Celebrate the Facts!
The Dark Web is legendary, the stuff of tales of sordid deeds, assassination for hire, weapons, and drugs. Want your archrival in the boardroom out of the way? One site claims $100,000 worth of bitcoin will get it done. Feel like buying methamphetamine or heroin? A short tour on the Dark Web and it can arrive two days later by courier. But the hitmen are fables and the drugs, while real, are a flyspeck on the window of international vice and corruption. The Dark Web serves a bigger and higher international good that will be revealed in this investigation.
The Dark Web is a small portion of the Internet that exists on darknets that require special software to access. The Dark Web allows clandestine communication for legal, illegal, and quasi-legal purposes such as selling counterfeit currencies, illegal pornography, hacking tools, false identification, digital fraud instruments, and, especially drugs. Platforms known as darknet markets provide means for sellers to connect with buyers, with cryptocurrencies being the means of exchange and in some cases provide escrow accounts to help ensure transactions are honest. Illicit goods can be transmitted in a variety of manners including digitally but most goods come in standard packaging delivered by common carriers such as the United States Postal Service or FedEx.
The Dark Web was created by the US government to allow spies to exchange information anonymously. US military researchers developed the technology, known as Tor (The Onion Router) in the mid-1990s and released it into the public domain for everyone to use.
Estimates indicated about 100 sites are traveling in illegal goods or services on the Dark Web which includes forums for criminals and markets for illegal merchandise. A recent report by a cryptocurrency analytics firm claimed that cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web grew from approximately $250 million in 2012 to $872 million in 2018 which seems quite a lot but in the bigger scheme of things was beer money. For instance, the United Nations estimated the amount of money laundered globally in one year was 2 to 5 percent of global GDP or between $1.6 trillion and $4 trillion, clearing making much more impact on global health and prosperity.
There is more to this matter than an obese pothead living in his mom’s basement imagining relevance on a dark web forum and buying hashish or LSD or the troubled neighbor buying extra Xanax to get through COVID.
People also access the Dark Web for legal or at least legitimate purposes. They may be using it to browse the Internet anonymously. Many organizations maintain a hidden website on the Dark Web including The New York Times, Facebook, ProPublica, and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The New York Times and the CIA, for example, are both hoping to facilitate communication with people who can provide sensitive information such as intelligence information or inside stories.
For opposition factions to oppressive regimes that block large parts of the internet or punish political dissent, the Dark Web provides access to information and protection from persecution. For instance, the BBC’s website was specifically mentioned as offering access to people in China, where the BBC is censored. China, Iran, and Vietnam are among countries that have tried to block access to the BBC News website or programs.
Collections of subversive works are available on the Dark Web, away from meddling government censors helping people resist authoritarian governments. There are also sites created for journalists to share files and stories free of tracking. These sites serve as conduits reporters use to smuggle important information about authoritarian regimes that otherwise would wish it concealed.
Hacktivism, using a computer system or network for a socially or politically motivated reason, is an ambiguous area. Whether vigilante justice is ever justifiable is open to debate but certainly, the digital nature of hacktivism makes these self-appointed sheriffs even less accountable. Anonymous, a group branded with the Guy Fawkes mask, is the most recognized of these broad progressive claims but the efficacy of their efforts is debatable. They seem more hat than cattle plus they have an irritating badge as their brand avatar.
Whistleblowing is also a nice corner of the Dark Web. This can expose illegal or immoral corporate or government methods and sources, often in ways quite not appreciated by corporations or conventional governments. The Dark Web was used by whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden to expose government secrets. If these whistleblowers had used legal channels to make their complaints the information would have been concealed. The role of the press in checking abuses of power is inherent in healthy societies.
The undiscussed is always the most intriguing area for further investigation. The Western exceptionalism faction breaks their metaphoric arms patting themselves on the back about having a free and open society. There’s a great deal of finger-pointing in the West about Internet censorship and government repression in other countries such as Iran, Venezuela, China, and Cuba, but how often does Western society look in the mirror? The imprisonment of Julian Assange, regardless of his lack of personal appeal, and Edward Snowden’s exile in Moscow to flee imprisonment for providing information about the United States government breaking its laws are examples of anti-Democratic and oppressive acts.
The freedom of the press in the United States is also open to debate. Corporate media, a topic for a later investigation, is increasingly more consolidated and owned by wealthy interests. Also, it is increasingly more tribal and driven to feed spin information to specific audiences. Aside from that the growing influence of the Internet and social media in news dispensation has driven dissemination by clickbait – sensational articles intended to grab attention to garner advertising revenue rather than provide legitimate journalism. These factors tend to obscure legitimate journalistic exposure and analysis and favor Infotainment and tribally spun misinformation, bringing into question both the credibility and the freedom of the press in the United States.
In 2013 the United States Department of Justice charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Chelsea Manning and Assange have also been charged under the same Act, as well as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Emma Goldman, Eugene V. Debs, and Daniel Ellsberg, among others. The Act, intended to be used against spies, is now commonly used again whistleblowers, and explicitly forbids the jury from hearing why the defendant acted and bars them from deciding whether the outcome was to the public's benefit. A charge is essentially a conviction which is the major motivation for Snowden’s self-imposed exile in Moscow.
The Dark Web, despite being home to loathsome pedophile groups, purveyors of fraud instruments, and drug dealers, serves legitimate purposes. The sword cuts both ways however and any authoritarian government or cavalier corporate interest is at risk due to its anonymity.
A good starting point is an article presented here https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23738871.2017.1298643. Playpen information was provided by https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/playpen-creator-sentenced-to-30-years. Information on the amount of cryptocurrency spent on the Dark Web was obtained at https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2019/09/the-truth-about-the-dark-web-kumar.htm. Information on the Dark Web in China was presented at https://www.vice.com/en/article/d735aa/what-firewall-chinas-fledgling-deep-web-community and https://www.vice.com/en/article/d735aa/what-firewall-chinas-fledgling-deep-web-community. Snowden is often discussed but there is concise information available at https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170606/18063037535/snowden-explains-how-espionage-act-unfairly-stacks-deck-against-reality-winner.shtml.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.