The judge intended the sentence to serve as a warning to other would-be internet narcotraffickers. But new research suggests more clearly than ever before that the strategy of making an example of Ulbricht didn't deter Silk Road users. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect.
In a study published in a forthcoming issue of the British Journal of Criminology, Boston College sociologist Isak Ladegaard provides some of the strongest quantitative evidence yet that the dark web drug trade actually received a sales bump following the news of Ulbricht's surprisingly harsh sentence. Starting in late 2014, Ladegaard used a software tool he built to trawl what was then the largest Silk Road–style dark web market daily for sales data. He focused on a 10-month window that included the time directly before and after Ulbricht's sentencing, and found that following Ulbricht's sentencing, the site experienced a significant increase in revenue.