Cover Your Webcam or Shut Up and Dance
It’s not hard to tell that we’re being watched online. Ads are modified for users based on their search history, and the NSA has access to surveil our every digital move. Cases like the iCloud scandal leaked information and nude photos of victims, celebrity and every-day Apple users.
Yet, many digital users still leave their laptops open with their cameras uncovered and take their phone with a front facing camera into the bathroom or shower. Webcam hacking is just another thing that people believe won’t happen to them… until it does. This issue was brought to the public’s attention after hacked footage of then Miss Teen USA was captured and used for blackmail in 2014. Subsequently, the FBI arrested over 90 webcam hackers. Continually, cases are popping up all over the world where webcams are hacked, nude or indecent videos are captured, and large sums of money are requested to keep the content from being shared.
This being said, the nightmare portrayed in Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 3, Shut Up and Dance, is not too far from reality. The webcam of a teen, Kenny, is hacked and footage of him masturbating is used by an unknown villain to force him to comply with invasive and ruthless requests. Even though Kenny is fully obedient, his obscene footage gets leaked nonetheless (along with that of every other victim the hackers manipulated). Here, Black Mirror aims to warn about the barbarous nature of the internet, and that having digital receivers all around (phone cameras, microphones, etc.) makes technology users vulnerable to unwarranted surveillance, judgments, and blackmail.
Critics of this episode say that Kenny, and the other victims of the hacker, are deserving of this treatment because of wrongs they’ve pursued. For example, the audience discovers that Kenny was masturbating to pedophilic images. However, it is unknown whether Kenny actually took the photographs or performed any actual crimes. What someone chooses to do in the privacy of their own home should not be seen or judged by any outside parties (unless, of course, actual harm is being brought to someone). The private life and issues of Kenny are treated by the hackers of this episode as if he’d broadcasted on the web: I like to masturbate to images of children. If this were the case, internet trolls could freely (and would extensively) shame and ridicule Kenny for expressing his opinions. Instead, Kenny’s right to privacy is neglected resulting in severe blackmail and ultimately an annihilated reputation.
I don’t condone Kenny’s habits and behavior. Another victim of the trolls in this episode is targetted because he was cheating on his wife, and I don’t condone this either. However, I believe it is certainly not the business of an internet troll to intervene in these peoples’ lives. The harm caused by these trolls transcends the harm done by the victims of the hackers.
In the digital world, webcams are a triumph; They connect people and allow huge conveniences in many aspects of life. But, like new technology, the “trolls” of the world will find a way to use it to harm innocent people like Kenny, Miss Teen USA, and many more. That’s why it’s no surprise that even FBI director James Comey recommends covering your webcam with a piece of tape. Such an easy solution can save someone from merging their private business with the ruthlessness of the internet.