Interview: Darknet Culture
I had read this article few weeks back and found it interesting so contacted Tatjana for this Interview or Q&A. I really appreciate the quick response that I got and detailed answers to all the questions.
Article link: https://fragment-x6.net/posts/darknet-culture-lessons/
1. “That’s one thing about people coming from the darknet culture — they are true to themselves. They won’t run away from problems.” This is so true and I can relate to it, do you think darknet culture has changed over last few years though?
Yes, it did — in several ways. The darknet culture as I knew it hasn’t changed much in the sense of how people interact and what they interact about, but it became more hidden and harder to join. People aren’t as welcoming or optimistic when it comes to newcomers. I think it all started to go south once the darknet — the word — went mainstream. It had a lot to do with the rise of darknet markets and even puzzles like Cicada 3301 for example. Once the general public learned about “the darknet” it started to drastically change. Darknet markets, as much as they are good in theory and needed, quickly got out of hand, which led to law enforcement agencies waging a war on them and mainstream media spreading made-up stories about the darknet. Suddenly people like Ross were public enemy number one, and there was a lot of attention on the darknet. People were blaming the medium for “crimes” that would happen without it anyway.
Around the same time online puzzles that originated on the darknet caught the attention of many people. It added a layer of bullshit conspiracy and mystery to the whole darknet topic. Now people were making creepy videos, and stories about red rooms, and assassins for hire, and human experiments and I’m sure that almost all of that wasn’t based on reality. These things in combination and others like people making videos of exploring darknet websites (half of them scams) brought a lot of new people to the darknet. And then it all started to go down. There was a sweet spot in all of that when there were enough new people that were genuinely interested and wanted to be a part of the community, but that passed quickly. What later happened is that many forums, boards and chats were flooded with people who didn’t belong there, content quality went down dramatically and old users left.
As much as I would like it to go back to how it was I don’t see that happening. I think that a lot of those old users lost interest, that darknet as a term lost its essence and that if there is a good community out there it’s based on people knowing each other from way back or from real life, and it’s really hard to join it.
2. What are basic things a newbie should take care of while using darknet forums in terms of good opsec?
When it comes to OPSec it’s best to continuously learn and research. Don’t just blindly follow some guide, but try to understand why something should be done. Take everything with a grain of salt. Be careful with the technology you use but also with your behavior, the way you express, write (don’t use non-standard punctuation and idioms), your habits, time of day when you’re online, be careful what you reveal about yourself etc. If you’re completely new to all of it then stick to Tails until you have more knowledge to protect yourself better.
3. The thing you wrote about free speech, darknet, privacy and anonymity was amazing. I think lot of people from governments spy on darknet users, does it affect the users to freely talk about things or moderators in any way?
I wouldn’t say they’re actively spying on all of darknet users — that would require too much effort and resources and I hope law enforcement agencies have better things to do than that. It’s more that some places are regularly monitored, and some even joined by covert agents if needed. For example some governments use spidering to automatically capture and analyze content on darknet markets, forums and IRCs. If this affects you or of not depends on what you’re doing and saying and how good are you at protecting yourself. It can affect you in two ways — some people might be afraid of possible consequences and then limit themselves in their speech, while other might up their game and be more careful with their OPSec. If it affects you, it’s better to affect you in the latter sense. But in general normal users shouldn’t worry too much.
There’s a misconception out there regarding how police and intelligence agencies work and some people think if they just install Tor they’re immediately on some list. But that’s not how these things work — at least not in most places. It affects moderators and operators more because they are the ones responsible for everything that goes down. But if you’re willing to be a mod or sysop of a darknet forum you should be well aware of the risks you’re taking.
4. “Having friends on the darknet is uncertain. You never know if it’s the last time you’re talking to them. People come and go, they disappear and then resurface again.” True. Did you ever meet anyone IRL who was someone you started interacting with on darknet? If you have a really important person on darknet who shares lot of useful things, do you consider asking them for backup contacts etc. to remain in touch always?
Yes, I met people IRL that I first started communicating with on the darknet. I actually ended up meeting a lot of those people. Some I even meet IRL and later realize I know them from a darknet IRC or something like that. This comes with a lot of risk for everyone involved so if you ever decide to do it be sure you’re prepared for all possible outcomes and consequences. In my case what made the situation easier is that there are places and gatherings across Europe where these people are likely to attend in big numbers, so the risk is lower.
Backup contacts.. sure, why not. With people that matter you should always have a way to reach them if needed. But of course, always be careful.
5. Your thoughts on governments, censorship done by governments in different things including financial transactions and how can Bitcoin solve it? Do you contribute to Bitcoin in any way or plan to do it in future?
I’ve been an anarchist since I can remember. Went through a lot of rebellious phases throughout my life but came to learn that its best to do it secretly and covertly, from the shadows. When it comes to governments they don’t play a big role in my life because I put a lot of effort into not being affected by them. However, they are a big issue especially with all the new laws and regulations being implemented regarding technology and privacy. I think that we’re soon going to face big changes in the political, geo-political and economic spheres. Things will get much worse for a lot of people and it’s the people with skills and knowledge that will be able to navigate the future and impact the world from the shadows.
Censorship is becoming more and more problematic, even on the darknet because new laws put more liability on sysops and moderators. I think a lot of people don’t realize the severity of the issues surrounding the freedom of speech. We’ll find ways to have it but it might not look like the standard darknet anymore.
With all due respect to the Bitcoin community, I don’t think Bitcoin is the right solution for our problems. I think that blockchain based technologies are extremely dangerous, which I hope more people will realize soon. The Bitcoin community had a good idea but it went in the wrong direction, and it seems that a lot of people are stuck in the 60s when it comes to their economic worldviews. People should focus more on privacy and anonymity, without adding layer on top of layer of technology. I’m not that optimistic when it comes to cryptocurrencies today. And no, I don’t contribute to Bitcoin nor do I plan to, my focus is on strategic security.
6. Any darknet forums that you can suggest?
Not really, most good forums are long dead.
There’s the oldest running darknet IRC: https://anarplex.net/agorairc/ and recently started forum, that is not purely darknet: https://bbs.anarplex.net/
I have a different opinion when it comes to Bitcoin and that’s fine. However everything said above is very important and useful information. — Prayank
Follow Tatjana on twitter: @qotdn