The shutdown of illicit dark web marketplaces has been observed to lead to an increase in street trading activity.
Conversely, the creation of new websites serve to replace former darknet markets, and user movement has been seen to take place – vendors and buyers return online as a preferred environment to trade safely.
In fact, according to a May 2020 report by Europol, dark web marketplaces continued to thrive even as the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to paralyze legitimate supply chains.
Dark web observers note the strong connection between street drug trading and activities within dark web marketplaces.
It turns out that while online drug trading seems to have not only disrupted the illicit trade, but also recorded a sharp rise in vendors and customers, the streets have always been a fallback plan to many.
Intersection Between the Streets and Online Platforms
A business review blog shared by the London School of Economics (LSE) reported that law enforcement seizure of darknet markets have always been followed by a significant shift of users from online spaces to the streets.
Within no time, the reverse event happens – the drug traders return online as soon as new dark web markets are created to replace lost ones. The successful movement of buyers and sellers back into online spaces is reported to be the product of trust-building that occurs within various echelons of the illicit drug commerce.
Usually, the criminal activities related to drug dealing, including the distribution and transportation of banned substances, become immensely hampered during law enforcement shutdowns – the process of returning to normalcy is a relatively lengthy process to warrant a return to the street trading alternative.
Importantly, the writer did not detect any impact of dark web-street trading user movement on general criminal statistics in a country – including theft, violence, murders and prostitution. The observation has been made amid widespread knowledge that most of these crimes are related to drug dealer and user strategies to sustain their position within a huge and dynamic market.
The Challenge for Law Enforcement
Arguably, the best way to understand how the streets and online spaces interact is through the lens of retail market theory. A 2011 scientific paper sought to demonstrate the fundamental ideas, with its writers linking the illegal drug networks to legitimate labor markets.
Point is, the traditional employment market is marked with specific challenges as far as job-hunting is concerned. Prospective employees have undergo the painstaking process of scanning through thousands of job listings, and attending interviews to prove their suitability.
On successful employment, the new entrant will do everything in their power to remain relevant in a rapidly changing labor market – they will do everything from seeking constant approval from employers to accessing higher education opportunities to protect their tenure.
The same thing goes for the vendors and sellers within the illicit drug industry. When a dark web drug dealer matches with a seller, they will build a lasting relationship that would survive police operations.
While darknet shutdowns may disrupt such a relationship and force unmatched stakeholders to the streets, it is almost always likely that the buyers and sellers will return online as soon as the coast becomes clear.
Indeed, these findings provide an indication of the law enforcement challenge in crushing the dark web drug trade once and for all. The shutdown of online platforms has been seen to create only short term disruption between the streets and drug dealing websites.
The idea that criminals continue to adapt their methods and supply chain avenues means that the police are going to have a hard time to keep up with user and vendors that seem to have a plethora of alternatives at their disposal.