Imagine that Black Mirror was a documentary.
That's the idea behind Showtime's new series, Dark Net, which debuts tonight. The eight-part docuseries is being produced by Vocativ, a media and technology company that positions itself as a date-driven version of Vice.
And, like Vice, Vocativ, with its television deal, is trying to become a major player in the digital space. It's also taking Vice's "we go where others won't" mantra to the extreme. In Dark Net, Vocativ goes to a place that's physically impossible to go to: the deep Web.
The series explores the dark, unseen corners of the Internet—where 80 percent of the Web sits beyond the reach of regular search engines—hitting on themes like biohacking, cyberkidnapping, digital warfare, online cults and the webcam sex trade. Dubbed Verne, Vocativ's proprietary software rivals that of government agencies such as the NSA.
"It's the same kind of technology that law enforcement is going to use to find illegal trafficking," said Vocativ founder Mati Kochavi, an Israeli-born entrepreneur who built a security empire.
Vocativ was born in 2011 with ambitions of building a news network of mostly user-generated content that was, at the time, effectively telling the story of the Arab Spring. In 2014, Vocativ further expanded into TV with a partnership with MSNBC. It later hired NBC News digital veteran Gregory Gittrich as its chief content officer. Dark Net is part of Kochavi's plan for further expansion. The company saw its video views grow from 1 million last January to more than 100 million by August on Facebook alone.
Dark Net is the first of three TV projects Vocativ will debut this year (Kochavi wouldn't say what the other projects are). The company is also working on feature films.
Each of Dark Net's eight episodes will tell three somewhat related stories. For example, tonight's premiere follows a Japanese bachelor in love with a virtual girlfriend; a woman whose ex-boyfriend uses private photos of her in revenge porn; and a master-slave couple who live in different states, but keep in touch via tracking technology.
"We didn't look for niche stories," Kochavi said. Instead, the series shows how the technology that makes the deep Web possible is insinuating itself into everyday life. "We've been looking for stories that started in the deep Web, but we're already seeing their first signs in the physical world," he said. "Each one of us is going to say, 'I can find myself as one of those characters.'"