Sunday April 24, 2016

A literary magazine for the dark web

Tor, or the Dark Web, allows users to browse completely anonymously. Robert Gehl's "Torist" literary magazine is hosted on the Tor network.

Tor, or the Dark Web, allows users to browse completely anonymously. Robert Gehl's "Torist" literary magazine is hosted on the Tor network. (Pixabay photo)

Listen 7:10

Many of us have heard of the dark web. It's a part of the internet infamous for less-savoury digital interactions, as well as illegal commerce, facilitated by black-market networks like the Silk Road, which was shut down by the FBI in 2013.

Users use something called Tor to access the dark web. Tor is a browser that networks private computers, allowing people to browse in complete anonymity, and to keep sites hosted within the dark web away from the prying eyes of, well, almost anyone.

Tor Logo

The logo for the Tor browser, used to access the Tor network. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

So it might be an odd place to set up a literary journal.

But that's exactly what Robert Gehl and his colleague, who goes by the initials GMH, have done.

The Torist's first issue published poems, short fiction and essays, mostly concerned with "the intersection of technology, culture, and surveillance, and making art out of that," says Robert, a University of Utah professor and the author of the book, Reverse Engineering Social Media.

The Torist

An image of the Torist literary magazine cover. The journal itself is available only on the anonymous Tor network. (thetorist.tumblr.com)

Robert points out that any part of the internet can be used for nefarious purposes, and establishing a literary journal in the Tor network isn't legitimizing the space as a venue for illicit activity.

Rather, he says, he sees Tor as a hopeful place, where users can interact socially on honest terms without fear of surveillance, and where whistleblowers and people who live in places that control and monitor activity on the open internet can speak freely.

It's worth noting that even social media kingpin Facebook is getting into Tor, hosting a site that apparently sees more than a million visitors a month.

Robert says he sees the Torist as a critical step in using the dark web for good. "You start to experiment and use it for purposes other than the illegal and the taboo."