Silk Road, Part Two: Ross Ulbricht vs. The World

Editor’s Note: Today guest blogger Depaulo Vincent Bariuan completes his two-part series on Silk Road, the online drug emporium just recently taken down by federal authorities. Part One focused on the website’s relationship to the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and its users’ efforts to evade government oversight. Today’s entry looks at the online life of Silk Road’s alleged founder, Ross Ulbricht, and asks how a young Ron Paulian might have conceived of online drug sales as an experiment in free-market utopianism.

Despite not knowing much about the anonymous online drug-trafficking website Silk Road beyond what news agencies and blogs have been reporting, the public has quite a bit of knowledge on its owner/orchestrator, 29-year-old entrepreneur Ross William Ulbricht. Operating his website out of what NPR called a “modest” $1,000/month room in San Fransisco, not even those close to him knew what he was doing. He lived with two roommates who only knew him as “Josh,” and reported that Ulbricht mostly kept to his room. His parents claimed ignorance of his online empire, but also remarked that he was “stellar, good person” and “very idealistic.”

In an interview on December 6 of last year, StoryCorp correspondent — and Ulbricht’s best friend — Rene Pinnell asked him about where he wished to be in 20 years. He responded: “I want to have had a substantial positive impact on the future of humanity by that time.”

What we know about Ross Ulbricht is due to the fact that he, much like any other person of his generation, had a substantial digital footprint. His name appears in many places all over social media, and with it many tidbits of the idealism his mother described.

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