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

Kwon, K. Hazel
Yu, Weiwen
Kilar, Stephen
Shao, Chun
Broussard, Kailey
Lutes, Thomas
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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.
Mediated Conversation, community of illicit practice, cryptomarket, dark web, hidden online community, knowledge sharing network
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