Jamie Bartlett’s new book The Dark Net is the fruit of years’ research into digital crannies dank enough to make concerned parents immolate their child’s iPhone: trolling and cyber-stalking, the politics of hate and terror, the consumption and performance of pornography, illegal drugs and suicide pacts.
It’s a roll call of tabloid bogeymen. But, disappointingly for any journalist in search of straw men to burn, what’s actually on offer is a meticulous, discomforting account of the human stories behind each headline. And perhaps the greatest discomfort on offer is the fact that – no matter how distant the digital underworld may feel from ‘real’ life – the temptation to place it in some safe, separate box proves in every case misguided.
Take the second chapter’s protagonist, Paul. The author first meets Paul in a working men’s club: a young man ‘with a handsome face, short dark hair, and tattoos that climbed up his neck. He was good company… until, that is, talk turned to politics.’ At which point Paul begins to spill out his devotion to a cause: White Pride. ‘What do you think the world will be like under black or Paki or brown rule? Can you imagine it? When we’re down to the last thousand whites, I hope one of them scorches the fucking earth, and everything on it.’