A comedy podcast inadvertently became the platform for a debate about the morality of darknet use on Tuesday, highlighting age-old misunderstandings that continue to dominate mainstream perceptions.
The most recent episode of I Don’t Know About That, with comedian host Jim Jefferies, was centered around the dark web – a subject he clearly found distasteful. Amassing hundreds of millions of YouTube views, Jefferies’ comedy routines frequently push boundaries into the uncomfortable, driven by a libertarian bent.
His take on the darknet, however, was starkly conservative in contrast.
“Oh God, the dark web. Bloody people up to no good,” Jefferies exclaimed when finding out this week’s guest was a self-proclaimed “dark web expert.” He then went on to describe the darknet as “an underground web place where you can see a bunch of horrible shit or buy things illegally.”
When asked what he thought there were any good uses of the darknet, he replied, “Finding people doing things wrong on the dark web.”
Podcast guest Eileen Ormsby, author, attorney and “dark web expert,” was quick to correct Jefferies, explaining that there were indeed legitimate reasons for connecting to the darknet and making use of the Tor browser. She also explained some darknet fundamentals, how the Tor browser connects to hidden services URLs, and how it was developed by the military in order to transmit military secrets.
Among others, Ormsby’s credentials include authoring a book about Silk Road, the original darknet marketplace. During the podcast, she discussed the benefits Silk Road posed over traditional drug transactions, noting that it was Bitcoin’s first truly notable use case.
Jefferies seemed to be aware that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were used to make purchases on darknet markets but didn’t know how to access them. He remained firmly of the opinion that the anonymity provided by Tor may not actually contribute to “the greater good,” in spite of Ormsby’s assertion that most people use Tor “for a perfectly legal reason.”
Ormsby stated that Tor is legally used on a regular basis by:
- news reporters, journalists, whistleblowers
- non-criminals seeking to perform encrypted, anonymous communication
- ordinary citizens of hostile regimes at risk of being censored (such as China’s ‘Great Firewall’).
Audience reaction to the episode was split between ribbing Jefferies for turning into a “grumpy old man” and failing to understand why he wouldn’t be on board with the concept of the darknet.
“This episode went from a dark web episode to a morality check contest,” commented one podcast viewer.
“Surprised no one brought up the fact that there’s 59 countries around the world where Jim’s atheist routines are illegal… 13 where he’d likely be sentenced to death,” wrote another YouTube user. “Maybe his routines should be translated into those languages and posted to the dark web where people can hear these things without fear of death.”
An Australian comedian who now lives in Los Angeles, Jefferies has released seven CD/DVDs and two Netflix specials. He is best known for his thought-provoking takes on sensitive subjects like gun control, abortion, and drug use. He has also written, produced, and starred in multiple television series.