A local Chattanooga news station, WTVC, ran a story about the Deep Dark Web this week. It is so, so badly done that I felt it necessary to write the producers of the work a letter about it, and decided that I would include both the above link to their story and my response here.
My letter to WTVC
Dear Producers of “Chattanooga Police Explain Dangers Of The Deep And Dark Web”:
I have so very many problems with your Deep/Dark web story from earlier this week, that it may be difficult for me to hit all of the points that I found wrong at best, and massively misleading at worst.
You failed to appropriately delineate any aspects of the technology in the piece, conflating web browsers with protocols, and generally confusing how anonymous communication works on the Internet. You mention Tor (https://www.torproject.org), the network protocol for anonymous routing of communications, but only in the service of the Tor Browser, a web interface that runs on top of said network.
More worrisome, you presented the very worst sort of fear journalism by not only presenting an “expert” in “hacktivism” that came off as little more than a stereotype talking about secret murder games without any sort of proof or questioning. The police officer was almost worse, suggesting that parents might worry if their teenagers had something to hide on their devices….of course teens have things to hide. They are teenagers. It is practically their job to find things which they do not want their parents knowing. Conflating child abduction (an incredibly rare occurrence, as I’m sure you know) with kids use of Snapchat or WhatsApp is just terrible, terrible reporting. It’s fear mongering and false from nearly every angle.
The fact that your “expert” couldn’t think of any reasons that people might want to communicate anonymously with each other is a sign of massive social privilege. Nearly any member of any minority group in the US might have reason to communicate anonymously with others, usually because of a fear of retribution from their immediate family or social circle. Imagine an LGBTQ teen struggling with self-identity in a very conservative area, and how anonymous communication might be important. Imagine how repressive regimes throughout the world make open communication between groups literally a life and death issue.
Or maybe just think about how anonymity of speech is a necessary component of the freedom of speech in the US. You are supposed to be journalists, and defending the anonymity of sources is a primary function of your job. You should know about SecureDrop (https://securedrop.org) and other tools that leverage these technologies to ensure that open communication is a thing that is maintained here in this country.
You are supposed to be better than fear mongering and misunderstanding.
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society