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Study: Dark web draws Covid sceptics

Among other factors, use of underground networks as an information source about Covid was associated with loneliness, according to the research.

The use of the Dark Web as a COVID-19 information source: A three-country study, examined the role of Covid scepticism, online behaviour as well as "loneliness in the use of the dark web platforms as a COVID-19 information source." Image: AOP

People increasingly sought out information about Covid-19 during the pandemic, according to a new study by the University of Jyväskylä.

Use of dark web platforms, like the Tor browser, is legal and many prefer the increased privacy it offers, but it does carry some risks.

Tor offers users a high degree of anonymity and privacy, making them very difficult to trace. However, that anonymity is a major reason such networks attract criminals as well as disseminators of questionable information and documents.

For example, various conspiracy theories as well as bogus Covid vaccine certificates were disseminated on the dark web during the Covid pandemic.

The use of the Dark Web as a COVID-19 information source: A three-country study, examined (siirryt toiseen palveluun)the role of Covid scepticism, online behaviour as well as "loneliness in the use of the dark web platforms as a COVID-19 information source."

It surveyed around 3,000 people between the ages of 18-75 from Finland, Sweden and the UK.

Use of the dark web was more common in the UK and Sweden than in Finland, but it was found that negative attitudes towards Covid-related restrictions brought people from all of the countries to underground networks.

Vulnerable at increased risk

In Finland, users of the dark web often cited a low trust in official institutions while the networks often attracted people in Sweden and the UK who were sceptical about Covid vaccines.

Researcher Anu Sirola said that the dark web can be an attractive source of information, particularly for those who mistrust information and regulations issued by authorities, noting that content on the underground networks is not regulated by laws, like on traditional news outlets on the internet.

The study also found that the dark web tended to attract online gamblers as well as lonely people in all three countries. Even though the internet in general offered ways to interact and communicate with others during the isolated days of the pandemic, the situation also prompted problematic use of the web and an increase in psychosocial problems, particularly among vulnerable individuals, according to Sirola

She added that the unhealthy use of the internet during the pandemic can have long-term consequences.

The study, from the University of Jyväskylä's Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, is to be published in the Technology in Society journal in August. It was submitted by researcher Sirola, as well as Julia Nuckols, Jussi Nyrhinen and Terhi-Anna Wilska.