When a journo becomes the story

by Stephanie Van Schilt , February 11, 20131 Comment

Following her investigation of the online drug distribution site Silk Road for Kill Your Darlings, Eiley Ormsby gives a fascinating update on the case and her personal, involuntary involvement. You can read her original article here.

Last Wednesday I went along to sit in on the plea hearing of the first major Australian ‘Silk Road’ case, expecting to perhaps get a blog post out of it.  I never expected what would come next.

The court heard evidence of 12 parcels containing drugs that had been intercepted between 27 March and 29 June 2012.  In his opening, the defence barrister said he would be tendering a news article into evidence that he claimed led his client to discover Silk Road. I figured it couldn’t be one of mine, as the first time I had ever written about Silk Road was 27 April 2012.

When a recess was called, I was surprised when the defence barrister shoved a printout of an article under my nose and asked whether I’d written it.  I was surprised to recognise a piece I’d written for literary journal Kill Your Darlings.  “Yes,” I said, and he rushed off again.

“I wrote that in October” I whispered to the court reporter beside me, confused as to what it had to do with the case.

After the recess, the defence barrister tendered the article.  “The author of the article is in court today, Your Honour” he said, pointing at me.  The judge acknowledged me and noted that I blogged at All Things Vice and sometimes wrote for The Age.

I didn’t write down exactly how my article worked it’s way into evidence (the hearing went for 5 hours or so), but it was along the lines of: my client was down to his last cent and his marriage was on the rocks.  He found this article describing how to get on to Silk Road and how cheap drugs could be bought there.

I walked out of that courtroom stunned and bemused.  The next day, a piece appeared in The Age, recounting the events.  It was a straightforward and factual account, so I put it out of my mind.

Later that night, a nasty personal attack containing much hyperbole and few facts emerged at an odd little site I’m not going to give oxygen to at the moment.  Suffice to say, it was vicious and unprovoked, completely inaccurate and used terms like ‘drug death spiral’ whilst somehow trying to link my pro-drug reform views with child abuse.

Since then, the myth that I was somehow responsible for the defendant’s decision to deal drugs has been perpetuated over Twitter, reddit, Wired, Ars Technica and numerous blogs, forums and lesser-known websites.  The typical paragraph is:

“During the trial he said that he had been drawn to the site after reading an article by a journalist called Eileen Ormsby, who regularly covers the Silk Road in Australian newspapers. Since Howard’s conviction, the Silk Road has warned its users via its Twitter account not to follow their feed nor the feed of Ormsby with their real names.”

I realise these articles are just reporting what was in the Age story, but that article did note that I had written the piece in October.  And yep, that really happened in Twitterverse.

Weirder Web seemed to be one of the only places to notice the discrepancies in dates, and subtly pointed them out without editorialising about them.

So, to reiterate:  the offending dated from March 2012.  Shadh1 registered on the Silk Road forums on 20 April 2012.  My first ever article on Silk Road came out on 27 April 2012.  The article tendered to court came out in October 2012.

No doubt the defendant was led to Silk Road by an article, but it wasn’t my article.

This may well have been one of the most surreal weeks in my life.

Eiley Ormsby is a Melbourne writer, journalist and blogger of All Things Vice. More of her adventures into the Dark Web can be found at:

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