coverage of Silk Road increased. During the ten-month analysis, he collected 310 articles about the Silk Road and dark web drug sites.
That research could play a role in the type of sentences judges mete out for computer crimes, mainly in those crimes where it’s hard to get caught and when there is publicity it sparks copycats, noted the report. When Silk Road’s servers were seized by the FBI in late 2013, there were about 12,000 listings for illegal drugs. Now Alphabay, which is the largest dark web, has more than 300,000 listings, with 240,000 for drugs alone.