The Dark Web’s Effect on Children: BBC Interview with Dr. David Day


The internet impacts every aspect of our lives, and the dark web hosts content that is not only disturbing but also harmful, especially to the young and vulnerable minds of children. In a revealing conversation with BBC Radio 5, our CEO, Dr David Day, sheds light on the dark web, its impact on children, and how parents can protect their young ones from its dangers.

Understanding the Dark Web

The Dark Web refers to parts of the internet that are not indexed by standard search engines and cannot be accessed through regular web browsers. It’s a subsection of the Deep Web, which includes all parts of the web not indexed by search engines.

The Dark Web is known for hosting a variety of content and services, some of which are legal and others illegal. Legal uses include forums for private communication, access to information in countries with heavy censorship, and various privacy-oriented services. However, it’s also known for illegal activities, such as the sale of drugs, weapons, stolen data, and other illicit goods and services.

This level of privacy has unfortunately paved the way for “red rooms” – horrifying spaces where crimes against humanity are broadcast live for the entertainment of a paying audience. It’s a stark reminder of the internet’s capacity to serve as a double-edged sword, providing anonymity for those in need, like whistleblowers and individuals in oppressive regimes, while also sheltering nefarious activities.

The Attraction and Dangers for Children

The dark web holds an allure for children and teenagers driven by curiosity, rebellion, or a sense of invulnerability. This hidden part of the internet can be a magnet for young minds fascinated by the forbidden or those seeking communities that seem to understand them better than their real-world counterparts.

However, this curiosity can lead them into the darkest recesses of the web, where illegal activities, disturbing content, and dangerous ideologies thrive. The allure of the dark web often lies not in its content but in the promise of exploring something ‘off-limits,’ which can be particularly enticing to children and teens navigating their identity and independence.

The dangers of this exploration can have lasting psychological impacts on children. Exposure to harmful content such as graphic violence, exploitation, or extremist ideologies can lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD and a distorted view of reality. Engaging with communities that glorify harmful behaviours can reinforce dangerous practices, such as violence or substance abuse, normalising them as acceptable coping mechanisms. 

The Challenge of Teenage Independence

As children grow into teenagers, they seek more independence, making it challenging for parents to maintain the same level of oversight without infringing on their privacy. To address these risks, it’s crucial for parents, educators, and guardians to foster open communication about internet safety, encourage critical thinking about online content, and provide guidance on healthy online habits. Early intervention, supportive counselling, and educating children on the importance of digital wellness are essential steps in mitigating the psychological impacts of exposure to the dark web’s harmful content.

How do I know if my child is accessing the dark web?

To identify if your child is accessing the dark web, you should observe changes in behaviour, the use of certain tools, and have open conversations about their internet usage. Here are key indicators and steps you can take to determine if your child might be venturing into the dark web:

Behavioural Changes

  • Secrecy Around Online Activities: If your child is suddenly secretive about what they’re doing online or quickly closes or hides screens when you approach, it may indicate they’re viewing content they don’t want you to know about.
  • Changes in Behaviour: Noticeable shifts in mood, increased withdrawal from family activities, or changes in sleep patterns can be signs of distress possibly linked to things they’ve encountered online.
  • Unusual Interest in Privacy: While it’s normal for teenagers to seek more privacy, an intense or sudden interest in encryption, online anonymity, and cybersecurity can be a red flag, especially if it’s coupled with secretive online activity.

Technical Clues

  • Use of Specific Software: The Tor browser is commonly used to access the dark web. Its icon resembles an onion. Finding this browser or other privacy-focused tools like VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) on your child’s devices could indicate dark web access.
  • Unknown Apps and Programs: Presence of unfamiliar or suspicious applications on their devices that you didn’t install. Some of these might be tools for accessing the dark web or encrypting communications.
  • History and Data Deletion: Regularly cleared browsing history or use of incognito/private browsing modes can suggest an attempt to hide online activities.

Open Conversations

  • Discuss Internet Safety and Ethics: Engage in open, non-judgmental conversations about the dangers of the internet, including the dark web, which can encourage your child to share their online experiences and curiosities.
  • Educational Approach: Instead of confrontation, educate them about the risks and legal implications associated with accessing illegal content online. Discuss the importance of ethical behaviour in digital spaces.
  • Encourage Healthy Online Habits: Foster a family environment where balance and healthy online habits are practised and valued. Setting a good example can be just as powerful as setting rules.

Monitoring and Guidance

  • Parental Control Software: Consider using parental control software that helps monitor and restrict online activities, though it’s crucial to balance safety with respect for their privacy and autonomy.
  • Check Device for Signs: Regularly check their devices for any signs of unusual activity, such as the presence of the Tor browser, while respecting their privacy and having conversations about trust and safety.

Final Thoughts

Dr. David Day’s insights into the dark web and its impact on children are a stark reminder of the internet’s powerful influence. As digital guardians, it is imperative for parents to educate themselves and their children about the dangers lurking online and to foster an environment where open discussions about digital experiences are not just encouraged but are a regular part of family life.