The hit German-language Netflix series ‘How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)’ is very accurate about Bitcoin, as far as it goes — which isn’t past the ‘currency of the darknet’ stereotype.
However, if you go into it expecting a typical poorly informed, two-dimensional view of how Bitcoin works as a tool of shadowy Internet drug dealers, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.
Netflix’s breakout German-language hit series is about a high school nerd who builds a multi million-euro online ecstasy marketplace called MyDrugs — largely in order to stop the girl who just dumped him from dating a cooler, better-looking classmate who gets her MDMA. The show’s creators either know nothing about Bitcoin, or never bothered to learn.
Take this line, from season one, episode four: “Converting Bitcoins to cash is complicated and dangerous.”
Which is not usually very true, unless you are looking at it from the perspective of an online drug dealer who wants to launder illegal money without being tracked (not a huge percentage of Bitcoin users nowadays, believe it or not).
The “Bitcoin to cash” line then leads one of the three partners to say: “We’re the most pathetic dealers ever — only virtual money and none of us drives a car.”
Two Out of Three Ain’t Good
Shiny Flakes accepted payment in Bitcoin, but the fictional MyDrugs marketplace accepts payment in four cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ripple, IOTA and Ethereum. At least, it did in the first season. By season two, the altcoins had disappeared. And a scene in which incipient drug kingpin Moritz’s best friend and partner, Lenny, is working on laundering their crypto shows a balance of zero Ether and Bitcoin Cash, with XRP (aka Ripple) and IOTA nowhere in evidence.
So yes, the second Bitcoin bogeyman — ransomware — makes a cameo. Financing terrorism, happily, is not in evidence.
Give Us Clean Laundry
After that “complicated but dangerous” comment, Moritz — who cuts between being a player in the action and the narrator talking directly to the audience — starts explaining that while safely offramping illegal Bitcoin to euros is difficult, it is not impossible.
The problem, he adds, is that: “If you want to convert Bitcoins to cash, you have to give up your identity. Unless you know how it works. But that changes all the time.”
In 2013, he says, you’d go on LocalBitcoins.com and “arrange to meet with strangers to anonymously trade your Bitcoin for cash.”
The visual, as he explains it, is a 40s film-noir drug deal in which fedora-wearing thugs trade a briefcase full of euros for a mobile phone’s Bitcoin wallet.
In 2015, “there was this weird time when with simple fake IDs you could register with shady online banks,” Moritz says. “With a few clicks your money was in your account. The problem? You could only withdraw up to a certain amount of cash.”
The problem, he says, is that using Bitcoin ATMs “isn’t exactly discreet” — as you as the viewer then visually see two police officers run up demanding ID from criminals using a Bitcoin ATM.
“To be 100% safe you need someone with technical superpowers,” Moritz says at the end of the narration. “Someone who knows how to cover one's tracks on the Internet.”
Which proves to be Lenny’s ransomware-hacker girlfriend.
Get Rich or Lie Trying
Even the inaccuracies are on target. One character, a small-town drug barely one rung above street dealers, comments: “You know how 50 Cent got rich? He got in on Vitamin Water, the beverage company. He also invested in Bitcoins.”
So, strictly speaking, while the dialogue is inaccurate, it’s repeating the exact “fake news” facts that a small-time, not particularly crypto-savvy drug dealer would remember.
TLDR; watch this show for entertainment value, read CoinMarketCap Alexandria to learn real things about crypto (but not how to sell drugs online, obviously).