Jamie Bartlett – The Dark Net


William Heinemann, ISBN-13: 978-0434023158, English,, 320 pages, 2014, UK

In the early public era of the Internet (the second half of the nineties), the dream of finally having a horizontal medium, enabling many-to-many communication, free from censorships and time/space/money constraints was vivid. After almost twenty years internet has become much closer to real world society as it is split in half: the (mostly) corporate and government ruled “official” networks and services, and an almost invisible but vast network of semi-legal or completely illegal practices, vaguely but very imaginatively called ‘Dark Net.’ Bartlett here effectively investigates the latter, defining seven popularly controversial areas described in respective chapters: trolling, nationalism, cam-modelling, cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin), the silk road (online drugs shopping), child pornography, anonymity, and the duality between extreme techno-optimism and techno-pessimism. Chapters focus on a single protagonist (physically met by the author) who tells his own narrative about what he does, almost perfectly embodying the topic itself. The social narrative that emerges then is surprisingly familiar (and intriguing too), talking about people sharing interests online, however extreme they are. There’s a lot of psychological involvement, not only for the sometimes disturbing nature of the content but also for the mechanisms, unfolding often from the ‘Online Disinhibition Effect’, or disassociation between online and offline personas. The book thinks about these uncharted territories as the litmus test of networks as we know them, and discusses how we might be able to shape them.