Appearances may not always be what they seem. Underneath Professor Snape’s cold and callous veneer in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series is a heart of warmth and love. The recluse Boo Radley from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” isn’t actually as monstrous as what the people in Maycomb County presents him to be. In life, people studded with tattoos could be some of the kindest individuals you meet, atheists could treat humans better than the deeply religious, and introverts or wallflowers could hold the most brilliant ideas. Characters in the shadow often look different in the light, and just as much as scenes in films or pages in literature portray this idea to their audience, life presents the same thing to people.
However, the reverse also holds true: characters in the light can transform into different monsters in the shadow. A licensed psychiatrist could be a cannibal. A renowned comedian could be masking suicidal tendencies and immense depression through laughter. An innocent, teenage girl in social media could sexually abuse two-year-old children in a basement. When placed under different shades, things can change into something beyond its appearance—and the Internet is no exception.
When we refer to the “Web,” we instantly think of Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. That’s what the Internet is for the typical digital native: a red-blue-yellow painted mansion where we can run around and stay in when leisure or work invites us over. However, much like a mansion, there are numerous hallways we have never traversed—various rooms and trapdoors hidden from the common guest—and when we log on to the Internet, the only places we can see are the only places we can go. But there are indeed secret passageways beneath the floors, spacious basements we unknowingly walk over, and much darker rooms we have not entered.
The Web we know—the floors with Facebook, Google, and YouTube—is referred to as the “Surface Web.” The Surface Web is where the fluorescents and chandeliers shine the brightest—this is the Web we see, the Web we reside in, the part of the Internet that is indexed and charted by search engines. When we surf the Web, we literally are “surfing the Web”—as in, we are only riding its waves, and not exploring what’s under.
When you search something in Google, Yahoo, or Bing, all the links that appear are part of the Surface Web. These engines come up with results by constantly indexing websites, following links between them and, as CNN puts it, “crawling through the Web’s threads like a spider.” Anything that doesn’t appear in search results is uncharted, and is therefore not part of the Surface Web. Though you may think reaching the thousandth page of your Google search result is much like reaching the depths of the Marianas Trench, as long as it is there, the last page is still part of the surface. Vast as that portion of the mansion may be, according to top university researchers, the Surface actually composes only four percent of the entire Web. The remaining 96 lies hidden and restricted beneath the floors—in a basement we call the “Deep Web.”
The Deep Web is an invisible, uncharted territory of the Internet, and is 500 times larger than the Surface Web. This is the part of the Web which cannot be accessed by a regular search engine. Unlike the simple sites in the Surface Web where information is static, the Deep Web holds information in dynamic areas that are difficult to index, usually in databases. According to Nigel Hamilton, who used to run a search engine which could explore the Deep Web, when the “web crawler” reaches a database, it cannot dig up content behind the search box. If it cannot crawl through its contents, then it cannot index information; thus, nothing appears in a search result. The military, army, and government uses the Deep Web, and a majority of its contents are highly valuable—government documents, private files in corporations, and a number of academic journals.
To access the Deep Web, special browsers are used, as regular browsers are incapable of seeing through its invisibility. Is it legal? Yes—however, caution must be exercised at all times. While contents in the Deep Web may generally be harmless, if one is not careful, one may stroll along its contents and not notice the gaping hole in the floor, until… BAM!
Get up, brush the dirt off your shoulders, and light a candle—welcome to the “Dark Web.” The Dark Web is a section of the Deep Web where illegal activity thrives—and where one can witness humanity’s vilest face. In the Dark Web, one can engage in illegal drug trades, weapon selling, assassin hiring, advanced hacking services, child pornography, and videos of torture and cannibalism, to name a few. Remember the news about Savage Girl sexually abusing a child? There are tons of videos like that published in the Dark Web—and some which are equally or much worse.
Since the Dark Web is a basket of rotten fruits, the United States FBI took this convenience to their advantage. Since this section attracts individuals engaged in illegal activities, the FBI heavily monitors the websites in the Dark Web—to the extent of using these as bait. Once a person enters a site, or engages in Dark Web activities manned by authorities, they can be arrested by the FBI. Again, if one is not careful, curiosity can eventually kill the cat.
It is terrifying to think that the Dark Web and the people who inhabit it exist, and that murderers, pedophiles, rapists, and torturers could hide in the skin of people you meet every day—the ones you come across in the street, the ones with you in your commute, perhaps even in your friends. But what they all teach us is that appearances may not always be what they seem, and that there may be more that we need to understand in what lies in the depths.
Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” reminds us that people may not be exactly what we think. Although it gives hope and light to the people in the shadow, the reverse again also holds true: people in the light can be different in the shadow—much more frightening, and much more that needs to be understood.