The deep web is not just a place for drugs and criminals. It hosts whistleblower platforms, Chinese netizens circumventing the country's censorship Great Firewall, and a lot of other perfectly legal websites—heck, even Facebook is on it.
There's also a new website that's on the edge between legality and illegality, between empathy and what some would see as sinfulness: a forum to discuss anything related to suicide, from suicidal thoughts and fantasies, to actual methods of killing oneself.
It's called Sanctioned Suicide, and its professed ethos is to give anyone a safe and completely anonymous haven to talk about their darkest thoughts.
"It is a place for people to find help and a place to vent," Apollo, the pseudonymous founder of the site, told Motherboard, "as well as a place to find a suitable way of choosing to end their own lives, if that is their desire."
Suicide is a taboo in our society, but it's also a tragic reality. In 2013, there were more than 41,000 reported deaths by suicide in the United States, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leading suicide prevention organizations see it as a health crisis.
"While suicide is a leading cause of death, it is preventable. As a nation, we have a mental health crisis," read a statement from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention last year. "To reverse the trend of suicide increasing, we need to invest in research, education, and support policy that helps people with mental disorders get the help they need."
For people that don't want to get professional help, there are a number of suicide or depression related forums on the clearnet, but few, if any, of them accept open discussion about actually killing oneself.
(Editor's note: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is toll-free in the US and available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255, while suicide.org has a list of international suicide hotlines, including Canada and the UK.)
In its rules, SuicideForum.com, a site with 1.3 million posts and more than 31,000 members, clearly states in bold and colorful oversized letters the basic rule of the forum: Do no harm, promote no harm.
"We do not provide or share methods on how to harm ourselves," the rules read. "Do not share or ask for methods to harm yourself. Suicide pacts are viewed as encouraging suicide and therefore strictly forbidden."
"Did not succeed, and I'm incredibly glad."
Another forum called "Take This Life" also has a similar ethos. Its first rule states: "No suicide methods or threats." And it goes on to specify that no posts related to the intention of committing suicide, such as "goodbye posts," "plans," or suicide methods are accepted.
Sanctioned Suicide, on the other hand, does not censor.
"Sanctioned Suicide is a pro-life peer to peer support forum for people in crisis," the site proclaims as its ethos. "Unlike other clearnet locations, we provide / share methods on how to harm oneself. Suicide pacts are viewed as encouraging suicide, but not forbidden."
The forum is still relatively small, with only 674 members and 275 posts as of Thursday after starting in the fall of last year. But some users are already discussing ways to end their lives. Forum members discuss methods, such as mixing substances or even provoking a police officer to shoot them. Some forum members talk about how to end their lives while still preserving their organs for donation.
Other users simply share their personal stories including suicide attempts or simply thoughts.
"Tried once with a knife as a teenager when I was very depressed and on drugs. Wanted to die," one user wrote. "Woke up with cut up wrists but not sufficient blood loss. Did not succeed, and I'm incredibly glad. My life is awesome now, even if it sucked then."
None of the forum users responded to Motherboard's requests for comment.
The idea for the site was born when Apollo, who declined to be identified, saw a post on the Onion subreddit, which is dedicated to discussing hidden services that are only accessible using the Tor browser.
"I'm looking for suicide related sites, how to, not prevention," a Redditor who has deleted his or her account wrote.
Apollo, who heads a group who develops deep web sites called Darknet Solutions, thought there was a real need for it since clearnet suicide sites "can be shut down if they offer assistance methods" and their users are not truly anonymous since their usernames are tied to identifying information such as the email addresses they used to sign up for the forum, or worse, their real IP addresses.
While Sanctioned Suicide "is just a pet project of mine," Apollo said, there's no other personal reason.
"I am not suicidal or depressed […] I've never really had any type of actions like that other than intrusive thoughts," Apollo told Motherboard, explaining that he meant "an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea."
But Apollo, who said he worked as a volunteer that assisted in depression during college, also added that he knows "people that have had suicidal issues," and he wanted to offer them a place to talk freely.
The goal of the site is to have 200 active members by the end of 2015, Apollo said. And he's working on some potential new features, including creating a new market for users of Sanctioned Suicide, one featuring "reputable" handgun vendors as well as a place where they can buy "toxins and other methods that are suicide related," he said.
Even though Apollo and his group "ban anything that directly harms others," he doesn't think there's anything wrong with offering those kind services because "most users that are already on the darknet know about the markets."
"Providing a market made for that specific purpose would help since it would have moderation for only a few transactions a day at most," he said via email. "And being able to verify each vendor would prevent a large amount of the fraud you see on the mainstream darknet markets."
In the meantime, the forum's users are happy with Sanctioned Suicide.
Kristoph27 commented on the inauguration thread: "This is a good site to make. Not many 'good' sites like this exists on Tor. :-)"
Others also had a positive, yet darker reaction when the site was announced.
"I hope this place takes off. I've been looking for a suicide hangout for so long. All the good places are long gone," user ichithekiller01 wrote. "I'm glad we can talk about methods here and all the other off limit Reddit stuff. Talking about that stuff feels good. Planning feels good."