The web is a web of webs. The surface or visible web - all pages that are visible on basic search results - only account for 4% of the web. The other 96% of the web is made up of the deep web, which consists of millions of unindexed webpages. Within the deep web, lies the dark web, where pages are intentionally hidden and inaccessible by normal web browsers. Like a gigantic iceberg, the deeper you go under the surface the darker and more mysterious the web becomes. To help decode invisible behaviour, The Youth Lab identified five online behavioural codes - traits and habits that construct a software of unwritten rules and shared codes of how young people behave online. This cultural software underpins how young people communicate and connect with each other, and with brands, online.
We all know those people. An Attention Trapper is someone who is really good at getting engagement online - the equivalent of a channel strategist. The Attention Trapper shows moments of their life, real or manufactured, solely in the pursuit of likes, attention and fame. They are expert impression managers and now more than ever before, we are seeing young people direct traffic to where they want it, between platforms, expertly.
Culture Coding is a language for youth, by youth. This is about the development of certain codes of online behaviour that deliberately exclude specific people or groups that young people don’t want to engage with: older generations, specifically their parents, employers or brands.
There are endless examples of how this manifests in youth culture, Snapchat Streaking and Memes are central to this code of behaviour.
Mindless lurking is the private or incognito self at play, where young people are deliberately choosing to keep their behaviour on the web invisible to others. This isn’t about being anonymous because of political, immoral or criminal intention, it’s about feeding the creeper inside, or embracing voyeuristic tendencies.
The Mindless Lurker is at one with the Internet, the “stalker”, and not the “talker” in action. We’ve all done it. It’s about the consumption of content in isolation, away from the judgement of others - we’re talking creeping, clickbait, binge-watching content, binge gaming, and porn…
While mindless lurking is largely unconscious, White Knighting is all about the conscious. This is about using the Internet for moral good. Mostly, White Knights are young people who choose to go anonymous, or pseudo anonymous, as technique or a way of realising some liberty. White Knights may fight against a repressive government or they may simply be looking for a place to air their political views free from any threat of surveillance or censorship.
A prime example of White Knighting in action was in 2011 in Egypt when thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in an ideologically and socially diverse mass protest that ultimately forced longtime president Hosni Mubarak from office. Thousands successfully used the Tor browser (software that facilitates anonymous browsing and sharing of information) to communicate and disseminate information in spite of a severe clampdown on the Internet instigated by the Mubarak regime.
Finally, we have Dark Dealing. This behaviour sees young people using the Internet to engage in an immoral or illicit behaviour. The intention of a Dark Dealer is to cause harm or to engage in activity that you know to be morally wrong or criminal. It is largely anonymous behaviour.
On the surface web, Dark Dealing takes the form of anonymous cyberbullying or the dissemination of hate messaging and extreme political views, active on Subreddits or Twitter. The darkest manifestations of this behaviour is found in pockets of the dark web - from hacking to buying drugs and contraband, to the darkest illicit and immoral behaviour.
Why Invisibility Matters
As the web continues to evolve, and young people see their data being used by corporations to manipulate their web experience, we are likely to see more young people seek out ways they can experience the web anonymously.
For marketeers, who are building strategies and businesses around the data of consumers, this poses serious challenges. How do we target growing numbers of young people who are rebelling against targeted marketing activities?