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After Silk Road's demise, online drug dealing moves to new sites

After Silk Road's demise, online drug dealing moves to new sites


Can one of these three digital black markets step in for the fallen billion-dollar empire?

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Sheep Marketplace Online Drugs (STOCK)
Sheep Marketplace Online Drugs (STOCK)

Patrons of the Silk Road, by far the largest online marketplace for buying illegal drugs, were understandably alarmed when the FBI seized and shut down the site earlier this week. The black market's customers were concerned about the money they had stored on the site in the virtual currency Bitcoin — and worried the feds would come after them next. And they were panicking about something else: where to buy drugs now.

"FUUUCKKK," a user named PsychedelicSphere wrote on the Silk Road forums, which are still operating. "I shoulda stocked up on LSD and DMT."

Users like PsychedelicSphere will be relieved to know that Silk Road's drug scene is already reassembling. At least three virtual markets, operating much the way Silk Road did, are picking up the pieces. Vendors and buyers are registering with the same names on the new sites, ready to continue business.

"I shoulda stocked up on LSD and DMT."

Black Market Reloaded, regarded as a Silk Road without morals, has the most drug listings with 3,567. (Silk Road had almost 13,000 at the time it closed.) Silk Road had terms of use that prohibited the sale of guns or child pornography (although some of those sales happened anyway). But on Black Market Reloaded, it's an explicitly-sanctioned free-for-all. Users complain about slowness, however, and it was hard to reach the site today. It also got a poor review from Forbes' Andy Greenberg, whose .5 grams of marijuana never arrived.

Deepbay is a newer market that has been advertising heavily in the wake of Silk Road's demise, slashing fees to 3 percent. It doesn't have many listings, but it does have a Twitter account that lists its Tor address and sends spammy tweets linking to random YouTube videos. Sheep Marketplace has more listings — 1,407 in the "drugs" category — and may be a sleeper favorite. However, it has lots of duplicate listings and little reputation, which made some users wary.

Vendors are also advertising their direct contact information for users who need an immediate fix. Some buyers have gone looking for their favorite vendors, posting threads asking about them by name.

At least three Silk Road clones are picking up the pieces

Deepbay, Sheep Marketplace, and Black Market Reloaded all require the use of hard-to-trace virtual currency Bitcoin and conceal themselves within the anonymizing Tor network. But as we now know, those security precautions didn't protect Silk Road from old-fashioned police work. The site was seized by the feds and a man alleged to be its pseudonymous owner, Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested and charged with a slew of serious crimes, including murder-for-hire, in New York and Maryland.

Cryptography and Tor relays also won't protect users from being scammed by these marketplaces, which is what may have happened to customers of Atlantis Market. Atlantis was growing fast until it shut down mysteriously and absconded with customer deposits a little over a week before the Silk Road bust.

In spite of all this, Silk Road users seem ready to continue their illicit drug trade. Those advising caution are a small minority. "SR gets busted and everybody is thinking about where they're going to buy their drugs next. Ya'll are crazy. lay low," wrote user eyedeaaa in a poll asking Silk Roaders where they're headed next. The next response, from user laplace: "Fuck that shit."

The Silk Road community has a sense of righteousness

There is a sense of righteousness among the Silk Road community that echoes some of the grandiose statements made by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who claimed the drug war was over and the internet had won. Users justified the existence of Silk Road as a libertarian utopia, where society doesn't impose morals on the market. Others said the purity of drugs on Silk Road reduces the number of deaths from impure street drugs.

One Silk Road moderator, Libertas, posted a long, heartfelt letter to the community urging them to go on. "We have the power to fight these agents of oppression, to fight the governments that task them with that oppression, and with the fires that Silk Road has stoked in our hearts and minds we must do just that," he wrote. "No doubt we will all regroup elsewhere, and I look forward to seeing all of you again, still free and still engaging in free trade without government interference into your personal affairs."