History 427: History of the Information Age

HIST 427: Cyber Bullying and the Dark Web

This week in History of the Information Age, we discussed a brief history of communication technology, cyber bullying in the age of social media, and the dark and deep web.

Cyber Bullying

Admittedly, when I saw that we were assigned readings on cyber bulling and social media, I was worried that I was about to read the same narrative about bullying – the narrative about how bullying is bad, hard to combat, and typically exists in a cyclical pattern. While those facets are true, I contemplating the differences between cyber bullying and the bullying of “yesterday” from a different perspective.

I found Maria Konnikova’s article “How the Internet Has Changed Cyber Bullying” to be most interesting. Because social media allows users to create different online personas across different platforms, the way in which bullying or harassment may ensue is fundamentally different and more malleable than days past.

If a child in the 1970s was severely bullied in their school, their main option was to transfer into a different school or district. New environment, no problem – out of sight, out of mind. (In theory.) The school bully likely was known as, well, the school bully, and would likely keep that reputation at least until the end of the school year, or even longer. Nowadays however, bullying and harassment can be more dynamic – more multi-faceted. An indivudal can be a victim of cyber bullying on Twitter, but not on Facebook. That indivudal might also never be the victim of verbal or physical harassment in school, or any physical space. This, in many ways, makes bullying harder to track and combat.

The “flexibility” of bullying across platforms can make the act more insidious. Sure, you can simply log off of your social media accounts, but that does not prevent others from posting unwanted content about you.

The Ambiguity of Regulating Cyber Bullying

Most social media platforms do have rules of conduct. For example, on Twitter, you cannot post graphic or adult content, threaten users with physical harm or violence, engage in hateful conduct or unwanted sexual contact, or threaten to expose, or “doxx” users. While this may seem straightforward, what may be deemed as “hateful” conduct to one user could be completely ignored by another user. Furthermore, bullying might not fall into any of these categories, as it is possible for a user to be a victim of bullying or harassment without being the victim of a direct threat of violence or harm.

Social media inherently lends itself to herd mentality, by which users may justify their actions, Tweets, or thoughts – actions which could otherwise be deemed socially inappropriate, as morally appropriate because, well “others are doing it,” or that they are somehow correct in their otherwise misguided actions.

What can teachers, parents, and others do about cyber bullying? The issue, in part, seems to stem from either a lack of regard to a false sense of anonymity or privacy on the Internet, or blatant disregard for the inevitable convergence of “social media life” and “real life.” Interestingly, when we discussed this issue in class, most of my peers, and myself included stated that we do not see the Internet or social media as granting us any privacy, even if we are using a non-identifying username or account.

When navigating social media, best practice, or at least, the most cautious practice is to post as though anyone might read that post, and as though that post is a direct reflection of yourself. Sure, that’s not how many of us want to live our lives online, but it’s a safe bet if you want to air on the side of caution and act as a responsible digital citizen.

The Deep Web, The Dark Web

In Thursday’s class session, we discussed the expectations versus realities of the deep web. Only 4% of the internet is accessible through mainstream Google searches. There is a great deal of content on the Internet that most of us may never see. Interestingly, the Deep Web was invented in tandem, not after, the readily accessible Internet itself.

How exactly does the Deep Web work? Through encryption. For regular Internet users, the IP address on your computer allows others to track your location – often with great precision. Even if all of your social media account usernames are “AnonymousDuck123,” you are not truly posting in completely anonymity. Software such as Tor or I2P routes connections through a series of servers around the world, making it impossible to pinpoint a user’s identity or location. Some Deep Web sites are also free of HTML or other links, making it difficult to “accidentally” stumble upon content that a creator wants hidden.

I learned that not all activity on the Deep Web is insidious, and that the Deep Web is not a singular, monolithic entity, but rather, a series of “islands” in which users may engage in entirely different forms of content. While the Deep and Dark Web are notorious for allowing users to access violent images, drug sales, and other criminal activity, many users opt to log online using the deep web for privacy and anonymity sake.

In many countries, censorship laws are such that regular individuals cannot voice political discontent, or speak about “taboo” topics including sexuality (remember, homosexuality is still criminal in many countries) without fear of persecution. Using the Dark Web via a service like Tor or I2P allows many to freely engage in speech.

Policing the Deep Web is tricky. This is partially due to the anonymity and encryption of the Deep Web, but also, due to the fact that software like Tor is heavily funded and used by the US government, so it is not as though the legality of the sheer existence of such software can be put into question.

Just as the Deep Web is not a singular entity, it does not comprise a singular group of people. Sure, there are true criminals who roam its sites, but there are a whole slew of other users. Some avoiding censorship, some engaging in discourse that may be socially appropriate in another culture but socially inappropriate in their own, or any other reason.

Citations

Heaven, Douglas. “Unpicking the Mythologies around the Dark Web.” New Scientist 240, no. 3209 (2018): 82-84. https://www-sciencedirect-com.umw.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S0262407918323753

“The History of Communication Technology.” Conference Calls Unlimited – Easy, Reliable, Affordable. Accessed March 30, 2019. https://www.conferencecallsunlimited.com/history-of-communication-technology/

Hood, Michelle and Amanda Duffy. “Understanding the Relationship between Cyber-victimisation and Cyber-bullying on Social Network Sites: The Role of Moderating Factors.” Personality and Individual Differences 133 (2017): 103-108. https://www-sciencedirect-com.umw.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S0191886917302556

Hurlburt, George. “Shining Light on the Dark Web.” Computer 50, no. 4 (2017): 100-05. https://ieeexplore-ieee-org.umw.idm.oclc.org/document/7912236

Konnikova, Maria, and Maria Konnikova. “How the Internet Has Changed Bullying.” The New Yorker. June 19, 2017. Accessed March 30, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-the-internet-has-changed-bullying

Salter, Michael, and Chris Bryden. 2009. “I Can See You: Harassment and Stalking on the Internet.” Information & Communications Technology Law 18 (2): 99–122. doi:10.1080/13600830902812830. https://umw-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com:443/UMW:Everything:TN_tayfranc10.1080/13600830902812830

“Rules and Policies.” Twitter. https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules

2 thoughts on “HIST 427: Cyber Bullying and the Dark Web

  1. Prior to completing the readings for this week, the topic of cyberbullying was not something I had thought about in a long time because I, personally, never encounter it or see it online through the sites that I normally use. I really like your point about being a good “digital citizen.” In connection with your mention about lack of privacy today online, posting hurtful things could come back to bite us whether we think it will or not.

    1. Thank you, I had not even contemplated the concept of a “digital citizen” until my DGST 101 class last semester!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.