Case Study 1 (Dark Web)

Overview

This case study introduces you to the dark web from a number of perspectives, each of which has its own “technological imaginary” concerning the dark web. The case study involves role playing. You’ll receive a character description and for a time you’ll need to inhabit the worldview of that character. Even if you don’t agree with that character’s perspective…

Safety and Privacy

Before we begin the case study, please know that words, images, and videos of the most disturbing nature can be found on the dark web. There is nothing in this case study 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.

Procedure

This case study proceeds through a number of stages. You’ll meet briefly with your group in Stage One, break apart into different groups for Stage Two, and then reform your group for Stage Three.

Stage One (5 minutes)
  1. There are five groups. Find your group!
  2. With help from your group, download and install the Tor browser. Tor is an acronym. It stands for The Onion Router, an allusion to the layers of encryption that secure each data transfer on the network.
  3. Run the browser with the default options.
  4. 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?
  5. Each person in your group will choose one of the six case study roles I provide: a principal, a journalist, a criminal, a website operator, an activist, or a magazine editor. Only choose your roles at this point. Don’t act them out yet.
Stage Two (15 minutes)
  1. Now form new groups based on your roles. All the principals will get together, all the journalists, etc.
  2. As a group, explore some dark web sites. Start out with the list below.
  3. Discuss how someone in your role would use, critique, misuse the dark web.

Here are a few sites to get you started:

Stage Three (15 minutes)
  1. The original groups reform and have a discussion about the dark web, with everyone staying in character.
  2. To kick off the discussion, consider some issues or questions about the dark web that arise from your point of view.
  3. Remember that one principle of the “technological imaginary” we’ve discussed in class is that technology is not universal. Rather, it is contextual. Similarly, so too is the technological imaginary contextual. Different people have different expectations, aspirations, fantasies, and anxieties about the power of technology. How would the dark web fit into the technological imaginary of your character?
Stage Four (10 minutes)

Now we’ll debrief as a class about the dark web. You can remain in character or out for this!

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