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The Deep Web's Newest Drug Mecca Is the Facebook of Virtual Black Markets

Atlantis allows drug dealers and buyers to become "fans" of one another.
Image is a screen shot of Atlantis's video ad spot.

The Deep Web, or Darknet, is on the minds of many in this post-PRISM world. A virtual underworld where all is allowed, and Big Brother cannot so easily surveil, is riling up politicians such as Sen. Charles Schumer who sees apocalypse in the Deep Web's shadow enterprises.

The under-net's latest entrant is Atlantis, a black marketplace for drugs which could soon be Silk Road's most formidable competitor. Whereas Silk Road has been quiet and hard to find (to a degree), Atlantis's founders are pursuing a rather unusual publicity campaign. There is an Atlantis Facebook page, Twitter account, and, naturally, a subreddit. Also part of the campaign is one of the most absurdly funny videos of the year—one that looks as if it could have been crafted by an advertising agency.


Upon entering Atlantis via Tor browser, users are greeted with a "Welcome to Atlantis," followed by text such as: "Atlantis has been designed from the ground up to improve on all aspects of competitor markets." From there, users sign up or login.

On this homepage, there are also descriptions of Atlantis's service and why they believe it surpasses Silk Road. The shadow marketplace's founders claim cheaper drug rates and better security, while boasting that Atlantis is the first site to accommodate multiple crypto-currencies, including Litcoins and Bitcoins. And they sell this multi-currency option as an opportunity to "reap the rewards of multiple investment opportunities." Savvy.

Echoing Atlantis's very public social media campaign, the site features a sort of built-in social media component. Called Fan Management, the idea seems to be that if you've got a drug dealer whose goods you dig, or you're a dealer who really likes a particular buyer, why not become a fans of one another? Theoretically, even the fuzz or FBI agents could become fans of drug dealers, a rather interesting byproduct of Fan Management. Not that it would achieve much in the way of law enforcement, but interesting to think about nonetheless.

Everything about Atlantis is the more streamlined (but safe) connection of buyers and sellers. Call Atlantis the Facebook of virtual black markets. You know, without all of the data mining.

"We want to bring attention to the site and bring our vendors more buyers," said the supposed CEO of Atlantis in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit. "Law enforcement is going to be aware of us (and probably already is) regardless of the way we choose to put our product out there."

What is really interesting about the publicity campaign with its Silicon Valley-style video spot is that, unlike Silk Road, the Atlantis team's approach presents a picture of a socially-acceptable drug marketplace. Or, at least it tries to. In that respect, it's a bit like anti-drug hysteria propaganda. And though Atlantis lives in the Deep Web for anonymity purposes, it has quite a mainstream mindset. In a sense, it functions as a type of social and economic protest, in which its very existence should cause people, from a nation's politicians to its average citizens, to rethink domestic and foreign drug laws.

Why? Well, if encrytion and savvy drug delivery (via the postal system) cannot be effectively beaten—either because other entrants will just replace Silk Road and Atlantis, while postal scanning is a logistical nightmare—then the only real means of combatting this virtual underworld is by legalizing and regulating drugs. That, or the alternative: take the War On Drugs into the virtual realm, and repeat that campaign's well-known list of failures.