To anyone reading this, it’s obvious that you’re probably fairly familiar with what the dark web is.
The amount of people who actually use Tor is an overwhelmingly small minority.
However, pretty much everyone knows about it, by at least one of its many names. It goes by the dark web/darknet, the invisible web, and many more.
People who frequently browse the dark web know that it’s not all that bad. But again, this is a very small minority of people. This minority sees the dark web as a tool to stay secure, but a large majority of people don’t exactly share this view. It’s generally seen in a pretty negative light.
Despite its current association with criminals and criminal activity, the technical concept for the dark web was originally developed by employees at the United States Naval Research Laboratory.
Computer programmers and mathematicians at the USNRL developed the technique of onion routing for more secure communication.
Onion routing was being developed for the first time in the 1990s. Development of this technique continued in private for several years. It took until 2003 for the USNRL to release a public onion routing software.
They went with a straightforward name, calling it, “The Onion Router,” or Tor for short.
But even though It was originally created by, and for, the U.S. Army, it’s now primarily used by civilians. The original purpose of it, which led to its creation, was more secure communication within the U.S. military.
Now it’s used for a lot more. It was originally created for good, but now all you hear about it seems to be bad.
Generalizations from the Media
Anybody who’s ever seen a TV show with a hacking scene has probably heard of Tor, or any of the other names it has.
Words and phrases like “onion routing,” “firewall” and ”proxy” are thrown around like insults in the YouTube comment section. There’s a certain way that TV shows and movies like to portray the dark web, and it’s not in a good light.
A lot of Hollywood executives probably don’t have any knowledge of Tor, and they might not have the time or energy to do some in-depth research on it. It’s a lot easier to generalize things, like how I did just now, by generalizing Hollywood executives. Not all shows and movies portray the dark web negatively, it’s just a majority.
But it’s a pretty overwhelming majority.
In media and even in corporate advertising messaging, the dark web is generally shown as the creepy and shady back-alley of the internet.
It’s shown as the place where hackers go to hack, where hitmen go for targets, and where criminals buy and sell drugs, weapons, people and much more. It’s the favored tool of anyone trying to do anything shady, or hide from the government.
In the popular TV show Mr. Robot, the story is centered around a group of hackers. Over the course of a few episodes, one of the characters in the show uses the dark web to host a marketplace.
The depiction of how the marketplace functions and what it sells is fairly accurate. It sells a variety of illegal things, even including people.
Eventually, the main character is forced into helping the site’s owner with managing the servers. In the end, the character who hosted the site gets raided and arrested, and the site is taken down.
The show also depicts characters using onion routing (among many other things) to keep themselves hidden, mostly from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The usage of these privacy measures is reserved specifically for people engaging in illegal activities, and never just for security and peace.
A lot of television shows are guilty of generalizing the dark web, but this is one of the most high-profile examples.
Consequences of Generalizing
These generalized caricatures have real-world consequences. Media leads us to believe in whatever the person behind the camera believes.
This manipulation of beliefs isn’t always done for malicious purposes, or even intentionally. The opinions of writers are imbedded into their writing, whether they’re aware of it or not.
So, if a show writer believes that the dark web is this scary place for criminals, they’ll write that into a script. This can lead people to believe things that they didn’t believe before.
So what does this lead us to believe about the dark web? Well, it’s not hard to imagine.
If someone is involved with anything to do with the dark web, they’re probably a criminal, or they at least associate with criminals.
Personally, I’ve talked with people about the dark web, and I’ve heard from a few people that they’re certain that it’s illegal just to go on Tor.
These beliefs don’t come from nothing. They come from the media that we consume, and the repetition of these beliefs among other people.
But these beliefs aren’t true, at least not completely. Ignorance is the easier path in any situation, and mindlessly consuming media leads to a lot of ignorance, and sometimes people aren’t even aware of it.
Lessons to Learn
The moral of the story here is, you should never mindlessly consume media; at least, not in large amounts. If you’re watching a show or a movie, your brain should be awake, analyzing what you see and hear.
Think about what the characters are saying or doing. Think about if the world that the characters are living in is realistic or not.
Challenge what the characters say. If a character is represented as flawless and perfect, they’re the kind of character you should challenge the most. In this case, challenge just means to analyze more closely.
If you’re not actively thinking about what you’re watching, you soak up everything that these characters do into your subconscious. The way that they act is the way that you believe you should act. What they say is what you should say. What they think is what you should think.
That last one is especially scary.
Appreciation of the Dark Web
Media leads us to believe that the dark web is a scary and dangerous place.
No matter how much evidence that there is against it, the media’s portrayal of it surpasses any positives.
The internet has become one of the essential requirements for freedom of speech, and freedom in general. This freedom is a threat to fascist countries and strict governments, so they restrict or outright ban it.
However, onion routing allows people living in these countries to access the parts of the internet that they can’t, the parts of the internet that we use before we even have breakfast, and without a second thought.
To them, Tor is a tool for anonymity and security, a tool that gives them freedom. The dark web is something of a safe haven to them.
They can communicate to people, they can see the real, non-state sanctioned news, and they can express the freedom of speech that they might not have under law.
So, no matter what the truth is, some things will always be seen in certain lights. No matter how much Tor helps people, the dark web will probably always have a reputation involving only criminal activity. However, to be fair, the dark web does in fact help a lot of criminals. But so do a lot of things.
Things like legal weapons and drugs are sometimes used for non-legal purposes, but we don’t just ban them. We regulate them to ensure that everything is going the way it should be, and that the right people are getting stuff, for the right intents and purposes.
We should treat the dark web the exact same way.
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