At the Online Crossroads of Bitcoins, Crowdfunding, & Murder

flintlock coinsWhich thriller author will be the first to turn Andy Greenberg’s November 18 Forbes story into crime fiction?

And will s/he be assassinated before the movie comes out?

Meet The ‘Assassination Market’ Creator Who’s Crowdfunding Murder With Bitcoins is a chilling report:

…Last month I received an encrypted email from someone calling himself by the pseudonym Kuwabatake Sanjuro, who pointed me towards his recent creation: The website Assassination Market, a crowdfunding service that lets anyone anonymously contribute bitcoins towards a bounty on the head of any government official–a kind of Kickstarter for political assassinations. According to Assassination Market’s rules, if someone on its hit list is killed–and yes, Sanjuro hopes that many targets will be–any hitman who can prove he or she was responsible receives the collected funds.suit-tie-target

Greenberg tells us that top targets–prominent figures who’ve already had bitcoins pledged toward their murder–include President Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.  Sanjuro’s goal is ‘to destroy “all governments everywhere”‘ by triggering the deaths of so many politicians that no one dares to hold office.

‘“I am a crypto-anarchist,” Sanjuro concludes. “We have a bright future ahead of us.”’

Sanjuro chose his name partly in “homage to creator of the online black market Silk Road, who called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts.”  Back in September, Greenberg wrote a parallel story about Roberts and his illicit empire, “the Web’s busiest bazaar for heroin, methamphetamines, crack, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and enough strains of marijuana to put an Amsterdam coffee shop to shame.”  Although it was busted not long after appearing in Forbes, “Roberts’ eBay-like service was grossing $1.2 million a month in the first half of 2012” and subsequently “doubled its product listings.”  Ironically, Silk Road was a job-creator for the U.S. government, keeping not only the FBI busy but also the Postal Service, which delivered the company’s vacuum-sealed products.

Book_knifeFor a publisher like Boom-Books, which specializes in Mystery, Romance, & International Intrigue, the “virtualization” of large-scale crime has staggering implications.  On the one hand, can a vivid action novel be written about skulduggery which in multiple senses is invisible?  Drugs and violent death are tangible; bitcoins and the extremely secretive Tor network (on which both these enterprises operate) exist only as code.

On the other hand, what is the responsibility of authors and publishers toward the larger community?  How do we define that community in a world that increasingly is both international and virtual?  Where is the line between utilizing material, capitalizing on someone else’s crimes, and enabling or even encouraging those crimes?

This is far from the first time we’ve been faced with these questions, but never before have the answers had such potentially vast and grave consequences.

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