Black Mirror is back, bringing with it an inimitable distortion of today's technology-obsessed society. Netflix has taken over the rights to the show, with season three displaying increased budgets and a improved cross-pollination between UK and American actors and settings. Nevertheless, it hasn't lost its deeply dark edge, with "Shut Up And Dance" being arguably its most grotesque episode.
Watch the trailer for season 3 below:
When you think of Black Mirror, you probably think of future dystopias, and while the show may have predicted everything from Piggate to the rise of Donald Trump, episode 3 is especially creepy for depicting a world that is already here. Telling the story of the teenager Kenny, played by Alex Lawther, who gets blackmailed after a hacked webcam catches him masturbating to porn on his laptop, the story is more chilling to watch because:
Hacking Into Webcams Is Pretty Easy
When you imagine somebody hacking into your webcam and seeing your every move, you might imagine that it's government agents or whizz-kid programmers, yet the process behind it is mightily simple. As "Shut Up And Dance" shows, it can even be activated when you install malware or flash players that aren't properly calibrated on your browser.
Therefore, with the use of clickjacking — in which you click on an innocuous button to get rid of an ad for example — you unintentionally give authorisation for your webcam to be opened. This is what happens to Kenny when he downloads malware he thinks is being used to fix his computer. Finding out that he has been watched, his reaction to the revelation is highly believable.
Internet Shaming Is Real And Highly Damaging
The potentially lethal effects of intimate pictures or videos of you being shared online can be seen in the Netflix documentary #AudrieandDaisy. The first girl in the doc, Audrie Pott, is one such example. Having been sexually assaulted at a house party after passing out, pictures were taken of her and shared around school. She committed suicide eight days later.
There are references to suicide in this episode, where the intense shame of being found out with explicit videos on the web makes the prospect of life no longer worth living. Brooker utilises that fear here to devastating effect.
It is worth mentioning here, that given the outcome of the episode, where it is found out that Kenny is actually a pedophile, that a case can be made for there being a moral dimension to this blackmailing. Nevertheless, we do not know this till the end, as we assume its regular porn, making us take Kenny's side for the majority of the episode.
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Real Life Examples of Online Blackmailing
The documentary #Tickled has explored how easy it is to blackmail people on the internet. Exploring the internet subculture of "competitive endurance tickling" and the videos that accompany it, the documentary shows the dark side of the company distributing these videos. Whenever somebody wished to speak out against the companies practices, they threatened them by saying they would release intimate footage of them tickling the other boys or by spreading information to their workplaces or schools that they were homosexuals and into weird practices.
Oliver Stone's #Snowden shows this being practiced in a more thriller-based setting, where agents for the NSA were shown to easily access anyone's email, social media accounts and webcam and use the information they have found on there in order to shame people into doing their bidding. Knowing its based on a true story is even more chilling. Naturally, the old adage of having nothing to hide is a good rule of thumb here, yet it seems one can be caught out for something as innocuous as watching porn.
What I really enjoyed about "Shut Up And Dance" is the way those who have hacked into the webcams have manipulated scores of people into doing their bidding, thus potentially being able to run a tight criminal organisation with all with people they have dirt on. Maybe one day we will see this happen.
What To Do To Avoid Getting Hacked
The simplest way of stopping people from accessing your webcam is simply by putting something over the camera when you aren't using it. Other than that its always a good idea to make sure that all your browsers are up to date and you haven't downloaded anything that looks suspicious. An extra layer of protection you can install is a firewall, as well as the obvious things like changing your password and using a secure wi-fi network. If you are still suspicious when you are having a bit of self-love, maybe you can just use your imagination instead?
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