Writers On Writing / Untangling the dark web with Eileen Ormsby

“The dark web is part of the zeitgeist of the past decade and has been responsible for a radical shift in things like drug dealing, privacy, and controlling our digital footprint.” Writer and journalist Eileen Ormsby dives into the dark web’s mysteries.

How can knowledge of the dark web be useful for writers?

The dark web is part of the zeitgeist of the past decade and has been responsible for a radical shift in things like drug dealing, privacy, and controlling our digital footprint, as well as being a repository for some pretty hellish communities. It is often deeply misunderstood and misrepresented. A basic knowledge will lend authenticity to the work of fiction writers, and a thorough understanding is vital for anyone working in investigative journalism. 

What are some surprising discoveries you have made on the dark web? 

Would you believe, the original massive darknet market, Silk Road, had a book club? It played out in the forums, where the owner, Dread Pirate Roberts, set a book to be read, and then they would create a thread to discuss it. Mostly the books were on philosophy, politics, or psychedelics. It made for some robust and intelligent discussions among people you would think were just there for the drugs.

It’s also interesting to see how professional and businesslike drug dealers, and even fraud dealers (the ones who are selling your financial, personal or otherwise hacked information) are. They hold sales and giveaways, and strive to maintain their 5-star rating by providing polite and prompt service. They also provide a lot of harm reduction advice (Silk Road even had a doctor on staff providing free bespoke advice on drug taking).

But then there was the discovery of communities so heinous, they still give me nightmares.

Who are some other writers who have used the dark web to enliven their work?

Aussie author Jack Heath has used a dark web setting for some of his fiction series. He was very keen to make sure he got the details right. There are loads of (mostly American) horror writers who feature the dark web with varying degrees of authenticity. I must admit I quite enjoyed a recent Jack Reacher (Lee Child) book that featured a rather unique “red room”, even if the dark web details had little basis in reality.


Eileen Ormsby is a lawyer, author and freelance journalist based in Melbourne. Her first book, Silk Road was the world’s first in-depth expose of the black markets that operate on the dark web. Since then, she has gone on to write another five true-crime books, including The Darkest Web, which has led to her being sought out as both consultant and ‘talking head’ on numerous documentaries, news reports and podcasts.

Eileen’s gonzo-style investigations have led her deep into the secretive corners of the dark web where drugs and weapons dealers, hackers, hitmen and worse ply their trade. Many of these dark web interactions turned into real-world relationships, entanglements, hack attempts on her computer and even death threats from the dark web’s most successful hitman network as she researched her second book The Darkest Web. She now lives a quiet life, getting off-grid as often as she can.

Join Eileen Ormsby for her seminar, Into the Dark Web, on 18 May. This workshop will be held online. Enrol here >>

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