The dark web, known also as the deep web, is a plane of cyberspace we are only beginning to understand and uncover. It is more than encrypted chat logs, it eludes the surveillance powers of data-mongering social media giants, and it is beyond even the dank, sleazy forums where alt-righters and incels are born. As journalist Alan Pearce put it in a TED talk, “It’s the kind of place where, if you want to be anonymous, you most certainly can. But in many ways, we’re looking at a parallel universe.”
More on the darker side of life:
You can access only the dark web through a browser called TOR (as far as we know) in order to mask your identity and location. And as expected of a place where one can roam under the cover, the dark web is a bustling marketplace of criminal activity. You can buy drugs, weapons, exotic animals, even human beings. The days of Al Capone and John Dillinger are far behind us—dealers and crime lords now hold dominion in cyberspace, and law enforcers are struggling to keep up.
Filmmaker Ericson Reyes Gangoso shows us how criminals and law enforcers navigate this new digital labyrinth in a four-part docuseries called “The Dark Web.” Through Gangoso’s investigative, artistic efforts, we’re filled in on the modus operandii and broken laws that proliferate the dark web—sexploitation, hackers, killers, child pornography distribution, drugs, and arms dealing all got a spotlight here. It’s honestly hard to watch—the first episode hits particularly close to home, showing us a sexploitation ring that ran right here in the Philippines—but one can’t help but feel that this is something we desperately need to know.
We speak to Gangoso about what went into making “The Dark Web,” and why we should all be a little more vigilant.
What made you decide to pursue a project like “The Dark Web?” What were your motivations and inspiration for making the documentary series?
We are always looking for interesting new stories to cover. One of our biggest interests lately is how crime is changing. If you notice in the news, there are more and more people who are victims of things like online scams and fake news. With technology and how people are using data, apps, platforms, crime is becoming more digital. We wanted to raise awareness about how this new genre of crime is evolving.
Take us through the work process. What was your general experience with investigating these stories?
We begin our process by looking for interesting stories through the news, the internet, conversations with people. There are potential stories everywhere, and we follow what interests us, then we connect with journalists who have their nose on the ground, find people involved and try to get in touch with the victims, police, even the perpetrators who are still committing the crime.
We try to make our shows as authentic as possible—we shoot at the locations where the crimes are happening, we try to make our reenactments as realistic as possible. For our pilot episode, we even went to the town where the scammers live, filming with hidden cameras.
Once we have all the footage we need, we come back to our post-production studio where we brainstorm the best way to tell the story, to make it engaging and yet accurate. We include archives, soundbites from the police and interviews from our experts, check our facts with the data and researchers. From concept development to the final show airing, the whole process to create a series can take us up to a year.
The dark web seems to be a digital space that mainstream media doesn't really know how to talk about. It seems much of our social and political discussions orbit around the “regular” internet, or social media. What makes bringing the dark web into the discussion so important?
In our series, we try to highlight both parts of the web—the “dark web” which requires special programs to access and where things like digital black markets thrive, as well as the “dark” parts of the regular web and social media, apps and platforms.
The “dark web” was actually created by the US navy for their covert operations, then it was used by journalists and by people in places where censorship and freedom of speech was limited. But it also provided the perfect place for criminals to run operations that used the anonymity and secrecy of the dark web to conduct illicit activities.
In other episodes, we also look at the “dark side” of apps and platforms on the regular web like Facebook and Carousell, which most of us use everyday, and show how criminals are using all the things we gain from them—like connectivity, privacy, encryption—to further their illegal activities.
For you, what is the role, or the social responsibility of the documentarian?
As documentary makers, we see our role as finding out the story, observing what's happening and then laying out the facts for our audience. Especially when it comes to crime stories, we aim to make things clear and raise awareness about topics that we think are important, show multiple sides of the story, and let the viewers form their own opinions. Our goal is to provide eye-openers on topics that people might not know about, and to present it in a creative way.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this?
Everyone's used to going on the web, posting their selfies, putting their information online... it's all become the norm. Everyone is leaving digital footprints, but people don't realize that the world is changing, and all this information about you becomes a currency in the digital world. All of it can be used against you, or used without your knowledge. Does this mean that everyone should delete their Facebook accounts? Maybe not, but perhaps we should think about whether what we're putting out there is worth the couple of likes.
You can watch the first season of the docuseries on Channel News Asia Video On Demand.