Gawker: Just How Far Will it Go to Get a Hit?

The highs and lows of Gawker's ethics.

By , Columnist

By publishing the article "The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any Drug Imaginable" on Wednesday, it would seem that l'enfant terrible of online media will do whatever it takes to get its page hits.

Some of us will be familiar with this kind of sibling - angry, petulant, and prone to raging against the machine. Sometimes their maverick lifestyle produces moments of pure genius. Sometimes they push the limits too far. Publishing an article that details step-by-step how to buy illegal drugs online and includes one of the underground site's administrators describing the website's users as an "amazing" community, full of "bright, honest, and fair people" is just plain juvenile.

In the world of online media, traffic is the drug and we all need the hit. Since a major redesign in February of this year, Gawker has watched its traffic and ad revenue plummet - they just aren't getting high anymore. Their response? To ditch any pretense at having any journalistic ethos and move on to hardcore drugs.

To Gawker this article may look like the ultimate high - six thousand 'likes' is a big rush for a writer, but they are heading for a big downer. Traffic highs will quickly pass and articles like this will just be poison in the veins of their credibility.

There is no doubt that there is a legitimate story to be told about Silk Road and its users. It is a sign of our times, throwing light on an illegal underground online community and the technology that goes with it. Bitcoins and Tor may well become a technology that could be more widely adopted in the future.  

Imagine for a moment the same story but written with balance and intelligence. Scrap the "Making small talk with your pot dealer sucks" opening sentence. Tidy up the obvious glassy-eyed, pro-drug view of the writer, who peppered the article with positive descriptions of drug use ("It was quite enjoyable, to be honest"), and remove the links which guides any potential new customer right up the path to the drug dealer's door.

On the other hand, maybe Gawker is more of a grown-up than I am giving it credit for. Providing such a detailed and lascivious account of Silk Road's activities could push it out of the murky shadows and into the hands of the authorities. In an update appended to the article, Jeff Garzik, a member of the Bitcoin core development team, says in an email, "Attempting major illicit transactions with bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb."

Whatever Gawker's intentions were, publishing trash like this is not a legitimate way to get your hits. Little bro, it is time to get clean and grow up.

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Victoria Robertson is a freelance current affairs columnist and founder of With her back foot firmly planted in some commonsense and a lively swing of the bat, she knocks today's big news stories straight out of the park.

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