Ross Ulbricht: Is Silk Road CEO An Internet Pioneer Or Criminal Mastermind?

Ross Ulbricht

Ross Ulbricht, CEO of the now-defunct Silk Road website, has been sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. He was convicted on seven charges, including distributing narcotics over the internet, money laundering, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, and conspiracies related to those crimes.

But who is Ulbricht really? Some are calling him a pioneer of the dark web while others say he’s a destructive criminal mastermind who deserves to spend his life in jail.

As the Guardian reports, Ulbricht, or “Dread Pirate Roberts” as he was known on the site, “controlled and oversaw every aspect of Silk Road, and managed a staff of paid, online administrators and computer programmers.”

Ross became a very rich man off of the site, amassing commissions of more than $13 million from Silk Road sales.

“He was the poster boy [of the dark net] with Silk Road, because he had the most romantic nickname, Dread Pirate Roberts, and so everyone focused on him, including the FBI,” said Dr Simon Moores, head of the International ECrime Congress. “He was foolishly provocative, and that is a big mistake to make in a democracy like the US.”

Silk Road was a marketplace for illegal substances, best known for selling drugs. Based on some of the arguments for and against Ulbricht, opinions on the verdict are linked to whether you believe the site was helping drug users by allowing them to purchase illegal substance in the safety of their homes or capitalizing on addiction.

“Make no mistake,” said Manhattan State Attorney Preet Bharara. “Ulbricht was a drug dealer and criminal profiteer who exploited people’s addictions.”

But Tim Bingham, a researcher specializing in drug harm reduction, disagrees.

“The site created a place where people who chose to purchase drugs could do so without the risk of street-based violence and reducing the risk of harm to the end user [with] quality control and accountability features.”

According to Endgadget, Bingham spent two years engaging and analyzing discussions among drug buyers on Silk Road’s forums. He found an entire forum dedicated to helping people reduce their drug use.

“It was a very active thread,” he said. “There were people supporting each other through the process. As opposed to other sites on the main web, people felt safer here.”

The site also wasn’t all about selling illegal narcotics. Bingham says there were people with mental health issues looking for help in those forums on Silk Road. It was a safe place they could go to without having to deal with the stigma of addiction.

“In the current environment of drug prohibition this sentence will not halt the continued growth of both the clear web and dark web online drugs markets,” said Bingham. “If the sentence is intended to serve as a warning to others, I don’t envisage it will have much of an effect.”

Ross Ulbricht is 31 right now and will probably spend the rest of his life in prison, wondering whether it was all worth it.

[Image via Freeross.org]