CHILD porn, buying your body weight in illicit drugs and literally watching people get murdered are just a few of the things you can do on the dark web, the internet’s underbelly.
Around a decade ago, just as technology was taking off, a genre known as “unboxing” became wildly popular on video streaming platform, YouTube.
The format was simple – YouTubers would film themselves unboxing the latest iPhone, a shiny new gaming console or the latest Gucci bag – and they’d be guaranteed millions of views.
But eventually, YouTubers and their viewers became bored of that format and they started to push the boundaries. They resorted to forking out hundreds of dollars for “mystery boxes” from online marketplaces – filming their surprise, disappointment or shock.
But now, as the competition for eyeballs and followers reaches dizzying new heights, YouTubers have had to step it up again.
It’s guaranteeing them millions of hits but it’s also been dubbed stupid, a waste of money and downright dangerous.
For the past couple of months, hundreds of YouTubers have been uploading videos titled “Unboxing my dark web mystery box” and viewers are tuning in by the millions to watch.
YouTubers have filmed themselves pulling everything from bloodied screwdrivers to tattered children’s backpacks to drugs from the untraceable boxes.
Anything bought on the dark web is done with cryptocurrency – the only untraceable way to pay for things.
Sometimes the “mystery box” sellers can have profiles and reviews but the entire process is completely anonymous.
On the dark web, the boxes retail anywhere between $100 to $1000 with some YouTubers even throwing in an extra bit of cash to try and sweeten the deal and heighten the creepiness.
In some videos, YouTubers tell their audience they regret getting the box sent to their home address, others express relief that they thought ahead and had it delivered to a P.O box.
Then, they film themselves going through the contents.
Most of the time, the YouTubers end their videos disappointed and disgusted with what’s inside – one person was even sent a completely empty box. The untraceable nature of the whole thing means YouTubers are putting more than just their faith and few hundred dollars in dark web sellers.
While it’s impossible to tell whether any of the dark web videos are real or staged, there’s no denying the contents of some of the boxes are genuinely creepy and worrisome.
In one video, a YouTuber, who goes by Mind Seed TV, films himself pulling a worn, girl’s backpack from the box.
“It’s dirty as hell, it’s definitely used. There’s stains and stuff on the bottom of it,” he says.
Inside the kids bag is an outfit for a little boy and later, Mind Seed TV pulls a handful of books out, grafittied to make the children look like they’re possessed.
Another YouTuber named Joseph Widner was also sent a dark web box.
Inside it, he films himself pulling out two creepy children’s dolls and a clear snaplock bag contained a red screwdriver that appears to be covered in blood and locks of hair.
In yet another unboxing video, made by “ThatGuyAaron”, the dark web seller sends a bunch of eerie items.
Admitting he did it just because he had $100 to get rid of, Aaron opens the box to find a note that says “You shouldn’t accept packages from strangers. Good luck”.
Alex Meiner was another YouTuber to receive an apparent handwritten note in his mystery box.
“Dear Friend,” the note reads. “Life is a mystery – a very, very dirty mystery at times you never know what you are touching or what you are leaving behind.”
The seller also advises him to “wear gloves”.
Inside, Alex finds a bag of white powder, a tool with a red sticker marked biohazard and a CD.
When Alex puts the CD into his computer, he finds an audio file on it. Over the sound of kids playing and laughing, a voice can be heard whispering “I see you”.
Realistically, staging any of these videos is entirely possible for YouTubers – especially now that they realise the formula can potentially bring them millions of hits.
But for the YouTubers really ordering mystery boxes off the dark web, the trend has fast become one of the most dangerous to sweep the internet.
The dark web is always crawling with hackers, tech experts and people up to no good which makes any device people are using to surf the internet underbelly, susceptible to any of those sort of people.
There’s also no indication what the box could have inside, a risk some YouTubers seem to be well aware of, expressing fears they could be opening something with anything from a bomb to anthrax inside.
Griffith University adjunct professor Bill Caelli spoke to news.com.au about the dark web and how sellers are known to target their customers.
“One trend that we have been noticing is that the people running these dark web domains will try and attack the people who use them and take over their machines and use them to further their activities,” he said.
“So even though these people are their customers, even they are not safe from being attacked.”
And while most YouTubers laugh off wasting hundreds of dollars on a box full of junk, what a lot of them don’t realise is where or to who their cryptocurrency is going.
“Virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, are increasingly being used by serious and organised crime groups as they are a form of currency that can be sold anonymously online, without reliance on a central bank or financial institution to facilitate transactions,” Australia’s Criminal Intelligence Commission’s report into Organised Crime stated.
These currencies are used in different dark web marketplaces to buy illicit drugs, firearms, chemicals used to make drugs and child exploitation materials.
“Australia’s use of dark-net marketplaces is expected to grow, given the increasing popularity of online trading and the perceived anonymity such marketplaces provide,” the report read.
– Additional reporting by Ally Foster