As one scrolls the Internet on their favorite browser, one seems to be hit from all angles with information and mesmerizing media. YouTube videos of cats, friends playing Candy Crush, and nutcases on the Internet linking Jay Z to the Illuminati to the aliens to the Great Pyramids to the New World Order – these all dominate the Internet that one knows. One can easily feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available to them. The effects of this new access to a new world have been hotly debated.
Despite this technology bringing about a cultural revolution, most people have only scratched the surface of the Internet. According to CNN Money on March 10, 2014, mainstream search engines like Google are only capable of reaching less than one percent of the Internet. The other 99 percent makes up something called the Deep Web. The Deep Web is something relatively simple that many people do not understand. The Deep Web is any part of the Internet that the typical search engine cannot access. The Deep Web includes everything from databases to drug dealers using a .onion site to peddle product.
The majority of the deep web is perfectly legitimate stuff. On the deep web you can access things like old classifieds and databases, a lot of databases. According to a 2001 Bright Planet study (currently, the best study available despite its outdated nature), over 50 percent of the Deep Web is topic specific databases. However, databases are not what people are usually talking about when they mention the Deep Web. The part of the Deep Web that the media hypes up is called The Onion Router.
According to USA Today on March 10, 2014, The Onion Router, or TOR, is a network that allows people to browse the Internet nearly anonymously and create websites only other users of TOR can access. TOR was originally created by the U.S. Navy. This part of the dark web has led to a lot of controversy. TOR has been and still is being used to buy drugs, sell firearms, and to support movements toppling authoritarian regimes.
More and more, the top rung of the political stratification in multiple nations has attacked the right to use the Internet freely. For instance, according to the New York Times on Feb. 21, 2014, Turkish President Abdullah Gul signed a new law giving the government the right to block any webpage without a court order and the law gave the government the ability to collect individuals’ browsing histories. An example of a similar law in action can be seen in China, according to New York Times on Feb 15, 2014. In China, the government blocks any website that has potential to challenge its authority.
How can populist movements rise in this era of mass surveillance? The Deep Web is clearly the answer. According to The Mirror on Sept. 22, 2012, Ian Walden, an information and communication law professor at Queen Mary University of London, attributes much of the Arab Spring’s success to the Deep Web. The Deep Web allows dissidents to communicate ideas freely with little to no fear of being caught by authorities. In Syria, the Deep Web was the first place where videos of the war were posted. The Deep Web is enabling populist movements to share news and organize.
The currency of the Deep Web has been the Bitcoin. According to CNN Money, the Bitcoin is a digital current created by a person using the name Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. (It was recently claimed that Nakamoto was found but it is still not known if this individual is the founder or not.) The Bitcoin is a digital currency that has no Central Institution backing it. The price of the Bitcoin is determined completely by the market. The Bitcoin also helps ensure that transactions between two parties remain anonymous. The Bitcoin is every libertarian’s dream. If man and currency were allowed to get married, the gossip magazines would not be filled with stories about Kim and Kanye, but stories about Ron Paul and Bitcoin.
When the Bitcoin is combined with TOR, a weapon for populist movements around the world is created. According to Bloomberg on Feb. 28, 2014, Ukrainian protestors have used the Bitcoin for funding purposes. Bitcoin donations allowed protestors to solicit donations from people who are interested in supporting the movement while remaining anonymous. The Bitcoin played a key role in the downfall of Ukrainian President Yanukovych. In a country where the average monthly income is about $338, it was a crucial factor.
However, the Bitcoin is a part of the Deep Web’s infrastructure that has taken the biggest hit. According to Reuters on March 10, 2014, Mt. Gox, once one of the largest bitcoin exchanges, lost about 750,000 of its customers Bitcoins. Mt. Gox claims it lost the Bitcoins in an attack perpetrated by hackers, but an American class action lawsuit claims the coins were lost due to fraudulent behavior on the part of Mt. Gox. The double-edged sword of anonymity appears.
In addition, several other key parts of the Deep Web have been lost in the past year. Although some of these losses could be potentially considered a good thing (Silk Road, which was used to sell illegal goods and weapons, for example), the losses reflect a dangerous trend. The Deep Web is entering into the mainstream and as more major institutions use it, its infrastructure in place to protect its individualistic nature is crumbling.
The world is dominated by big institutions. Democracy is part of our nation’s fabric but Americans are disenchanted with our own. We see it being overly stratified and dominated by big institutions who citizens have no control over. The Deep Web can be an awful place, but it is a place where individualism thrives. Whenever I hear a government official and/or media commentator demonize the Deep Web, it makes my stomach turn. The Deep Web may need some degree of regulation, but it is the last shot for privacy to exist the age of new media and it may be our last shot to allow the individual to be an entity that can change the world.
More and more, mass media and government officials choose to use the crumbling infrastructure of the Deep Web, along with its negative aspects, to generate sensationalist rhetoric demonizing it. Although the Deep Web has produced so much moral wrong, it has potential to produce even more good. Technology is inherently amoral; its morality comes from how it is used. People can choose how they use TOR. They can use it to get high, or they can use it to transfer Bitcoins to dissidents trying to overthrow an authoritarian regime. People can use TOR to go the route of Cheech and Chong, or they can use it to go the route of Lech Walesa and Solidarity.