Knowledge Sharing Network in a Community of Illicit Practice: A Cybermarket Subreddit Case

Date
2020-01-07
Authors
Kwon, K. Hazel
Yu, Weiwen
Kilar, Stephen
Shao, Chun
Broussard, Kailey
Lutes, Thomas
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Abstract
Often neglected in the literature about communities of practice is the fact that online knowledge-sharing communities thrive among illicit collectives whose activities are stigmatized or outlawed. This paper focuses on a knowledge-sharing community of users who engage in illegal practices by examining the ways in which the community’s network structure changes when a high-stakes, uncertain event—the July 2017 shutdown of the dark web market Alphabay—occurs. This study compares the discussion network structures in the subreddit r/AlphaBay during pre-shutdown days (the “routine” period) and shutdown days (the “market defect” period) and offers a content analysis of the knowledge and resources shared by users during these periods. Several differences were observed: (a) the network structure changed such that the network size grew while becoming more centralized; (b) new crisis-specific players emerged; (c) types of knowledge shared during the market defect period was qualitatively different from the routine period.
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Keywords
Mediated Conversation, community of illicit practice, cryptomarket, dark web, hidden online community, knowledge sharing network
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