Cathartic: Shedding Light On The Dark Web

Simply by virtue of using the internet you’ll know about the ‘Dark Web’. Whether it’s as an actual user using it for good or ill, whether you’ve seen screaming tabloid headlines decrying it as a pervert’s paradise or watched as Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life without parole in prison, the Dark Web has many faces and interpretations. Which is a given since its very nature it is supposed to be secretive and unappealing to meddling outsiders and the unknowledgeable. Some even scoff at the name Dark Web – or its name sibling ‘the Deep Web’ – as an amateur term coined by people imbued with fear and a lack of perspective.

Whatever you want to call it, it remains an impenetrable force of nature to some. To others, it’s a bastion of the potential for badness that the internet holds and wields with a unsettling alacrity. The media circus surrounding Silk Road – an online black-market best known for the sale of illegal drugs – confirmed to some what they had been saying for some time; that the Dark Web – and its facilitating browser Tor – was nothing but a haven for criminals.

… and while there is undeniably criminal activity taking place through the encrypted signals, there is also good being done. It’s the balance, same as anything and anywhere else. Cathartic is one such platform who are determined to make a difference not just to the internet’s karmic balance account, but to the lives of plenty of others worldwide.

Cathartic allows you to share your story – whatever it may be – with complete anonymity. You can share your story with complete anonymity. You could be at breaking point, carrying a burden, or even suffering political oppression. Cathartic don’t mind; they just want you to talk before the problem consumes you… and after a surge of traffic from the Dark Web they have since installed a Dark Web portal. That means Cathartic has placed itself a political platform too; people from countries and/or demographics who suffer oppression can tell their own tales with the cloak of anonymity around their neck and shoulders. No personal details are stored, all IP’s are masked, even your cookie is destroyed as soon as the session is closed.

But in a world of blogs, social media and myriad other sites that allow you to place ‘anonymous’ confessions and contributions online, what is the difference? Is there any at all? Well…

And that’s not even all. Cathartic is unique in that you will not find any advertisements nor do they profit from the user in any other way. To contribute to the community you do not need to sign up, there is no universal account and no need to share an email address. There is no need for verification, no need for approval and all contributions are added without judgement or prejudice.

Cathartic also strongly believe in maintaining a social responsibility. Whenever a user posts an article they are presented with a list of charities who can help. They do not charge or profit from this service; they merely want to suggest the best help for the vulnerable. Any charity can be listed – all they have to do is ask. If they think they offer a valuable service then they will be added to the list. Nice and easy.

BaDoink sat down with Cathartic founder Neil Chandler to gauge just how far the internet’s emotional revolution could take us.

I personally would say Cathartic is the socialisation of emotion from across the entire spectrum. Would you agree with this?

Completely. It’s one of the wonderful things about the site. When you are completely anonymous the subject becomes the key point and you can strip everything away. It’s the user’s choice how much information they give out about themselves. Some people start with a little personal info, others leave it out completely.

One of the things I find fascinating is that once you read a story that’s completely anonymous it’s easy to create your own impression of the person. It’s then interesting to consider how you feel about the story if you change an element of the person. I was quite shocked to find that my opinion changed once I changed an element of the person and re-read a story.

What was the catalyst for its creation and most importantly, what do you hope to achieve; if indeed anything?

My initial idea was “what if everyone had a place to let it all out? Maybe some would stop self medicating…” After that it was the technical problem. For the last 15 years I have worked in enterprise senior IT roles and it’s an interesting challenge to design something that is completely anonymous and globally scalable.

All we want to achieve is to help people share their burden. After working in enterprise for so long it’s wonderful to be able to help and so far we are getting some amazing results. To ensure everything stays pure I have structured Cathartic with an asset lock. Cathartic can never be sold for profit. If we ever do make a profit it goes back into the community, and we will never run advertising. I don’t want the users to end up being the product.

What led to the creation of the Darknet portal?

If anyone wants to use additional precautions they can still use Cathartic. If users are suffering from political oppression or just want an additional level of anonymity then Tor is the perfect tool to use.

You make a point of noting how Tor can be a haven for criminals. Are you trying to flip the narrative by using encrypted browsing and Cathartic to inject some humanity into it?

Tor has always been a tool for good. In my opinion Tor gets bad press because of people buying drugs on sites like Silk Road (on a side note, personally I don’t think Silk Road was a bad thing as the users rated the suppliers and it pushed the quality up). We are just trying to support Tor in any way we can and use it as a tool for good.

It’s rare to see such stringent academic/scientific methods applied to a site like Cathartic. What has been the most important thing for you to get right? For example, is it simply affording people the space to express themselves, or is it the subsequent support offered by charity links etc?

The number one priority was to ensure what we are doing is the right thing. Before the site was live we commissioned a team of researchers to verify that Cathartic will help and it was a stressful few weeks while we waited for the results. If they came back negative the entire project would have been scrapped. The findings were positive; not only is Cathartic a good thing it can help in many more areas than expected. Some of the research papers tackle quite uncomfortable subjects but they all proved what we are doing could do some real good in the world.

Whenever someone creates a post we offer a list of charities that may be able to help. As Cathartic grows I want to focus on this area and help the smaller charities by expanding the list and targeting the right charity with the person who needs their help the most. The way I see it, if someone has the courage to share their burden it would be crazy if I didn’t do everything in my power to show them charities who might be able to help.

We don’t charge for this service and we never will, if anyone knows a charity that wants to be listed feel free to contact us.

Have you had to deal with anybody confessing to serious illegality – murder/rape/child abuse – on Cathartic? If not, is there a protocol in place for such a situation?

We are hot on this. It’s the responsibility of every member of staff at Cathartic to moderate content. I hate censorship and we only use it as a last resort, but if we have to we will pull a story. We have two rules that will get a story pulled:

1) The story has to be anonymous.
2) Nothing sick.

So far we have only pulled a small number of stories. Each story is picked up within five minutes and blocked. Once the story is blocked we then review again to ensure the right decision was made.

What does the future hold for Cathartic? Are there any upcoming changes/features to be expected?

Exciting times ahead; we are now starting to focus on fundraising. Luckily we are a non-profit, have no debts and are a small team. Therefore we don’t actually need that much to survive. What we are looking to do is find a way to engage the non-typical fundraiser and have an event that they enjoy. A few ideas have been floating around. Currently a gaming championship sounds like it could be fun for everyone, but if anyone has any ideas we would love to hear.

Apart from fundraising we are just about to start working with art therapy groups. I love the idea that if people are using art as a way to help themselves the same art will be used to help others as part of Cathartic.

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