5 Web Intelligence Lessons from Black Mirror

black mirror - web intelligence - marketing intelligence

Last night I finished to watch the Black Mirror TV series and I spent most of the night thinking about it.

Technology is changing our society, but how and in what direction are we heading?

Black Mirror, a tv series that had a great success in the States and all around the world, tries to answer exaclty to that question.

The series is an anthology, since each episode has a different story and cast, but they all explore the same topic, such as offering a different interpretation of how the world might evolve in the future, thanks to the technological change.

“What’s so special?” You might be wondering. Thanks to all the films describing post-apocalyptic scenarios, in fact,we are used to imagine future realities where everything has changed.To name just a few, we are confident with ecological disasters where just few people survived, or with spaceships full of men in cryosleep, traveling to new planets, and so on and so forth.

But Black Mirror is different: it’s impressive because it happens in the present day.

In most of the episodes, the series describes scenarios and technologies not so far from where we are now, showing us how our society could evolve right now – most of the time for the worse.

What struck me is how the scenarios are often just the current reality at the extreme level: not distant worlds, but situations that we could already see today.

What’s more, many of these situations are about what I deal with every day, that is, the web intelligence.

In fact, the ability to extract information from online data is central in many episodes, offering interesting insights for those working in this field and beyond!

Let’s see the main lessons we can drive from Black Mirror episodes in terms of web intelligence!

[Warning, possible SPOILER!] 

1. Intercepting the spreading of information – “The National Anthem”

First of all, let’s consider the ability to monitor and curb the spread of information on the Web.

In the first episode of the first series, “National Anthem”, a terrorist leaks on Youtube a video with a ransom demand for the Princess of the United Kingdom. The Government tries to intervene to block the video and prevent the people to see it, but in a few hours the video is already viral! People upload it on hundreds of other sites, and it becomes impossible to track them all.

What’s more, after some hours the Government tries to circumvent the terrorist demands with a trick… but a picture naively uploaded online by a random person is enough to blow up the plan, because the photo is immediately shared everywhere and the terrorist sees it, unveiling the trick!

The situation is obviously taken at an extreme level, but it teaches us the importance of tracking what happens online and to react promptly, before the situation deteriorates!

And so the poor Prime Minister is forced to give in to blackmail… even with a final insult!

In fact, the final lesson is that we should ALWAYS be monitoring what happens, even when we are engaged in something else. This fact made me think, and I realized even more how valuable it is our work for crisis anticipation and management at CMI.

2. Being able to go back in the past. – The Entire History of You

Accessing historical data on your own life and on those of others is the topic of the third episode of the first series, “The Entire History of You”.

Thanks to a device connected to the brain, every second of a person’s life is recorded and can be reviewed at will. The memories become “files”, stored neatly to be accessed as needed, to verify a fact that happened, to prove someone’s identity and above all to listen to a past conversation.​

This episode teaches us that we can never know when a certain piece of information will be useful: intercepting and saving it is the only way to retrieve it when we need it the most!

Today we may not have devices installed in our brain (luckily, I’d say!), but thanks to social listening actitivites we can retrieve public conversations back in time. Going back on social networks, in fact, we can intercept who said what and why, in order to reconstruct past situations.

I will tell you more: thanks to the software we use at the CMI, the past conversations could be cataloged by topic, just like in the episode! So you can go back and see how many times people talked about a topic or when a given event took place.

Do you want to start listening your market right away, to monitor who is talking about your brand/company on social media? Just click here and fill in the form, one of our agents will call you back! 

Oh, I almost forgot the final lesson of this episode: what’s important is to know how to make good use of these information, without being obsessed by the past but using it to improve the future.

Black Mirror Nosedive - evaluate people according to their online reputation

3) Evaluate people according to their online reputation – Nosedive

What’s the value of people’s online reputation today? For some one it is the absolute evil, for others it is a fun game, and for others it is their job. In fact, think that influencers are already paid thousands of dollars simply to publish a post with a product of a brand or to participate in an event.

“Nosedive”, the first episode of the third series of Black Mirror, takes this theme to the extreme level. In their world, every interaction – online and even OFFLINE – is subjected to a score, such as a quick review.

Are you buying some milk in a supermarket? If you smile enough, the cashier will give you 5 stars. Have you sweared in public? Those who heard you will give you 1 star to punish you. And so on… The average of the scores you obtain determines what you can and cannot do: only those who are above 4 stars can enter in some restaurants and book certain flights, while those under 2 stars can not even rent a car!

So, the most important thing… is to monitor your own reputation with maniacal persistence! In the episode, people even hire specialists to help them understand how to increase their score and to get more out of their lives.

“What a madness!” you can not help but thinking when watching the episode. Still, it teaches us two very wise things. First, that every online and even offline interaction between people (and also between people and brands!) can easily be amplified in order to engage and influence other people online. For example, if a person linked to a brand – such as an employee or the CEO – makes a public mistake, the message will spread like wildfire, with negative consequences for the brand! So you must always be prepared to manage the problem in the right way

Second, it puts us in front of a harsh reality: free falling (nose diving, indeed!) is much easier than going up.

While increasing your reputation is very difficult – to go up from a score of 4.2 to 4.5 may take even years! – for Lacie, the episode main character, it takes a few hours to plunge into the abyss. Just one false move and all the work she has done is lost forever… and above all, from that moment on any further negative review will have an even stronger power! ​

This is true even today: a business could be affected for years because of a reputational crisis, while if it wants to increase its visibility it must spend thousands of euro in promotion. 

Then, monitoring what is said about themselves and their own brand is very important… at least not to end like the main carachter of this episode!

4) Discovering who did what and where – Shut Up and Dance

On the Web any action leaves a trace: from watching a video to the download of a photos. In the episode “Shut up and Dance”, some avenger hackers manage to trace the identity of some pedophiles according to their online activities, and take them as targets, involving them in a deadly game. 

What happens in this episode could happen today: we are already able to identify the individual person working online, their location and the device they are using.

Of course, this is a real crime when this involves a privacy violation.

But if the data is aggregated or made anonymous, it allow us to discover a lot of useful information for businesses and people involved in marketing. To give you some examples, we can know the profiles of people who have opened some email, or the location of people who are interested in a certain sport, or even discover from witch online devices people have visited a certain website. ​

This episode teaches us that this information is at our fingertips … then it’s up to us to decide whether to intercept them and how to use them! 

5) Every action has a consequence – Hated in the Nation

The last episode, “Hated in the Nation”, is the most impressive and the one where social listening is more central.

Some persons mocked by people on social media die in apparently inexplicable ways. When a police team starts to investigate on the case, a young detective passionate about computer makes an incredible discovery.

Tracking the conversations about the people killed, she discovers a deadly game launched by an unknown hacker.

Do you hate someone? Write a tweet with his name and the hashtag #DeathTo. Every day, the ones with more votes will die! Similar to a contest organized by a brand, but with a tragic end… Yet people participate happily: more than 300,000 English users tweet the deadly hashtag, indicating their candidate to die.

In the episode, the detective uses a software very similar to the one we use at CMI: she searches for hashtags and puts them in relation to other keywords, to find the top rated names and to locate people who have tweeted them.Capturing this information, she is able to trace the killer and stop the deaths … but she will be the cause of the tragic epilogue of the game.

If you’ve seen the episode [otherwise you should watch it before reading, or I will ruin the surprise!], you know that the episode’s conclusion is bitter: the ones to be targeted and to die are the 300,000 people who had lightly posted a tweet that sent someone to death!

The teaching is clear: what we write on social networks has a weight. People think that there are no consequences when they criticize someone or when they hurl invectives against a brand, and instead there are consequences indeed.​

We are hidden behind a screen, but what we write remains forever. And the ones who know how to read it have much power over those who wrote it, because first of all they will know what they thought… and second, sooner or later they could ask them to be accountable for it!

In conclusion, the Black Mirror series offers many starting point to think about, and you could write a book just commenting on the different episodes, thinking up on what happened and what could have been avoided and how!

In your opinion, what has impressed you most? If you’ve watched the series, just let me know your thoughts in the comments below!​

For me, the clue that made me think more, because it is as a common thread in many episodes, is the fact that individuals – and not just businesses! – should constantly monitor who speaks about them and how, never to be caught unawares.

Episodes like “National Anthem”, “Nosedive” and even “Hated in the Nation” show us the very serious consequences of when you are not able to monitor in real time what is happening online.

Businesses (and even people with public visibility) must always perk up their ears on who is talking about them and their industry, to react at the first sign of a surge of interest in a particular topic … otherwise, it may be a matter of life or death.

PS: If you do not want to go the way of the Prime Minister (which I assure you is not pleasant at all!), nor that of Lacie and do you want to have an agent that constantly scours the Web for you… contact us and talk to a 007 of the Web!

To the next article… and in the meantime, eyes open and ears shot!​​

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