Once mysterious, the term Dark Web has become understood to be a place on the Internet that harbors criminals and other nefarious activities. The names for the supposed underbelly of the internet came into use around 2009, though no one is exactly certain of when the Dark Web itself came into existence. It was likely in use long before then, and a lot of the misconceptions behind it have been around for just as long. For starters, did you know that there is a difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Web? The two often get used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different things.
The Deep Web is a more general term. It simply refers to a site that is not indexed on any standard search engines. You won’t find them if you search on Google, Safari, or any other search engine. Only if you have a Deep Web’s specific web address (URL), you can find it. And searches on your smartphone, called the Surface Web, make up only about 0.03% of the internet. While that might sound astonishing at first glance, consider that any website that is password-protected (such as your email after you log in, or the majority of content that’s hosted on any streaming service) is technically on the Deep Web.
The Dark Web is a part of the Deep Web, albeit a small fraction. The difference, however, is mainly in how you access it. In order to reach the Dark Web, users must download special encryption software such as Tor, which allows for completely anonymous interactions. As you can imagine, this is why it became a hub of criminal activity. The veil of anonymity has long been blamed for why the internet seems to bring out the worst in people. Since its introduction into the popular lexicon, speculation about what really happens on the Dark Web has run rampant in the form of half-truths and urban legends.
Some of the things you hear about the Dark Web are certainly true. It is definitely a place where people gather to sell illegal things– anything from stolen user data, drugs, or firearms. The most famous of these markets was the Silk Road, which was eventually shut down by the FBI in 2013.
Other tales, however, are really just tales. One of the most famous urban legends of the Dark Web are called Red Rooms- a supposed type of site that is even more hidden and inaccessible than the Dark Web. Red Rooms are where people livestream acts of horrible violence, such as torture or murder, to a participatory audience. The rumors say the audience can interact and suggest actions for the perpetrator to take- for a price. There is absolutely no proof aside from some second-hand accounts that any Red Room has ever existed. It’s true that graphic videos of violent acts can spread across the internet, but that is not something exclusive to the Dark Web.
Another urban legend that actually has some truth to it is the idea of websites where you can anonymously hire assassins. While there have been sites where users could put out hits on a target, the truth behind this myth is fascinating enough to warrant its own blog post (keep an eye out!).
Otherwise, a lot of the things you hear about such as sites that openly enable trafficking or illegal human experiments are rumor at best. There have been a few truly grisly cases- some so grisly that I will not write about them here- but for the most part, the illegal activities that take place on the Dark Web are more mundane than what an overactive imagination might think.
On top of that, not all activities on the Dark Web are reprehensible. It is often a place where political whistle-blowers (WikiLeaks famously has a home on the Dark Web) or journalists facing censorship in their country go. Some have even posited that the Dark Web has potential as a tool of freedom, since it is away from the prying eyes of corporations and governments. After all, the internet as we know it is becoming dependent on a small number of private companies, which can cause problems. All we know for certain is that the Dark Web is a tool that like anything, it can be used for great evil or great good.