An episode from the new season of the award-winning television show takes on the subject of cyberbullying.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Charlie Brooker’s dark, dystopian, speculative fiction show often deals with the challenges that stem from new technology meeting social issues, so it was only a matter of time before cyber-bullying would be given the black mirror treatment. The final episode of the new season is called “Hated in the Nation”. It tells the story of a series of mysterious deaths that appear to be linked to the Twitter hashtag #DeathTo.
The story is typically sinister, tech savvy and full of twists, as we have learned to expect from Brooker. It also forces us to ask serious questions about how we view culpability in a world of online and social media based judgment and cyberbullying.
The first victim we learn about is a tabloid journalist who is known for her hateful rhetoric. It appears that she has slit her own throat. When the death of another hated celebrity occurs, it becomes clear that the hashtag #DeathTo is being used as an online poll. Whoever the general public tweets the most with the hashtag becomes the next victim. The ethical conundrum is as follows: Someone is going to die anyway, so why not tweet to ensure that it is someone who truly deserves it?
Questions and Warnings
Like many Black Mirror episodes, an air of prophecy and warning surrounds the story. Brooker blends a Philip K. Dick style of dark, shocking speculation with the social commentary and prescience of Huxley and Orwell. This futuristic murder mystery may not be the most tense or gut-wrenching episode of the series, but it is perhaps the most socially apt.
The episode challenges our expectations on what sort of person might be a cyberbully: A primary school teacher, a police officer, ultimately a lot of ordinary people. People who feel like they are just involved in a minor joke, selecting the lesser of two evils, or just partaking in a social experiment.
The episode draws influence from the Jon Ronson book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which discusses the emergence of public shaming on the Internet. It, like the Black Mirror episode, examines the morality and risks of this sort of behavior. How culpable are we for passively engaging in public shaming? Is it an effective deterrent or just an outlet for people’s pent up aggression and meanness? How does anonymity affect our moral decisions?
Cyber-bullying is a topic close to Brooker’s heart. He has written on the topic before, in his other role as a journalist. Brooker’s article on the Rebecca Black bullying news story reveals some of his views on the topic. He has also been the victim of online abuse himself.
All three seasons are available now on Netflix.