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WARNING: You won’t want to see this

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Started by Tessa Gray 02 Nov 2015 10:00am () Replies (7)

Or more importantly, this is something you NEED to see. 

While most of us celebrated the All Blacks win this weekend, I found out about the dark web (image search). I knew there was a deeper web, a place where hackers were at war with government agencies trying to protect sensitive material, where sometimes things got leaked and others went into hiding for it. I also knew multi-billion dollar underground drug rings existed where dynamic IPs and bit torrents pinged information across different servers, so they couldn't be tracked, but I didn’t realize the deep web meant there was a dark web too. I feel a bit ignorant really.

That is until this weekend when I was given an insight into the ‘word on the street’ from teenagers who know all about it already – via Tumblr (other social networks). And just like the shampoo ad from years ago, they tell two friends and they tell two friends and so on and so on, and before you know it, the underground has risen to meet the masses. Now, when your teenager searches for ‘scary movies’ with unrestricted/unmonitored access, they also get some top-tips on how to access the dark web while keeping their identities hidden and 'safe'. So what’s the difference between the ‘deep web’ and the ‘dark web’?

"Deep web" is distinct from "dark web". The "dark web" is the encrypted network that exists between Tor servers and their clients, whereas the "deep web" is simply the content of databases and other web services that for one reason or another cannot be indexed by conventional search engines." https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-access-the-deep-web 

Deep web image

The teenagers tell me the dark web is easy to access and it doesn’t take me long to find websites that explain exactly how to do this…

What you want to access are sites using the Tor Hidden Service Protocol. It works over regular Tor (anonymity network), but instead of having your traffic routed from your computer and through an onion-like layer of servers, it stays within the Tor network. https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-access-the-deep-web 

The same website adds, there are good/bad sides to this part of the web, either way it is understood to make up 96% of the Internet – beyond what we see. But when people in the know recommend the following, you have to wonder what is good about it?

"Depending on what you intend to do on the Dark Web, some users recommend placing tape over your laptop's webcam to prevent prying eyes watching you. A tinfoil hat is also an option." PC Advisor.

So why the grim face?

As a professional I’m worried we don’t know enough about what our children/young people can access. We might have all the systems in the world set up at school to filter and restrict Internet access, but what happens when they access dark web browsers to view visual images/videos of illegal human experiments, mutations, gruesome accidents, war crimes, violent pornography or are encouraged to engage in drug use and illegal purchases like hacked Paypal accounts, human trafficking even assassins for hire? The same teenagers told me how to purchase the illicit content via untraceable Bitcoins (a whole new virtual currency for the Tor network) but they said they wouldn't do it, instead they were making the right choice they told me.

Image source: security intelligence website

As a parent, I’m worried I didn't know about this until now. I'm worried what this will do to their young, developing brains and how fast a network like Tumblr can make this kind of material ‘the norm’. I'm worried we've left the moral choices up to them, because they have untethered access to the web and we haven't mentored or managed this for them.

What do you think? Has any of this shocked you at all? Is there anything we should be doing to address this issue?


  • Anjela Webster (View all users posts) 02 Nov 2015 12:20pm ()

    Thanks Tessa, really interesting posting.  

    I am working on my thesis this year, researching what 'privacy' is to young people, and what relationship their concepts of privacy have on their activities and pursuits online.  As I have been (over the last 8 years) involved, interested, intrigued and appalled at various opportunities and risks the Internet provides all users, I decided to take on my Masters in this general arena.  All of the above information about the Dark Web is correct, and for a chilling but informative read, I would recommend "The Dark Web" by Jamie Bartlett (2014).  This part of the web has been around for a good while, and in particular, accessed by many from the 1990's, however with the advent of mobile devices, it has now become more of an issue in relation to young people and what they can and do access, and often in environments with little supervision.

    The digital environment today whereby very young children can tuck away with a digital device in their bedroom, or down at the local free wifi spot etc, and go looking at anything (!!), is a reality.  Research shows some important points to consider (so, several conclusions from my thesis in a nutshell):

    • Age matters. Age is a key determinant in the likelihood of understanding more of the technical and social nuances and tools available in online sites. The younger the child, the less social competencies, technical know-how, and skill set in managing online risks such as unwanted contact, inappropriate or offensive conduct or content, and disclosure of personal information/content.  Therefore, younger children and preteen need both parental mediation and oversight, and opportunities to learn about technical and social complexities online.
    • Complexities in technical knowledge, and understanding social complexities online are not symmetrically nor reciprocal. These aspects need to be taught/learned in a range of settings occurring at home and in schools.  This also means that the technical capabilities of young people enable them to be better equipped at such things as blocking, reporting, etc. But being socially active and aware online does not mean competencies with managing settings, tools etc online. Don't be 'fooled' by their apparent 'genius' ability to do anything and everything on a device.
    • Parental boundaries, filtering, monitoring etc are recommended with younger children, also restricting screen time, ensuring open doors or family rooms are used as much as poss. devices out of rooms at night, restrict sites etc.  However, as they mature, trust is essential ... but managed. Participatory mediation is the best known method of empowering children and young people in developing ethical, safe, private, constructive and creative endeavours online. It requires parental time, to engage with the sites, teen or child, in meaningful, collaborative ways on a frequent basis. Child becomes 'teacher', upskilling parent, together they co-create etc.... And most important, throughout all of these growing up years, conversations about everyday online stuff, the things that are cool, stuff that can go wrong, and what to do if they do .... remembering they may well make a mistake of judgement at some point, but its not the end of the world, and they need to hear it from their caregiver that they will support them if something did go wrong, but trust is extended.  
    • Young people cannot develop concepts or behaviours of trust if they are not first 'trusted' and learn what that means, feels like, looks like, and in the event of it being broken, what consequences are likely.
    • Keep the channels open, as young people are hesitant to seek parental or school support for fear of consequences such as the removal of their device.  This ought to be a 'last resort', as research shows that online connectivity with peers is a healthy pursuit, an aspect of identity development in this day and age, and a place where young people are trying out aspects of self as they journey through adolescence.
    • Have conversations about the dark web. Let young people know that we know it exists, it is a place to go to when you have something to do that needs to be concealed.  Discuss why that might be.... what sort of things do people need to conceal ...what are the dangers in moving around sites on this side of the web?  is anything really trustworthy? what could happen if you purchase something illegal and you get caught?  Lots of actual news reports share of these issues so topical to talk about.  Pornography ... have the conversations about denigration of women, addiction to porn, the fantasy of porn, legal issues ... what is Restricted material v's objectionable in the eyes of the law .... bitcoins and bit wallets ...pros and cons ... these are major and essential conversations to have.
    • The Dark web also provides a space and place for some very essential information to be shared, for example, people living under dictatorships and they use this side of the web to communicate outside of their country.  
    • Focus on developing resilient young people who can make informed choices about their online pursuits and can channel their curiosity. And in addition, develop skills to weigh up benefits v's risks in relation to decision making and behaviours online ...understand and debate consequences of actions.... One key motivating factor for much of youth's online activities is "what's in it for me", the benefits usually outweigh the risks in terms of motivation for action, according to research. 

    Like everything, good and bad activities are percolated in this side of the web.  Mostly highly questionable stuff... I could write on forever, but must actually get back to my Lit Review. Looking forward to seeing what anyone else thinks about these issues. Happy to discuss further ... 

    Anjela Webster

    Some refs ...

    Bartlett, J. (2014).  The Dark Net.  London, UK. William Heinemann. 

    Ginsburg, K. R., & Jablow, M. M. (2014). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings (3rd ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL, USA: American Academy of Pediatrics.

    Liu, C., Ang, R. P., & Lwin, M. O. (2013). Cognitive, personality, and social factors associated with adolescents’ online personal information disclosure. Journal of Adolescents, 36(4), 629–638. 

    Livingstone, S. (2015). As ever younger kids go online, how is the family responding? Retrieved from http://clrn.dmlhub.net/content/as-ever-younger-kids-go-online-how-is-the-family-responding

    Lwin, M. O., Miyazaki, A. D., Stanaland, A. J. S., & Lee, E. (2012). Online usage motive and information disclosure for preteen children. Young Consumers, 13(4), 345 –356. 

    Yan, Z. (2006).What influences children's and adolescents' understanding of the complexity of the Internet? Developmental Psychology, 42(3), 418-428  http://psycnet.apa.org.ezproxy.waikato.ac.nz/journals/dev/42/3/418.html

  • Hamish McLean (View all users posts) 02 Nov 2015 12:32pm ()

    Yeah I re-thought about the dark web when I read the latest 'Lee Child - Jack Reacher' book.  He uses this as the underlying theme of his book.  It brings a very real problem to the often carpet swept issue.  

    Too often we forget about the illegal activities of the world in day to day issues, and even more forget about illegal activities in the online environment.  We think about illegal downloading music and movies because they are bought to our attention, but there are very dark and underworld activities just like in the real world that are often too synister to think about.  

    Thanks for your post Tessa Gray and your reply Anjela Webster



  • Anjela Webster (View all users posts) 02 Nov 2015 1:50pm ()

    Just another thought .... many teens are also aware of some pretty heavy duty sites on the general web, and as educators and parents we need to be aware of their existence.... I think the general rule of thumb is, if you think of a most 'offensive' and 'unlikely' site, it exists, on one side of the web, or the other. Research also indicates that generally young people who are exhibiting psychological or behavioural concerns, are more likely to encounter and engage in riskier online activity.  Without wanting to hype or sensationalize these examples, these are a few from the general web:

    Pro anorexia sites, often blogs by individuals, photo journalling their progress towards their goals ... thus, a powerful visual and personal reach.... they offer tips, how to get around the scrutiny of parents etc.

    Pro bulimia sites (same as above)

    Self harm sites (cutting... etc)

    Suicide sites (blogs, forums etc on how to blah blah) 

    Hate/Racist cites

    So you can see that endeavors within schools in such things like "health and wellbeing", "mindfulness", cyber related teachings,  etc are very very important in the curriculum to empower and support our young in developing resilience, as well as caregiver mediation and support.t's about partnering with young people, rather than being on one side of the divide...watch Sonia Livingstone through link below on a TEDx talk. Sums it all up...


    Sticks'n'stones - Young people taking action to promote ... (made by NZ youth for youth - outstanding)

    TEDx talk with Sonia Livingstone 2014. This is outstanding.... she is a guru of research, and with her teams who have undertaken extensive studies with 25000 young people across multiple countries in the EU. She advocates for balance of the risks, and benefits of young people online.  See link below:


  • Allanah King (View all users posts) 02 Nov 2015 5:45pm ()

    I am thinking of Quinn Norton's uLearn keynote last year.


    Writer-journalist Quinn Norton studies the social structures that emerge around contemporary issues - how these self-organised communities operate and the agency they foster. In her ULearn14 keynote presentation Quinn relates this phenomenon to formal and informal learning in a discussion of hacker spaces, hacker communities and temporary autonomous zones.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 03 Nov 2015 10:20am ()

    Thanks Hamish and Allanah for sharing your additional resources to consider. Anjela your points of reference and advice is in valuable, thank you. I have especially appreciated your thoughts around "...partnering with young people, rather than being on one side of the divide." This is so relevant when it comes to older kids and teenagers. Once the horse has bolted it's harder to coach/mentor safe, responsible decisions online, therefore trusting conversations are important and letting then know 'we know' is invaluable.

    I'd love to hear more about your views on these wonderings:

    • Are there deliberate acts of teaching in schools to address the cyber positives/issues/consequences (IE: integrated into current studies like health)? Any to share?
    • Whose responsibility is it to inform parents and whānau? Schools, the media, NetSafe?
    • What are the potential consequences if caregivers do know about these issues, but choose to ignore or find it too hard to address? Does it come down to the rights for individual choice?
  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 07 Aug 2017 12:36pm ()

    Looks like the secret's out and young people are doing more than explore the dark web.... Dark Web sting: Kiwi teens getting drugs on global underworld internet

    "Experts say our young people are being seduced by a world hidden in plain sight - and parents have no idea what their children are doing..."

    How many of your teens know about the dark web?


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