The internet has undoubtedly become an all-too-familiar facet of everyday life, but when people like 41-year-old Sydney man Liam Gordon Murphy makes headlines, it seems the digital realm still has plenty of hidden things not for the faint of heart.
In 2015, Liam Gordon Murphy, the online bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) star nicknamed “The Wolf” got acquainted with a 21-year-old woman through a fetish website. A year after they met at a hotel in Kings Cross, Murphy was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault. He pleaded not guilty to the charges at court.
Murphy has thousands of followers on FetLife, a website catering to the BDSM, kink, and fetish community. Though it has more than five million users who remain anonymous, the profiles give out the age, gender, and the role members want to play, that is, whether they want to be submissive or dominant in a BDSM relationship.
Just like any website requiring membership, this social network has terms for its users. Those who choose to be slaves must agree to the invasion of their privacy while their masters must promise to avoid abusing their power.
Such relationships may sound bizarre, but they are surprisingly common place for those who know their way around the underground world of the internet—where possibilities are just as exciting as they are dangerous.
Murphy’s arrest calls attention to only one of many sexual niches that thrive in the web, from sugar baby-sugar daddy/mommy relationships to erotic “furries” that involve anthropomorphic animal costumes. Outside conventional networks like Facebook, these websites enable what the public would call deviants to form their own communities under their own rules, free from judgment.
But these communities are still somewhat accessible to the public with the right keywords. Delving deeper, a vast portion of the web—like the underwater part of an iceberg—are websites that are unreachable via Google Chrome or Firefox.
In what is called the Deep Web, unindexed digital content such as medical records and government databases lie beyond ordinary search engines; entry would require a specific type of software called Tor, which originally started out as an intelligence project by the US Navy. With this tool, users can explore the net while remaining anonymous.
Because Tor provides anonymity, the Deep Web has become a haven for drug transactions, hackers, and even assassins, creating a shadier section of the online world aptly named the Dark Net. Pirated libraries and political activism have also made their home here.
These activities in the Dark Net do not go unnoticed by the authorities. One such case was the 2014 arrest of Ross Ulbricht, owner of the famed online drug market called Silk Road. This did not stop drug dealers, however, from finding other ways to trade narcotics free of censorship.
In a TED Talk exploring this digital underbelly, Jamie Bartlett, author of the book The Dark Net, explained that while these sites are always at risk of being shut down, their creation is a staggering and phenomenal achievement.
According to Bartlett, the Dark Net is the future of the internet because of increasing concerns on privacy. There are now about two to three million Tor users who use the browser for legitimate purposes. This growing number will further push the Dark Net into the mainstream, Bartlett said.
Soon, more social media companies, news outlets, and ordinary internet users will be on the Dark Net, Bartlett predicted—a development that gives triumph to freedom fighters and drug dealers alike. This will make the internet more exciting, but perhaps not without consequences.
This complex world of the internet comes to light in the TV series Dark Net, an eight-part documentary that tells the stories of people caught in bio-hacking, digital warfare, online romances, and cyber crimes among others. Dark Net premieres on January 8, 9:35PM first and exclusive on RTL CBS Extreme.