On October 2nd, the Internet drug trafficking site Silk Road was shut down and it’s founder Ross William Ulbricht was arrested. The site was an online platform that connected drug dealers with buyers. More recently, the site went beyond narcotics and also became a hub to solicit computer hackers and purchase illegal firearms. In order to remain anonymous on the site, users are instructed to download software called Tor, which conceals their identity by routing their traffic through different computers. The Silk Road is operated under what is known as the “Deep web”. The “Deep Web” consists of websites that cannot be found through normal search engines and can only be accessed through Tor. It is estimated that Ulbricht as made close to $80 million since the conception of the site.
In Suler’s “The Online Disinhibition effect”, he cites six different factors that help to explain to variance in self-disclosure between online and in person activities. I believe there were two factors in play with the Silk Road case. From a user perspective, I believe dissociative anonymity was at work. With software like Tor, in some ways users were able to essentially create a new identity that was completely different from their true personas. Tor gave users the freedom to say and do things that may not normally do because there is no direct connection to their daily lives, in this case that was the buying and selling of drugs.
Similarly, I believe the actions of the creator of the Silk Road were driven by invisibility. While the Silk Road was in operation, Ulbricht participated in an interview with Forbes magazine only under the condition that it was done on his own terms---through the Silk Road. Ulbricht went under the name “Dead Pirate Roberts”. I found it interesting that Ulbricht was so confident in his invisibility to do such a high profile interview, it’s clear that his motivation came from the fact that no one could see him.