The two editors explain how they met on Galaxy, an anonymous dark web social network.
Screengrab: The Torist
Anonymity is a breeding ground, be that for debate, creativity, or exploration. So where better to publish a socially-conscious, digitally focused literary journal (.onion link) than on a Tor hidden service.
Edited by Robert W. Gehl, associate professor at the University of Utah's Department of Communication, and pseudonymous creator GMH, the first issue of The Torist, a collection of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, launched on the dark web over the weekend.
The project started on Galaxy, a social network on the dark web, around 18 months ago, the pair told Motherboard in encrypted chats. GMH and Gehl, who was using his own pseudonym at this point, were discussing issues around feminism and literature.
"At the time, I was quite enthused about Galaxy and the way this social network had a different atmosphere from other social networks I'd used on the clearweb," GMH said. "I thought that this different atmosphere/demographic could translate into a 'zine with interesting results." People on Galaxy, GMH said, seemed to be dissatisfied with being constantly monetized, and not having a sense of other places to go.
The editors pose several questions in a preface to the journal: "If a magazine publishes itself via a Tor hidden service, what does the creative output look like? How might it contrast itself with its clearweb counterparts? Who indeed will gravitate towards a dark web literary maagzine?"
Indeed, reading the contents of the journal together, "I see the anxieties of life in a surveillance state," Gehl said.
"We'll accept submissions all year round"
Gehl, after being pitched the idea of The Torist by GMH, decided to strip away his pseudonym, and work on the project under his own name.
"I thought about that for a while," Gehl said. "I thought that because GMH is anonymous/pseudonymous, and he's running the servers, I could be a sort of 'clear' liason."
So while Gehl used his name, and added legitimacy to the project in that way, GMH could continue to work with the freedom the anonymity awards.
"I guess it's easier to explore ideas and not worry as much how it turns out," said GMH, who described himself as someone with a past studying the humanities, and playing with technology in his spare time.
One of the main reasons for publishing on a Tor hidden service was to emphasise that such sites have plenty of other applications besides those they might be commonly known for, such as drug markets.
"It's an intriguing idea—to swim against the current popular conceptions of anonymity and encryption," Gehl said.
As for GMH, "I go into it hoping to highlight what Tor can be used for: which is a way of using the internet as you already do, except preserving your dignity and right not to have your private life interfered with."
"I believe communication, especially reading things on the internet, should be private by default and that that should only be interfered with in very exceptional circumstances," he added.
At the moment, the pair are taking a break from The Torist, but future issues might be in the pipeline soon.
"We'll accept submissions all year round," GMH said.