The Network Structure of Opioid Distribution on a Darknet Cryptomarket
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The current study is the first to examine the network structure of an encrypted online drug distribution network. It examines (1) the global network structure, (2) the local network structure, and (3) identifies those vendor characteristics that best explain variation in the network structure. In doing so, it evaluates the role of trust in online drug markets.
The study draws on a unique dataset of transaction level data from an encrypted online drug market. Structural measures and community detection analysis are used to characterize and investigate the network structure. Exponential random graph modeling is used to evaluate which vendor characteristics explain variation in purchasing patterns.
Vendors’ trustworthiness explains more variation in the overall network structure than the affordability of vendor products or the diversity of vendor product listings. This results in a highly localized network structure with a few key vendors accounting for most transactions.
The results indicate that vendors’ trustworthiness is a better predictor of vendor selection than product diversity or affordability. These results illuminate the internal market dynamics that sustain digital drug markets and highlight the importance of examining how new anonymizing technologies shape global drug distribution networks.
KeywordsDrug distribution Online drug markets Social networks Trust Tor network
We would like to thank Benjamin Gilbert for assistance in data coding, and David Melamed for helpful methodological suggestions.
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