Monday, February 2, 2015

Finding yourself in an episode of Black Mirror

Over the past two years, Shanley Kane achieved a kind of celebrity on Twitter, where, as @shanley, she claimed to be leading a crusade for women in tech. But now some people wonder if the whole thing was a massive hoax.


It's not clear if we've seen the end of the Shanley Show. If so this would no doubt be a relief to people who have been persecuted by Kane and her followers. But a question remains about whether the whole thing was just a huge hoax — a "mega-troll," as one person put it to me.

One of Kane's victims has an interesting notion, which is that Kane and her purported opponents are actually all part of the same community. Basically, they're an online theater troupe. They start by finding issues that elicits strong emotions, like racism and sexism. Then they pick sides, and fight. They dox each other. They cry foul. They get revenge. They create scapegoats and enemies.

Most important, they draw in an audience, and the audience gets sucked into the drama and even participates in it. This is, in effect, a new form of entertainment, made possible by Twitter. It's better than TV, if only because it feels so real. In fact it is real, in the sense that real people do suffer real harm. Often those people are unwitting victims who have no idea what's going on. That only makes the show more compelling.