As the researchers put it, in the conventional narcotics trade, “violence was commonly used to gain market share, protect turfs and resolve conflicts,” while “the virtual location and anonymity [of] the cryptomarket reduces or eliminates the need — or even the ability — to resort to violence.”
Purchases were anonymized. The use of the mail system and the geographical distance between buyer and seller eliminated territorialism as a factor in the drug trade for Silk Road users, while doing away with the need for risky or potentially-violent face-to-face interactions.
The skills needed to be a successful online dealer differ greatly from the ones dealers need “in real life:” “In the drugs cryptomarket era, having good customer service and writing skills, having a good reputation via ‘feedback’ as a vendor or buyers — may be more important than muscles and face-to-face connections.”
Silk Road involved a lot of high-value drug transactions, which in the real world might be tinged with violence. Although it’s been characterised as “eBay for drugs,” Judith Aldridge of the University of Manchester and David
Décary-Hétu of the University of Montreal found the deep-web marketplace was mainly a big venue for large, “business to business” dealings.
The mean offering price in the top quintile of Ecstasy listings, for instance, was $US3,494. It’s highly unlikely that people spending that much are simply re-upping their personal supply. And 3-4% of Silk Road drug revenue came from the bottom pricing quintile.
While it’s possible that online transactions might reduce the potential for violence in these drug deals, crypto markets are no cure-all. The study only addresses the retail end of the narcotics trade, and as the past decade of violence in Mexico indicates, violent actors dominate the industry’s supply side. Still, cryptomarkets are an innovation the authors think could “fundamentally [change] the drug trade in the decades to come.”
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