In 2011, the Silk Road was made open to the public as the first darknet market, and unlike the markets today, the user-base described the community as a family of like-minded individuals. Users all around the world met up with more in common than the desire to buy drugs. Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the original Silk Road, created the market with a goal in mind; he wanted a “monumental shift in the power structure of the world,” he tells forbes.
Dread Pirate Roberts articulated libertarian political motives for his ventures. Previous research argues that there is a significant political component present or involved in cryptomarket drug dealing which is specifically libertarian.
With the Silk Road long gone and DPR serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the entire focus of marketplaces and forums on the deepweb has shifted away from what it once was. I’m not trying to assert that the darknet markets were ever just a movement or a place for people to oppose the law in a new way. Vendors were always trying to make money. Nobody would have contributed if it was simply a political statement. What I’m trying to put forth is that the Silk Road was a financially viable marketplace that was created with personal liberties in mind.
Researcher Reddit user, Gwern, linked to an insightful read on how the times are changing in terms of libertarianism and the deepweb. There was an objective way of going about analyzing this information as well. A program was used that scanned various deepweb websites for terms that would be related to libertarianism and political freedom. Here’s an excerpt detailing what was done.
The analysis is based on crawls of cryptomarket forums conducted between October 2013 and March 2015 which contains posts dating back to 2011. 2.6 million forum posts were extracted from five cryptomarket forums: Silk Road, Silk Road 2.0, Evolution Marketplace, Agora Marketplace, and Black Market Reloaded. The omni-forum, a forum where users can discuss multiple marketplaces, The Hub was further included. The five market forums were chosen as they represent some of the largest platforms for discussions of cryptomarkets and have operated for extended periods of time. We included The Hub as it is the only omni- forum located on the dark web. These crawls contain a large proportion of what has been written on cryptomarket forums from 2011 to 2015 as the economy generally has centered on these markets (see Soska and Christin, 2015) and should therefore be considered as representative of the cryptomarket discursive order. March 17th was chosen as a cut-off point being the last date where more than 2 of the studied sites were operational as Evolution Marketplace absconded with user funds.(Source)
The sites were crawled, pulling specific words and phrases and running them in context to see if they are applicable to the libertarian movement that so much of Silk Road was full of.
After processing, our dataset consisted of a vocabulary of 16,133 terms represented in 417,491 documents, each containing at least 10 unique terms from the vocabulary
The existence of Silk Road almost directly correlates with the political discussion and movement that was part of the backbone that spawned many of the marketplaces we know now. Their results show almost exactly that.
The results are shown in Figure 4 wherein we observe a trend towards a higher prevalence of libertarian discourse from 2011 to the end of 2013. In the end of 2013, when Silk Road was seized, we observe an abrupt downward change in the prevalence of libertarian discourse.
After the fall of the original Silk Road, many markets have risen to take the place it held, but the libertarian movement that sparked a new age of online marketplaces never returned. There’s arguments on whether or not this is a good thing for the future of the darknet markets, or if this will cause their demise. Someone mentioned that less politics will lead to more efficient and resilient marketplaces, encouraging them to be run more like a legitimate business. Others argue that the lack of political motivation doesn’t change anything because it never mattered anyway.
You can read more about the study done on deepweb politics here: “Mixing politics and crime–the prevalence and decline of political discourse on the cryptomarket”
And if you don’t know much about the tales of the Silk Road, here is a well put together timeline that does a great job at explaining everything: Silk Road Timeline