Can there be social networking among the pseudonymous?
The life sentence meted out to Ross Ulbricht, a.k.a. the Dread Pirate Roberts, for his role in running the Silk Road online market has again raised the profile of the “dark web,” with a slew of media stories promising to take readers inside a seething world of drugs, counterfeit goods, hit-men services, hacker forums, and child pornography. The message is clear: The dark web is an unsafe space, policing it is necessary and justified, and Ulbricht’s life sentence is well-deserved.
However, there’s another side to the dark web that rarely, if ever, gets mentioned. The dark web — the network of sites accessible only with special routing software such as Tor, i2p, or Freenet — is not just a criminal domain for drug dealers and pornographers; it’s also an experimental media system exploring the sometimes contradictory fusion of networking and anonymity to build spaces dedicated to political dissent and debating taboo or prohibited topics. This is all the more valuable in a time when the “clear web” is increasingly under government and corporate surveillance, and where Facebook regularly shuts down activist pages, as Kevin Mathews explains in this article.