Last Updated on 25th October 2021

The phrase ‘dark web’ might bring up all sorts of connotations in your mind, none of which are probably good. For most people, the dark web is a place never ventured to or even given much thought. It’s the other side of the internet, the shadowy depths where criminals and people who are up to no good virtually reside.

Let’s take a look at the dark web, examine its uses, and discuss how you can protect the children in your care from its risks.

illustration of a laptop with different branches of the internet coming out

What is the Dark Web?

You may have heard the terms deep web and dark web used interchangeably. In fact, they are two different terms with separate meanings.

The deep web is any part of the internet that isn’t open and indexed. In other words, it’s websites or pages that won’t show up through internet searches because they aren’t designed to be public. It includes private information, like your email account and school web pages (usually referred to as ‘intranets’).

The dark web is the place where things are purposely hidden from view through encryption software, which can hide the identity and location of users. While it may seem like a big and unknowable place, the dark web only makes up a small part of the deep web.

Deep or Dark?

Deep Web

The umbrella term for parts of the internet that aren’t found by search engines, including the dark web. For example: email accounts, medical information, legal documents, and private databases storing sensitive data.

Dark Web

Websites where visitors, website owners, and all data are encrypted. For example: sites selling stolen data, secure communication outlets, online criminal organisations selling drugs, and websites hosting illegal images of child sexual abuse and gore.

young girl looking at a laptop
Iceberg Illustration representing the different levels of the internet, surface web, deep web, dark web
Iceberg Illustration representing the different levels of the internet, surface web, deep web, dark web

How is it accessed?

  • The dark web cannot be easily accessed by regular web browsers like Safari and Chrome. Instead, users need to use a special browser, such as the Onion Router (TOR) which was named after the layers of an onion.

  • While some search engines do exist, the dark web is not easy to search. Users typically need to know exactly where they are going. Dark web addresses are not usually made of words. For example, www.google.com could look like sdfhjdsf656.onion.

  • Information and user guides about the dark web are widely available, meaning that anyone (including young people) can learn how to gain access with enough research.

Tor web browser logo

Tor Browser

What is it used for?

The dark web is used for many things, from trading illegal materials to confidential communication between news outlets and whistle-blowers. Young people can decide to access the dark web for various reasons, which include both legal and illegal motivations:

  • Pirating (an online term for stealing) materials including games, films, music, and books.

  • Being completely anonymous online. Young people may want to be untraceable in their online actions out of principle or fear (such as wanting to avoid being a victim of a data leak or to avoid detection online).

  • Purchasing illegal contraband like drugs, weapons, fake IDs, and fake exam certificates.
  • Learning about and engaging with political movements that are censored on the ‘open web’. This could include protests and riots happening in a country with extreme media censorship.
  • Out of curiosity. Whether it’s just for fun, because of a dare, or genuine interest, young people may give into their curiosity and begin to explore the dark web.
  • Trading cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin). Not all activity involving this trading takes place on the dark web. Most will be through legitimate open web methods.
young girl sitting on her bed on her laptop

Should you be worried?

For many young people, the online world has become an important part of their every day. It’s a private place, with no parents there to watch what they do and say. This is especially true of the dark web. It’s a place a young person may (falsely) believe they can interact without obvious consequences, a space without family rules, without societal rules, and without government rules.

However, the dark web also requires a complex understanding of encryption, computers, and the internet. This means that if a young person does begin to use the dark web, they may not use it long term.

This is not a widespread issue. Some young people may hear about the dark web from videos with catchy titles like ’10 disturbing things hidden on the dark web’ or see it depicted in T.V. shows, like Netflix’s How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast), which may encourage curiosity.

If a young person decides to visit the dark web with relatively good intentions, there are still risks that can impact them including:

  • Explicit and illegal content, including extreme gore, animal cruelty, graphic violence, and child sexual abuse materials. This content can appear without any warning, meaning a young person could see material that leaves them feeling shocked and distressed.

  • A potential exposure to online grooming due to the anonymity of the dark web and the technical skill of its users. Lack of regulations and the ability to hide content and activities from law enforcement means it’s extremely difficult to prosecute crimes on the dark web should a child or young person become a victim.

  • Websites and chatrooms that encourage unhealthy and dangerous behaviours, like radicalisation, self-harm, or suicide.

Top Tips

  • Understand how the dark web works and how it can be accessed on a mobile, tablet, and desktop.
  • Engage in open conversations about the online world. Discuss how the internet can be used in a positive, healthy way with the young person in your care.
  • Talk about what websites and apps they’re visiting and spending time on. Make this a two-way conversation and talk about what you like to read and watch online, to help facilitate open and honest conversations.
  • Discuss parts of the internet that are not safe or healthy. This will allow you to judge just how much the young person may or may not know about the dark web.
  • Reassure the child or young person in your care that they can come to you or another trusted adult if they ever see anything upsetting online. Learn more about trusted adults with our range of resources.
  • If the child in your care is concerned about online security, you can reassure them by reading through our blog on cyber security together.
  • Avoid using website names or information that is too detailed if discussing the dark web. It’s best not to draw attention to things and create curiosity!
  • Visit our Safety Centre to find out more about keeping safe in the online world.

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