The dark web is a network of secret websites unreachable by normal internet browsers.
It’s not the kind of place you can stumble into by accident—and you wouldn’t want to. Millions of dark web sites sell drugs and illegal arms, stolen credit card numbers, hacked social media accounts… and worse. The dark web is home to sex traffickers, violent child abusers, and contract killers. If you have an anonymous web browser and a hefty stack of cryptocurrency, any nefarious thing your wicked little heart could yearn for is just a few clicks away.
By contrast, the normal internet—the one you and I browse everyday—is called the clearnet. Clear. Clean. Trustworthy. Safe.
Sure, we all know there are some dangers here too. Be careful with your credit card information. Make sure your kids don’t give out their address to strangers. Don’t click on pop-up ads for FREE PRIZES!!! Go ahead and delete that email from the Nigerian prince.
A few basic precautions and you can enjoy an otherwise smooth experience. The internet is mostly a good place for learning, researching, and exploring new ideas. Right? Wrong.
The illusion of being “clear” is what makes the real dark web so dangerous. The real dark web is every website that serves you exactly what you crave—rather than what you need. The real dark web is Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
The Candy Store for Diabetics
Imagine the internet is a giant grocery store. It has everything you could possibly want or need.
Its rows are lined with endless millions of products, spanning for miles in every direction. In fact, the store is so massive it’s impossible to navigate on your own. So, the internet grocery store helps you out with a little robot companion who knows all your favorite foods.
You don’t need to tell him anything—he’s been observing you for years, and he knows exactly which foods you crave. He knows about those midnight bowls of rocky road, the secret second dinner at the Taco Bell drive-thru, the 2-pound bag of Skittles you stress-eat from your desk drawer during the workday.
He knows it all, and he’s going to use that information to find you only the foods he thinks you want. After all, his goal is not to make you healthy—it’s to get you to spend the most money possible.
This means, for millions of people, that grocery store is nothing but a giant junk food aisle. Sure, those people eat healthy foods now and then, but the robot has a choice. Bring them kale or bring them gummy bears? Which one is most likely to result in a sale? Gummy bears it is.
The worse someone’s diet is, the more relentless the robot is in bringing them exactly the fatty, sugary junk they crave. It’s a pernicious cycle that exploits the weakness and predictability of human nature. Essentially, the robot creates a candy store for diabetics.
The internet is the store. Its billions of pieces of content are the products. Its content-curating algorithms are the robot. They decide your internet fate.
That’s the internet experience for most people. And if you’re gulping down the digital equivalent of Big Macs and Mountain Dew every night, the algorithms are happy to oblige. After all, that’s how the internet titans make their fortune.
Facebook doesn’t make money by serving you accurate information—it makes money by keeping your eyeballs glued to its platform for hours on end, well into the night, scrolling mindlessly at 2 a.m. It does that by giving you the candy you crave whenever you want it.
What Does This All Mean For You?
The internet you browse everyday is uniquely tailored to exploit your own biases. It’s your personal echo chamber. And this is true for everyone.
Flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, holocaust deniers? Their internet robots are eager to serve them content perfectly suited to their tastes. Believe the Illuminati is run by vampiric lizard-people? The algorithm has got you covered. Think President Trump won the election because Russian hackers co-opted Facebook memes? The algorithm has millions of results for you. Whatever information you crave, the algorithm is specifically designed to churn it out in your Facebook feed, your Google search results, and your top Twitter posts.
It’s candy all day long. That’s the real dark side of the internet. People forget it’s just a bunch of mega corporations siphoning off your time and money, locked into a ruthless competition for your attention.
It’s not an open marketplace for ideas where truth and logic prevail. Each person’s dark little corner of the internet is their own secret candy drawer, and their all-knowing robot is happy to keep it stocked with whatever artery-clogging, insulin-spiking, chemical cocktails it takes to keep you coming back for your next fix.
This is the real dark web.
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