The dark web might be the closest thing we currently have to cyberspace as imagined by William Gibson. This lab will introduce you to the dark web and ask you to consider how this secretive space fits in with the rest of digital culture.
Before we get started with this lab, take 5 minutes to brainstorm everything you think you know or have heard about the dark web:
- Write down a list of ten words (nouns, verbs, or adjectives) that describe what you perceive the dark web to be.
- Next write a paragraph or two in more narrative form about what you have heard or know about the dark web.
The list of words in #1 and your writing in #2 will go into your lab report, so hold on to them!
Safety and Privacy
Before we start the hands-on portion of the lab, please know that words, images, and videos of the most disturbing nature can be found on the dark web. There is nothing in this lab that steers you toward such content. Nevertheless, if you’re not aware, you can end up in unexpected and unwelcome places. I urge you to avoid any sites that go beyond what you’re willing or able to tolerate in a safe classroom environment.
Browsing the dark web requires a different set of practices than the clear web. Do not share any personal information, including name, email, photos, or your location with any site. If you want to make an account on a dark web site, do not use any of your existing user names or passwords. Do not use your regular email address; use a burner email account from a service like MailDrop or ProtonMail.
- Download and install the Tor browser. Tor stands for “The Onion Router,” an allusion to the layers of encryption that secure each data transfer on the network.
- Run the browser with the default options.
- Get to know the Tor browser, which is based on Firefox. What plug-ins are included, how is the browser different from standard Firefox, what do the icons in the toolbar do, and so on?
- Start Exploring. Here are some sites to get you started:
You can organize your lab report around the following sections:
Part I: Preconceptions (Roughly 100 words)
Include your list of ten words to describe the dark web and the paragraph or two that you wrote at the beginning of class. Do not edit the content of this writing, except to fix punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
Part II: What You Now Know (Roughly 200 words)
You can take this section in a number of directions, but generally you want to describe and analyze the experience of browsing the dark web. Some questions to consider might include:
- What were the limits to what you felt comfortable browsing?
- It’s obvious why some sites are on the dark web, but other sites might be a surprise. Why would they be on the dark web?
- What was the most unexpected revelation about the dark web?
- What did you learn about the technology used to access the dark web? What did you learn more broadly about the internet?
Part III: Theorizing (Roughly 200 words)
Think back to the “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers” article by Roy Rosenzweig. Each figure in that title represents a distinct way to conceptualize the origin on the Internet. If you had to write a history of the dark web, what semi-metaphorical figure would you add to Rosenzweig’s list, and why?
An operative metaphor for the dark web is an onion, due to the layers of encryption involved. Another common metaphor is the iceberg: when you browse the regular web you are only seeing the tip of the Internet; vast portions of it remain hidden, like the bulk of an iceberg. If you had to explain Tor browser and the dark web using a different metaphor, what would it be? Write a paragraph in which you use an extended metaphor to describe the dark web and how it works.
Because of the constrained nature of this assignment, there is no need to spend precious space on a lofty introduction or grandiose conclusion. Dig right into the actual analysis of the two types of reading.
The final lab report should be about 500 words and is due Tuesday, September 19 by 5pm. You’ll submit the lab report as a Google Document by sharing it with firstname.lastname@example.org and giving me commenting privileges.