Silk Road 2.0 has launched, and is totally legit - honest guv, it is

A new Dread Pirate Roberts has emerged, resurrecting a clone of the old Silk Road - but not necessarily its trustworthiness, yet

The Dread Pirate Roberts can never die, only the actors who play him. Say hello to Silk Road 2.0, run by a new DPR, launched on the deep web and offering all the delicious (and mostly illegal) drugs and contraband you could want.

The original Silk Road was shut down in October, with its alleged owner and operator - Ross Ulbricht - arrested. He’s currently in New York, awaiting trial, but since the site's closure there were claims that a group of Silk Road administrators had the site's source code and were going to re-launch it. Mashable scooped an interview with the new DPR:

We don't know this person's real name, location, age, gender or that there aren't multiple people behind the digital black mask. The new Dread Pirate Roberts could be anyone. The new Silk Road could be a well-orchestrated scam; the new Dread Pirate Roberts could be the old Dread Pirate Roberts, though he or she insists that's not the case.

...

Roberts himself is presumed to have been an active member of the original Silk Road. Based on his forum posts and our private communications, the new Roberts matches his predecessor in portraying Silk Road as a sort of libertarian utopia rather than a black market in the darkest corner of the web. He also has the same flare for symbolism.

He certainly does. Here's one of several similarly braggadoccio tweets he's been sending over the last few days:

Functionally, the site is almost identical to the first Silk Road. You need Tor to access it, purchases are made with bitcoins, and vendors list their wares for buyers to choose from in the same way with the site taking a small percentage cut of the money that trades hands. At least 170 vendors from the last site have confirmed their identities via encrypted messages to the new DPR and set up shop so far, with more expected.

Of course, nobody knows who the new DPR is, and considering the fallout from the last Silk Road's closure is still ongoing - with arrests of vendors in the US and Europe and the complete destruction of the trust that gave traders and buyers confidence to use the site - it is worth questioning the wisdom of setting up a duplicate.

Or, of trusting an unknown not to make the basic mistakes that Ulbricht is accused of having made in setting up the first Silk Road. It's hard to tell if that whiff in the air is weed or snake oil.

However, regardless of Silk Road 2.0's success or failure (or similarly, for competitors like Sheep Marketplace and Black Market Reloaded) it's obvious that law enforcement bodies are going to have to a problem keeping on top of absolutely everything on the deep web, black market-wise. As US Senator Tom Carper - the chairmain of the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, no less - has said, on hearing of Silk Road 2.0's launch:

This new website - launched barely a month after Federal agents shut down the original Silk Road - underscores the inescapable reality that technology is dynamic and ever-evolving and that government policy needs to adapt accordingly. Rather than play ‘whack-a-mole’ with the latest website, currency, or other method criminals are using in an effort to evade the law, we need to develop thoughtful, nimble and sensible federal policies that protect the public without stifling innovation and economic growth. Our committee intends to have that conversation – among others - at our hearing this month on virtual currency.

We've speculated that the closure of Silk Road made Bitcoin stronger before by breaking its link with the dark web and forcing governments to take it seriously as a commodity-slash-currency, and it looks like that's exactly what's happening. And, if you haven't been watching, the price of a bitcoin broke $300 for the first time this week. Things are looking frothy again for the digital currency.

Christmas comes early for customers of the dark web. (Photo: Getty)

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Clickbaiting terror: what it’s like to write viral news after a tragedy

Does the viral news cycle callously capitalise on terrorism, or is it allowing a different audience to access important news and facts?

On a normal day, Alex* will write anywhere between five to ten articles. As a content creator for a large viral news site, they [Alex is speaking under the condition of strict anonymity, meaning their gender will remain unidentified] will churn out multiple 500-word stories on adorable animals, optical illusions, and sex. “People always want to read about sexuality, numbers of sexual partners, porn habits and orgasms,” says Alex. “What is important is making the content easily-digestible and engaging.”

Alex is so proficient at knowing which articles will perform well that they frequently “seek stories that fit a certain template”. Though the word “clickbait” conjures up images of cute cat capers, Alex says political stories that “pander to prejudices” generate a large number of page views for the site. Many viral writers know how to tap into such stories so their takes are shared widely – which explains the remarkably similar headlines atop many internet articles. “This will restore your faith in humanity,” could be one; “This one weird trick will change your life…” another. The most cliché example of this is now so widely mocked that it has fallen out of favour:

You’ll never believe what happened next.

When the world stops because of a tragedy, viral newsrooms don’t. After a terrorist attack such as this week’s Manchester Arena bombing, internet media sites do away with their usual stories. One day, their homepages will be filled with traditional clickbait (“Mum Sickened After Discovery Inside Her Daughter’s Easter Egg”, “This Man’s Blackhead Removal Technique Is A Complete And Utter Gamechanger”) and the next, their clickbait has taken a remarkably more tragic tone (“New Footage Shows Moment Explosion Took Place Inside Manchester Arena”, “Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and More React to the Manchester Bombing”).

“When a terrorist event occurs, there’s an initial vacuum for viral news,” explains Alex. Instead of getting reporters on the scene or ringing press officers like a traditional newsroom, Alex says viral news is “conversation-driven” – meaning much of it regurgitates what is said on social media. This can lead to false stories spreading. On Tuesday, multiple viral outlets reported – based on Facebook posts and tweets – that over 50 accompanied children had been led to a nearby Holiday Inn. When BuzzFeed attempted to verify this, a spokesperson for the hotel chain denied the claim.

Yet BuzzFeed is the perfect proof that viral news and serious news can coexist under the same roof. Originally famed for its clickable content, the website is now home to a serious and prominent team of investigative journalists. Yet the site has different journalists on different beats, so that someone writes about politics and someone else about lifestyle or food.

Other organisations have a different approach. Sam* works at another large viral site (not Buzzfeed) where they are responsible for writing across topics; they explains how this works:  

“One minute you're doing something about a tweet a footballer did, the next it's the trailer for a new movie, and then bam, there's a general election being called and you have to jump on it,” they say.

Yet Sam is confident that they cover tragedy correctly. Though they feel viral news previously used to disingenuously “profiteer” off terrorism with loosely related image posts, they say their current outlet works hard to cover tragic news. “It’s not a race to generate traffic,” they say, “We won't post content that we think would generate traffic while people are grieving and in a state of shock, and we're not going to clickbait the headlines to try and manipulate it into that for obvious reasons.”

Sam goes as far as to say that their viral site in fact has higher editorial standards than “some of the big papers”. Those who might find themselves disturbed to see today’s explosions alongside yesterday’s cats will do well to remember that “traditional” journalists do not always have a great reputation for covering tragedy.

At 12pm on Tuesday, Daniel Hett tweeted that over 50 journalists had contacted him since he had posted on the site that his brother, Martyn, was missing after the Manchester attack. Hett claimed two journalists had found his personal mobile phone number, and he uploaded an image of a note a Telegraph reporter had posted through his letterbox. “This cunt found my house. I still don't know if my brother is alive,” read the accompanying caption. Tragically it turned out that Martyn was among the bomber's victims.

Long-established newspapers and magazines can clearly behave just as poorly as any newly formed media company. But although they might not always follow the rules, traditional newspapers do have them. Many writers for viral news sites have no formal ethical or journalistic training, with little guidance provided by their companies, which can cause problems when tragic news breaks.

It remains to be seen whether self-policing will be enough. Though false news has been spread, many of this week’s terror-focused viral news stories do shed light on missing people or raise awareness of how people can donate blood. Many viral news sites also have gigantic Facebook followings that far outstrip those of daily newspapers – meaning they can reach more people. In this way, Sam feels their work is important. Alex, however, is less optimistic.

“My personal view is that viral news does very little to inform people at times like this and that trending reporters probably end up feeling very small about their jobs,” says Alex. “You feel limited by the scope of your flippant style and by what the public is interested in.

“You can end up feeding the most divisive impulses of an angry public if you aren’t careful about what conversations you’re prompting. People switch onto the news around events like this and traffic rises, but ironically it’s probably when trending reporters go most into their shells and into well-worn story formats. It’s not really our time or place, and to try and make it so feels childish.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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