Technology

Sarconi: ‘Dark Web’ has capacity for positive, negative influence

When you hear the name “Dark Web,” your first impression probably isn’t a rosy one. It sounds like something concocted by a supervillain in their attempt to take over the world. And it’s this ominous connotation that surely contributes to its reputation as the online meeting place of evil.

As a recent poll released by the Center for International Governance Innovation suggests, the Dark Web is not very popular. A whopping seven out of 10 people polled think it should be shut down. And while certain parts of the Dark Web are despicable, many people fail to consider that it’s just like anything else in this world: It can be used for good or bad.

As reported by Wired, the poll conducted by the CIGI told participants that the Dark Web is a place where “journalists, human rights activists, dissidents and whistleblowers can use these services to rally against repression … and shed light upon corruption,” while “hackers, illegal marketplaces, and child abuse sites can also use these services to hide from law enforcement.”

That’s a fairly good description, but here’s how it works:

The Dark Web is a series of websites that are publicly available. If you’re reading this online, you can be on a dark website in a matter of minutes, but what makes it different from the light web is that the server that hosts the website is anonymous. The location of the server is hidden by software called Tor and the user has to have the software as well in order to find a website that’s run through the program. Using Tor essentially encodes the IP address of both the website and user.

There is also a false perception that the Dark Web and the Deep Web are the same thing. The Deep Web is all of the websites that don’t show up on a search engine. While the Dark Web is included in this, the Deep Web consists of 90 percent of the internet.

Obviously, anonymity comes with positives and negatives, but does one outweigh the other? Sounds like a perfect question for a pros and cons list.

Cons

Provides a place to watch and post child pornography

As referenced in the poll’s question of whether or not it should be shut down, the worst of humanity has found a place on the Dark Web . It enables people to watch or upload child porn without the repercussions of doing so on the normal internet.

Thankfully, the FBI is still able to trace them. In January 2016, the FBI caught 1,500 visitors to a child porn site they had secretly set up. The Dark Web may be anonymous, but it’s not impossible to track down people who use it.

Enables the buying and selling of guns by terrorists

While there is some speculation that Islamic State group terrorists used guns obtained from the Dark Web in the Paris attacks, it’s inconclusive. Regardless, there are a lot of firearms to choose from on the dark web.

Vocativ, a media and technology website, found 281 listings of guns and ammunition on the Dark Web. These postings included AK-47s, sniper rifles and submachine guns for sale. To be fair, it’s hard to say this a huge deal when the requirements to buy a gun in a state like Alaska is basically as easy as it is to download Tor.

Allows people to buy and sell recreational drugs

Compared to the two cons above, this isn’t that bad. Still, the Silk Road has been a notorious part of the Dark Web and is arguably a major revenue source for drug cartels.

Pros

Allows for freedom of expression in places where it’s illegal

This isn’t as big of a concern in the United States, but in dictatorial countries, the Dark Web is one of the few forums for freedom of expression.

Considering that free speech is a staple of democracy, I would say that’s pretty important for people in autocratic countries to have access to it. China, for example, is a place where citizens can use the Dark Web to communicate freely without fear of government accusations of treason and the threat of getting locked up. This allows them to somewhat publicly post about atrocities that may never see the light of day otherwise.

Information is a vitally important part of fair and balanced society. The first amendment right to freely express one’s self is something we may take for granted, but there is no denying the value it holds.

Advertisers can’t sell your information

This a prevalent topic of discussion right now, as advertisers and online websites are currently selling user’s information without any restrictions. Due to the anonymity of the process, that doesn’t happen on the Dark Web because the websites don’t really know who you are.

That’s a refreshing thought: The capitalization of information doesn’t exist on the Dark Web.

It makes academic research free

There is a major problem in academia right now over the cost of research papers. It is vital information for researchers and professors, yet the costs make it difficult to access. A few services have popped up on the Dark Web that bypass the research paper’s paywall and allow the user to read it for free. While illegal, this service has support in the academic community for spreading the work of the researcher.

• • •

The Dark Web has its flaws, but it shouldn’t be entirely shunned. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what an anarchical society would look like. Without it, WikiLeaks would have never happened. Regardless of how one feels about it, the scandal has changed the world and few things can have as widespread an impact.

The Dark Web is a double-edged sword, but it’s one that is freely wielded by the public with minimal intrusion from governments — a fact that is both terrifying and encouraging.

Paul Sarconi is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at pjsarcon@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @paulsarconi.

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