The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett

The Dark Net Book Cover The Dark Net
Jamie Bartlett
Non fiction
Random House Cornerstone
August 21, 2014

SHORTLISTED FOR THE POLITICAL BOOK AWARDS AND LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE Beyond the familiar online world that most of us inhabit - a world of Google, Hotmail, Facebook and Amazon - lies a vast and often hidden network of sites, communities and cultures where freedom is pushed to its limits, and where people can be anyone, or do anything, they want. A world that is as creative and complex as it is dangerous and disturbing. A world that is much closer than you think. The dark net is an underworld that stretches from popular social media sites to the most secretive corners of the encrypted web. It is a world that frequently appears in newspaper headlines, but one that is little understood, and rarely explored. The Dark Net is a revelatory examination of the internet today, and of its most innovative and dangerous subcultures: trolls and pornographers, drug dealers and hackers, political extremists and computer scientists, Bitcoin programmers and self-harmers, libertarians and vigilantes. Based on extensive first-hand experience, exclusive interviews and shocking documentary evidence, The Dark Net offers a startling glimpse of human nature under the conditions of freedom and anonymity, and shines a light on an enigmatic and ever-changing world.

The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett

I’ve been using computers for many years now and had roles in IT in various forms. It took me a while to take to the Internet – dial-up modems were not exactly conducive to making any real use of what was out there and I am not a patient soul. However by the start of this century I was making extensive use of the Internet both personally and for work and have continued to do so ever since. I often heard things about “the other internet” and was aware of TOR for concealing your presence (in a sense) while browsing. However it is only in the past few years that I’ve become aware of the implication of the Dark Net and so the opportunity to read this book was very appealing.

The introduction sets out quite clearly Jamie Bartlett’s, the author, experience of the Dark Net as well as his intention not to judge but to shine a light on places unknown to the majority of the online community. I can really only say that I think he succeeds in this very well allowing the fact that even the known Internet is vast and a lot of that is unknown so the light is being shone into very small spaces in a sense. The author comes over very quickly as knowledgeable and I found it well written and easy to read; the style to me is upper end journalism rather than dryly academic. I feel it should be pointed out that this is not a book for the faint hearted – what is written about is quite graphic and unpleasant at times.

The book ranges widely by chapter covering aspects such as the history of the Internet from the early days of BBS and Usenet through to sites such as 4chan, fark and the use of facebook in ways I’d not come across. Extremists, trolls and trolling, Bitcoin, cryptography, drugs, porn and abuse sites are all looked at as well as some other aspects coming up to date with information from the late Spring of this year (2014). The book also looks at the sociology & psychology of Dark Net and Internet in general. As someone who was a fairly early user of Usenet, I found the author seemed to set a good balance between information and information overload.

Whilst about Internet use, “light” and “dark”, this book does concern itself with a number of the main and troubling issues of our times. I could argue that this is not really about the Dark Net but more about looking at modern society, its psychology, sociology and consumerism, through the lens of the Internet and its less well known areas. There are parts of the book which are definitely about the Dark Net however there are substantial amounts that are about the Internet more generally. Moving to its conclusion the book takes on a philosophical slant and is maybe less about thinking outside the box and more about simply thinking – challenging our views on what we consider normal. The book’s conclusions seemed well thought through to me and there are extensive references and further reading. I can honestly say I have rarely read such a good and relevant non fiction work and I found it hard to put down. Highly recommended not simply to those with an interest in the Internet but to those who are interested in modern society more widely.

Note – I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review