Into the Dark: A Case Study of Banned Darknet Drug Forums
Selina Y. Cho and Joss Wright
In March 2018, to the surprise of many users, the largest Reddit forums related to darknet markets (DNM) were banned overnight. For users, whose trading activity relied heavily on these forums, the ban was a threat to the community as a whole. In this study we use a complete set of posts from the newly founded forums in the darknet-based “Dread” platform to examine key discussion topics and the sentiment of the community towards the ban. We look at the level of user engagement in the new forums, and the number of users who retain their old usernames. Applying topic modelling to posts on the new forum, we show that there are many overlapping themes across both the banned and new forums, and that discussions on drugs are the most prominent, followed by vendors, shipping reviews, and payment methods. We observe that the new community demonstrates negative sentiment toward the unexpected ban and the loss of accumulated information, but also holds a favourable view of Dread in the hopes that it will offer greater features and security for the users. Users across both platforms express attachment and affinity to the general DNM community, and demonstrate relation to it beyond the commercial purpose.