Dark secrets on the Internet

I was struck by news this morning that police have taken action against an internet forum called DarkMarkets, used for swapping information about stolen credit cards and website accounts. It sounds like Nature Network for criminals – it would be fascinating to observe the style of interaction on such a site. Just to balance things up I also read this morning about GPEN – the Global Prosecutors E-Crime Network. Its purpose is international cooperation against e-crime.
It just goes to show that the web is neither inherently good nor inherently bad but reflects the whole range of human activity. This is an argument that we have to make over and over again it seems. Fifteen years ago when the internet was new, those of us evangelising about it often had to reassure people that there was useful information online, and they shouldn’t believe scare stories. This message took a long time to reach some quarters, such as NHS IT managers who apparently felt the Internet was evil and should not be allowed into their hospitals.
Today things have moved on and internet access is commonplace. The front line has moved on to social networking sites, Second Life etc. I know that a number of my colleagues in the NHS, professional bodies and even some research institutes are barred by their local IT policies from accessing dangerous sites such as Yahoogroups, Facebook and even blogs. There are groups looking at Second Life in the NHS but access is blocked for the majority in the NHS.
Librarians have for long championed the cause of unrestricted access to information. It can be a hard message to get across sometimes.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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10 Responses to Dark secrets on the Internet

  1. Frank Norman says:

    Just seen a comment from the Internet Librarian International conference to say that Australia government librarians are not allowed to be on Facebook.

  2. Richard P. Grant says:


  3. Sabine Hossenfelder says:

    If you are interested in questions like this, you might like the book “Who controls the internet?” by Goldsmith and Wu. I recently wrote a review about it, see here.

  4. Jo Brodie says:

    Interesting. I’m delighted that the powers that be at Diabetes UK are quite forward thinking on this then as we’ve used Facebook and Second Life to promote awareness. Recently I posted some information about the Diabetes Research Network (DRN) and the work they do in helping people with diabetes to find out more about getting involved with research trials – apparently this post doubled their monthly enquiries. Another colleague has been able to find people who are keen to be ‘case studies’ for media reports on diabetes and our current campaign (Silent Assassin) has been launched in Second Life. Beyond me why anyone would want to deny themselves the opportunity to speak with people where the people actually are 😉
    Diabetes UK facebook page
    Silent Assassin on Second Life

  5. Maxine Clarke says:

    I frequently wish they’d ban Facebook at work! It is banned at my children’s school, my stepdaughter’s work (a major City firm) and various friends and relations’ work. Not because it is dangerous, but because of the time-wasting that goes on. My point is, fine to use these sites for bone-fide work related matters, but a lot of people abuse it: this is one (not the only) reason why employers get nervous about their employees blogging, social networking, shopping and so on.
    But seriously, it is a perennial question – the Internet is a medium not a message, but it is a very powerful medium as we read all the time, today about terrorist groups using child pornography networks for example – you could not make it up. One issue in that particular story (and a regular problem I am sure) is that the police don’t have the technology or the knowledge to keep up with it all.
    I agree with you of course that knowledge should be uncensored. But one can get a bit sad about what some people choose to do with the wonderful opportunities offered by the Internet.

  6. steffi suhr says:

    Maxine, isn’t it possible to waste just as much time writing e-mails (ok, when e-mail was still ‘new’..)? Or yakking in the corridor? And if you do waste all your time, won’t your employer notice, because you’re much less productive – and you would avoid doing it for that reason?
    So what exactly is the benefit of actually banning sites like facebook at work?
    ..and what about NN?

  7. Maxine Clarke says:

    Yes you are right, Steffi. I guess employers see social sites as “yet one more thing”…

  8. Frank Norman says:

    Well, everything I have heard said about social sites etc echoes what I remember being said about email and the web 10 to 15 years ago. I’m sure they said the same about TVs, about telephones, about radio, and about printed books when all those things were new.
    History is a wonderful thing, especially when you live through it.

  9. steffi suhr says:

    Imagine long, dark, cold winter nights sitting around in a hut – without internet connection!!
    Hang on, that actually doesn’t sound too bad – if it’s only for a few days.

  10. Maxine Clarke says:

    I feel a bit like you, Frank, having lived through a lot of these things myself too. (Though I don’t remember the invention of the telephone ;-).) And I don’t think information should be censored. However, I do think over the years all these inventions have made it successively easier to waste time at work without being noticed. It is something to do with fluctuating concentration levels, possibly.
    As it happens I can’t use Second Life either because of IT rules. (I could walk to offices elsewhere in the building and find a computer with access.) This happens quite a lot, eg I once set up to join a “Webinar” (horrid word) but when it started I could not join in because of the IT block. By the time it was sorted, the “Webinar” was finished.

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