The Dark and Murky Waters of the Deep Wide Web

We all know that old saying, only 10% of an iceberg floats above sea level, while the other 90% swims beneath the water, hidden to the naked eye. It’s the kind of encouragement you give to your friend after they had a bad date. However, this metaphor happens to apply perfectly to the world wide web that we surf everyday. Facebook, email, even porn only scratches the surface of the capabilities that the internet holds. The Deep Web is the undocumented and uncatalogued portions of the net that don’t show up on normal search engines. Within the Deep Web are Dark Nets, which are private networks that usually part of sketchy dealings.

Dark Nets have often been associated with criminal acts, from buying that fake ID you used throughout college, to organizing a contracted killing. Last month, panic rippled through the Deep Web community when Evolution, one of the most consistent online drug markets to date, mysteriously froze all vendor and buyer accounts, where many stored their Bitcoins (a completely digital curency that is very hard to trace). Many assume that the site’s two admins, "Kimble" and "Verto," who also happen to be known for their activity in fraud and identity theft and had a lax attitude towards its sale on the site, took the site down and stole all of the stored Bitcoins, an estimated worth of $12 million. However, Dark Nets aren’t all tales of organized crime and and Oceans 11 style heists.

Today is a big day in the history of the Deep Web as Ross Ulbricht, founder of one the most successful, though now collapsed online drug markets, the Silk Road, has been sentenced to life in prison for dealing narcotics, hacking and conspiracy. The Silk Road was one of the first of its kind, providing easy access to any kind of drug imaginable. The site worked much like Amazon, with vendors offering their wares to buyers, who used Bitcoin to buy whatever they like. Buyers received their packages in the mail, and could go back to rate vendors based on the quality of the product.

This system worked like clockwork until the FBI shut the site down in 2013. Prosecutors explicitly stated that they wanted Ulbricht to serve a much longer sentence than what is usually given, so that other online drug markets are sent a message about what happens when they are caught. However, Ulbricht has made the point that the Silk Road made drug purchasing far safer, with vendors being held accountable for bad drugs via their store ratings, and removed the chance for physical violence that often happens during off line drug deals. The Silk Road turned into a representation of a reasonable, safe and efficient drug market.

The Deep Web is a fascinating place. For the average Joe, it’s the quickest and easiest access to the dark underbelly of the criminal world. And yet, there are the glimmers of radical and working systems of commerce for illegal substances, where only the best products rise to the top. Even so, the most commonly purchased drug on most online black markets was weed, a drug thats legalization has become a reality in many places already. The unregulated nature of the Deep Web keeps many suspicious and on their toes, but there’s still a lot of potential to be seen with the responsible and drug friendly community. For now, you’ll have to keep texting your sketchy dealer for weed.

Photo by Damien Hirst

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