Myth #17: The dark web is a hidden place of evil.
Myth: The dark web is an expansive, impenetrable, invisible, immoral fantasyland of sexual child exploitation, terrorist organizations, data theft, and cryptocurrency-based drug deals. It is also at the core of the cyber threat economy, a place where hacking tools are traded to assault commercial organizations or individuals. Essentially, it is the source of everything digitally evil.
Busted: Even though the dark web enjoys more anonymity and freedom from censorship, it is not the online underworld where serious criminals roam free. (#14) Firstly, the dark web is certainly not impenetrable, and dubious content is not impossible to remove. Although surveillance of dark web content is more challenging, the mere trust factor that is required for any network to function renders the dark web fragile to the identification of criminals and illegal content. In this vein, a considerable part of the dark web is visible and relatively easy to connect with through forums and wikis. The dark web is also not the expansive iceberg it is portrayed to be – this huge underbelly of questionable online behaviour constituting most Internet activity. In fact, compared to surface web traffic, activities on the dark web is minimal.
Perhaps the most significant misconception regarding the dark web pertains to the general assumption that it is inherently dangerously corruptive. Terrorism and the sexual exploitation of children account for very little dark web activity. Furthermore, whilst it cannot be disputed that the dark web is a vessel for illegal activities such as human trafficking, fraud and drug deals, one should not underestimate the very role the regular Internet plays in such activities. In overestimating or even embellishing the power and mystery of the dark web, moral panics may lead to ill-directed government policies – ones that overlook illicit activities in obvious places.
In truth, as much as half of the dark web involves legitimate activities – content such as software repositories, and activism-related blogs and/or websites. A considerable number of dark web users are truly in need of anonymity, privacy and protection. In countries where Internet use is restricted, monitored and controlled, marginalized minorities such as the LGBT community often use the dark web to communicate, share ideas and express opinions. Journalists use the dark web to protect their sources, and media organizations host secure lockboxes on the dark web to guarantee safety and anonymity to whistleblowers. Freedom of expression is, in fact, often the overriding reason for engagement on the dark web with users exercising agency without any intent of harming or hurting others.
In essence, a layer of invisibility does not necessarily or automatically create deviance and misconduct. The dark web provides anonymity, and this is used for both good and, unfortunately, evil. One should however not allow “darkness of morality” to become the narrative associated with the dark web.
Truth: The dark web embraces all activity that cannot be searched or indexed using standard search engines. Although the anonymity and freedom associated with dark web also facilitate criminal activities, the dark web is not the epitome of mysterious, suspicious and illicit conducts. In fact, a significant portion of dark web activities is used to protect those who need privacy and to allow people under threat to communicate.
Source: Mihnea Mirea, Victoria Wang and Jeyong Jung. The Not So Dark Side of the Darknet: A Qualitative Study. Security Journal, 32(2) (2018), 102-118; Georgia Avarikioti, Roman Brunner, Aggelos Kiayias, Roger Wattenhofer and Dionysis Zindros. Structure and Content of the Visible Darknet, ArXiv (2018), 1811.01348(2)1-27.