Ideas and Issues: Online Privacy

 This piece was originally a part of an ideas and issues unit for my English Writing course, written in blog post format. 

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Over recent years, with the advent of social media, privacy online has become a major concern. It’s something we try to protect in our everyday lives, yet over the past few years it has begun to diminish. Things we used to keep behind closed doors we now put out for public display. Much of this can be attributed to the rise of the social websites and more technology driven culture. Every day, we share our lives across the endless wire that is the internet, putting up our thoughts, feelings, pictures, videos, and anything else under the sun.

 

What sharing your information looked like in the 1990's.

 

But is sharing everything such a wise idea? Whilst this amazing revolution in communication has brought many advantages, there are also downsides becoming more prominent. These include crimes such as identity theft and defamation becoming more commonplace and easier to commit. Even when taking precautions against such things, it’s sometimes not enough to stop personal information being collected and used. What is surprising is that it isn’t just hackers and thieves collecting your information, but websites and corporations we put out trust in every day. Websites often use cookies to help keep track of what you do, and gather the data so they can target advertising and services toward you. This in most cases conforms to different countries’ privacy protection laws, but not always. In an example, it was recently found that the popular social networking site ‘Facebook’ stored a cookie on your computer which tracked your movements around the web even after you had logged out, which is against many countries’ laws on privacy.

 

Like Sauron and the One Ring, their thirst for private information knows no law...

 

Sometimes however, giving away your information via social networking and web browsing isn’t the only way to lose your privacy. Anonymous cultures around the internet abound. Gone is the worry of someone you know finding out about what you post and look at, but it can also bring out the worst in people. Due to being anonymous, some people feel they can get away with anything whilst online, and it shows. Keeping a tight control on information is also more important, due to not knowing the intentions of someone else who’s anonymous. Anonymous cultures have become more a stomping ground for grassroots activism in recent years, but stigmas and precautions still abound when posting anonymously, and personal information can soon be used against someone if obtained. Also in most cases, despite being anonymous, you can still be traced if you don’t take precautions.

 

The magic of snatching passwords from the data streams...

 

The debate between those who wish to remove the barrier of online privacy, and those who wish it would remain is a long and difficult one. Both sides have arguments worth listening to, but unless a balance can be struck, then the future of online privacy is a strange one, and perhaps one that need to be looked at more closely.

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A Faceless Prince: More Slender Man

Seeing as my first Slender Man article did so well stats wise, I figured I’d do another one. The ‘Slenderverse’ is a rapidly growing thing, and even though I’ve been a part of it for less than a year, it has changed so much. Instead of laying out a guide to everything Slender Man, instead I’ve decided to look at a few of the other notable blogs and vlogs out there.

MLAndersenO 

The vlog series MLAndersenO follows Michael Anderson, who has recently returned home for a prolonged stay at a mental health clinic. Since his return however, nothing seems quite right. Something seems terribly wrong. His brother Shaun waves it off as nothing more than Michael forgetting to take his medication. That is, until a tall, slender man begins stalking him as well…

MLAndersenO has to be one of the best acted of the vlog series. From the way Michael is portrayed as a character trying to hold on, to his other side Patrick, who fills the screen with his grandiose and villainous nature. The plot is fairly interesting as well, and whilst it does use some things outside of the vlog to convey the story, these are not needed to understand and enjoy the plot.

CaughtNotSleeping

Meet Caught. He’s a regular, no bullshit sort of guy. When he can’t sleep, he turns to Youtube in a jest of an attempt to find answers. As he posts more videos, he gains the attention of a mysterious person by the name of Roivas Sevil (backwards as Savior Lives), and viewers begin to warn him of the Slender Man. Caught laughs all of this off, believing that someone is just fucking about with him. That is until he sees the creature himself…

CaughtNotSleeping is a rather interesting series, breaking normal conventions by having a character that is aware of the Slender Man from the beginning, and believing it to be just an internet thing and a prank being pulled on him. The audience participation in the series is also very good, making those watching along become a part of the story in small ways. It is also quite expansive with its side channels, RoivasSevil and The Help3r, giving a greater sense of immersion.

Blogs

There are quite a few Slender Man blogs out there, so I’ll just do a bucket list of what I believe are a few best ones.

The first is A Really Bad Joke, which follows Maduin (also known as the Jester). Maduin takes a different route to others, and instead of trying to fight Slender Man, plays pranks on him. Whilst the premise may seem quite light-hearted, at its core it is quite macabre and dark. The use of audio logs makes this more evident, with a weary sounding Maduin struggling to keep going.

Another is Observe and Terminate, which follows the Slender Man devision of the Paranormal Termination Consortium (PTC for short). Throughout the course of the blog, it changes hands and various conflicts in and outside of the organisation come to light. Less of a horror blog, and more like an action movie, Observe and Terminate is an interesting take on the mythos. Be warned though that at 180 posts, it is quite a long read.

One of the older blogs deserving a mention is A hint of Serendipity. It follows Zerombr (or simply Zero), who finds himself drawn into the myth of the Slender Man, and begins to try and help others in their fight against it. This doesn’t last long however before Zero himself becomes a target, and has to meet his fate. Zero is an interesting character, and formed an important point in the blog mythos of Slender Man with the Winter Solstice event. The character later returned in Last Refuge of a Dangerous Man, in which his story was concluded.

Other honourable mentions go to The Tutorial, Smiting the Gods and What You Are in the Dark. There are plenty of other blogs out there, with quite a few being fairly good, and even brilliant in some cases. My own contributions to the mythos, The Readers Resort and The Things You Shall See, are not quite as good as the ones I’ve mentioned. There are bits in them I’m quite fond of, but I feel they could’ve been so much better.

Hopefully that’s enough Slender Man to keep people satisfied for quite a long time.

‘The Slender Man’

In recent years, the Internet has produced many strange new creatures that expand the pantheon of horror, and created new brilliant (and scary) tales. These are creatures of the mind, which are horrific in a sense not seen since the Old Ones and Cthulhu came from the mind of H.P Lovecraft. Hopefully if circumstance allows it (and if I stop being lazy),  I will talk about some of these eldritch abominations further, and expand upon them. But the one I shall tell you about today is the creature known as “The Slender Man”…

 

First, history is necessary. Originating from the bowls of the Something Awful forums, the Slender Man was created by a user called ‘Victor Surge’ for a paranormal Photoshop contest (the archived thread of which can be found here). Most of the pictures in the thread were of ghosts, or in your face horrors, but with the posting of two pictures, this changed.

 

"we didn't want to go, we didn't want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time..." 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.

 

One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as "The Slender Man". Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.

 

Quite rapidly, the thread was taken over with pictures of the Slender Man. More pictures, from Surge and others came in, as well as stories surrounding the ‘Slender Man’.

A few weeks later, on June 20th 2009, the first Entry of Marble Hornets was uploaded to YouTube for an unsuspecting audience. The videos were apparently from an old documentary that was shot as a student film by Alex Kralie, when filming abruptly stops. A friend of Alex, Jay, is given the tapes, and told to by Alex to ‘Burn them’. Jay however, doesn’t and finds them in his cupboard two years later, and notices strange occurrences. Mainly a tall man in the background shots. And Jay soon discovers that he himself isn’t safe…

 

 

From here the vlogs expanded, with two of the most popular being EverymanHYBRID and Tribe Twelve. EverymanHYBRID started out as a health and fitness series before the introduction of Slender Man. It has continued over the past year, and is known for its complex story involving many different mediums, as well as ARG elements. Tribe Twelve follows Noah Maxwell, who originally set up the page for a school project on the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but later uses it a tribute page to his cousin Milo when he finds out that Milo had died. He begins to put up video from the last time he saw Milo, and notices something strange in the videos. Something that terrifies him.

 

 

At around the same time as Marble Hornets, the first Slenderman blog began. Titled “Just Another Fool“, it followed Logan, who finds out a friend of his, Matt, has died after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. He then comes into possession of Matt’s journal, and discovers the unsettling contents inside that pertain to a tall, slender figure. This blog set the tone for future Slender Man blogs, and whilst it is now considered quite simple in comparison, it is worth the read to see how it began.

The blogs, like the vlogs, also grew, with two of the most notable being Seeking Truth and Dreams in Darkness. Seeking Truth follows Zeke Strahm, a cop who is on a case of finding some missing teenage girls. The deeper he gets however, the more he discovers, esspicailly details surrounding a tall, slender man. Dreams in Darkness follows Damien O’Connor, who lives a normal life. That is, until his friend Ted introduces him to Marble Hornets, and begins to act strange. From there everything falls down around him, in a continuing downward spiral.

 

 

All the blogs and vlogs I’ve mentioned are just a starting point for what is the Slender Man Mythos. With hundreds of blogs and vlogs, as well as a large fanbase, it is a thriving community, trying to create something of pure terror. Other similar endeavors, such as the Fear Mythos, have also sprung up because of these terrifying tales. I would recommend turning the lights out and reading/watching the tales I’ve put before you. Hopefully, you’ll then also understand the terrible creature that is the Slender Man…

Online Privacy Journal – Entry 2

Okay, so I’m a little late. Well, a few days late. But better late then never. I present the second entry to my disastrous online journey. Also, these were written in the spur of the moment, and edited later for those people reading who I met in my online journey. That’s why there might be some continuity issues with current events.

Anyway, on with the show!

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Entry 2 – Watching Your Back (for the Social Network Zombies)

A day has passed, and now I apparently have three friends. Wonderful. I don’t even know how I was found so fast. One literally friended me as soon as my profile was made. Are they hungry for fresh meat I wonder, like some kind of social zombies?

 

Kind of like this, but with a hunger for socialising.

 

It matters not, because my whole point was to discover the extent of the privacy in this strange land. The first thing I did was adjusting my own settings. This proved harder than expected, with the menu buried away in a corner. It seemed more intent on getting me to input stuff into my profile, so it could target me better and give more data to the tyrannical advertising overlords. I refused to oblige, and instead adjusted my privacy settings to my likening, which was having everything only visible to me.

 

I created my own kingdom of dust and ashes. And all was good.

 

The same cannot be said for the ‘Wall’, a structure of which everybody has, and most people can write on. Updates from friends also appear on a live news feed. But I’m not interested in this, and because of that am probably missing the point of the service entirely. But I decided to hide posts from my 3 (count them all up) friends. It went well at first. I moved away from the feed, on to other inquiry’s, but came back to find the messages had returned.I sighed and moved on after repeating this several times. It was a hopeless battle, but they force content upon other users, thus forcing them to respond. I find this unsavoury, and I really don’t want to know that someone ate a tuna fish sandwich for their lunch.

 

Also, it makes me hungry. Damn, now I want a tuna fish sandwich!

 

Finding little else to do, I began to input data. After all, the only way to test their privacy measures is to straight up lose my own. I entered about books and television shows. And I also made a crack about politics being corrupt. My about me I made visible to the public, so that they could know my intent. It basically states that unless you are a friend, good luck with getting any sort of request accepted by me. And so far, it’s worked better than I expected. I had visions of requests pouring in from the 700 million users of this arcane system, leaving me drowning in a sea of friendship.

 

But despite this, I am already afraid of this strange place, and regret my ever coming here…

 

Next Time: A Stranger in a Strange Land!

Online Privacy Journal – Entry 1

In an attempt to do something more consistent, as well as present my research in an interesting way, I’ve decided to blog about my hands-on experiences with online privacy. And to relate the info as some sort of pseudo epic. I shall be putting these up possibly every second or third day.

 

Like this, but with less manliness

 

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Entry 1 – The Beginning

I set out on my grand quest, to discover the true meaning of Online Privacy. As research for my ideas and issues unit in my English Writing course. And generally because I’m a little bored. This gargantuan task would possibly take me many long hours, and drive me to the depths of several hells and back again. My first point of call was the dreaded Facebook, a cruel dragon queen whom I hold an undying hatred for. I don’t even though why I hate it. Maybe it’s that almost periwinkle blue hue, or the fact that it seems pointless. It took many days to even sum up the courage to enter the temple of the foul beast. Also I was busy playing Deus Ex.

 

Anyway, this is what I recorded for my journey.

 

First thing I noted after signing up, and leaving as little detail as possible, was the fact that people I knew from various haunts across the web were popping up as people I was suggested to ‘friend’. To do this, Facebook must plant some sort of tracking cookie, possibly on other websites with Facebook connections. Either that or it searches through your cookies to see where you visit. This is mentioned in their terms and conditions, which is stated as a way to make your experience more ‘unique’. I fell less unique, and more like my privacy has been violated. I don’t know how they do it. They get points for ingenuity, I’ll give them that. There are people I know from forums on here, who it is suggesting I friend, even though this is the first time I’ve been on this meticulous piece of shit. They are fucking [REDACTED]. This is [REDACTED]. It should be against the law this sort of thing, the bloody [REDACTED].

 

If it were any more REDACTED, it'd probably look something like this

 

The user is forced to work around the interface. It is horribly designed, in my opinion, and forces options on you. There are idiots here who I hate, yet it suggests I ‘Friend’ them. Some of these dicks have driven me to the depths of anxiety, depression and beyond. Nice job Zuckerburg, creating a network of ‘frienimies’. I’m worried things are going to go all Game of Thrones. When is the plotting and scheming going to begin? Will a small child get pushed off a tower? And is there a relatable character among this mess of conniving talk and trickery?

 

And if anything like this happens, then I'm out. Or dead. Probably dead.

 

I shall persist however, for the quest is the quest. Or something like that. There is still much more to discover, and no domineering daemon queen of a website will stop me.

 

Next Time: Social Network Zombies!