In case you hadn’t heard by now, Ross Ulbricht, AKA “Dread Pirate Roberts,” signed up for a Twitter account and made his first few tweets. His mother had created a Change.org petition asking for clemency for Ulbricht that quickly surged from 23,000 to more than 26,000 signatures after he joined.
Ross Ulbricht’s arrest and conviction of operating the Bitcoin-enabled Dark Web marketplace Silk Road sparked the online #FreeRoss movement, which protested irregularities in the Silk Road case and accused the justice system of handing out overly harsh sentences for those convicted of nonviolent crimes. By the time law enforcement authorities caught up with Ulbricht in 2013, user of Silk Road were doing $1.2 billion in business annually, about 70% of it illegal and all of it in Bitcoin before Bitcoin became “cool”. This made Silk Road a major factor in Bitcoin’s unfortunate association with illegal activities like the illegal drug trade.
His defense and supporters argue that Silk Road was intended to protect personal choice regarding which products consumers buy and use, an argument that the justice system did not buy despite the fact that most people can legally buy a gun (with a license) and opioids (with a prescription), and also have the right to take out loans that they cannot afford to pay back – all things that have destroyed people’s lives. Ulbricht is currently serving two life sentences in jail for operating a platform that enabled the buying and selling of substances that the government recognizes as harmful even while the government largely ignores the destruction caused by perfectly legal products.
Centralization Was A Weakness
One of Silk Road’s issues was that it was largely controlled by a small team and, thus, was relatively easy to kill once the government chose to exert itself and Ulbricht made the mistake of accessing it from a public library’s Wi-Fi. Newer efforts like OpenBazaar aren’t exactly Dark Web marketplaces, but seem to have learned some lessons from Silk Road. First, they are decentralized, which makes them difficult for law enforcement agencies to censor. If law enforcement wants to track down a seller who is peddling something illegal, they can’t ask for account information on a central server like they would with eBay. They would have to track down the exact computer that the seller is using.
Second, OpenBazaar issues a legal disclaimer putting more of the responsibility of ensuring the legality of listed products back on the sellers. Essentially, OpenBazaar can’t stop sellers from listing psychedelic mushrooms, but neither will it take a metaphorical bullet for sellers who get caught.
And here’s the kicker: Law enforcement will find it more difficult to punish innocent buyers and sellers for the actions of the guilty by seizing the platform they’ve been using. Things like OpenBazaar, Parkgene (P2P parking space rental), Arcade City (ride sharing), and CryptoBnB will still exist even if someone was dishonest. It will be more difficult for enforcers of regulations and city codes to prove that you’re not just picking up a friend at the airport or letting your friend flop in the spare room for a couple of days.
So basically, Ulbricht failed to look out for his own cybersecurity and missed the entire point of decentralization. Does he deserve two life sentences for this? Unlikely. Did he make mistakes? Yes.
Ulbricht’s Strong Start on Social Media
Ulbricht’s first tweet thanked his supporters for sticking with him through failed appeals and his current plea for a pardon from President Trump. He apparently cannot see replies on Twitter, but they do get forwarded to him by family members. It should also be noted that Ulbricht is incapable of giving away ETH, so Twitter users should avoid sending their crypto to the scam “giveaways” that have plagued Crypto-Twitter recently.
He currently has about 11.5K followers, which is pretty good for a new Twitter user. This is a likely boost to his morale, but the fight to #FreeRoss continues and is likely to continue until (hopefully) he receives a pardon.