This past Wednesday, the F.B.I. shut down down Silk Road, the now-notorious online black market. The arrest of 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, a.k.a. Dread Pirate Roberts, has introduced many Americans to the fact that there are hidden websites found only in the Deep Web.
Parents who were worried about Snapchat and Facebook have questions. Here are answers to some of the big ones:
1. What is Silk Road, and what is the Deep Web? The Deep Web is a part of the Internet buried under the surface web that cannot be reached through standard search engines like Google.
It’s a place where anonymity is required, a huge draw for many of its visitors concerned with internet privacy and the way many institutions gather the personal data and browsing habits of customers.
That invisibility leads to some illicit activity. Silk Road became a "clearinghouse for drugs, fake IDs, and other things you can’t buy at Walmart." The only thing anyone needed was enough of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which can be dispatched through a computer or smartphone without involving a financial institution.
2. Do minors use the Dark Web? Yes. For many kids, going to Silk Road via their computers was much easier than buying drugs from a local dealer. I have a nine-year old whose computer literacy has almost eclipsed my own; she’ll be a teenager soon, and this terrifies me.
The Daily Dot article linked above explains that teenagers' “habit of bragging about their drug deals online” is one of the biggest threats to the cloak protecting online black markets from exposure.
3. How smart does a kid have to be get on the dark web? The answer is: not exceptionally smart. If you look at the teens bragging about their illegal drug purchases on social media, you’ll realize some pretty dumb kids have pulled this off.
Yes, the technical challenges can seem daunting to an average web user. But for some teens, easy access to drugs can be a real motivator.
The best thing to do is assume that lack of access won’t be what stops your kids from using drugs. If you think living in a nice neighborhood means you’re immune, disabuse yourself of that illusion pronto.
Also, watch for packages. Although drugs can be procured on the deep web, they have to enter the everyday world to get to your kid. Finally, do what you normally would to keep your child drug-free. Talk to them about drugs early and often, watch for signs of drug use, and model good behavior.
Have you ever visited the Deep Web? Do you think your child has? Tell us about it in a comment or blog post.