Friday, 16 January 2015

Cyberbully (2015)

“Easier when no one knows it’s us, right? We can say what we want. We can do anything!”

Cyberbully, Ben Chanan's follow up to 2013's Blackout, is another gripping and topical drama documentary at the cutting edge of modern society starring the impressive young Game Of Thrones actress Maisie Williams as Casey, seemingly your average digitally connected teenager. 

I like dramas like this, dramas that could be called socially responsible. OK at its worst it resembled an updated PIF, but this was on the whole unsettling stuff. The quote I've kicked this review off with neatly sums up the issue with the net; people hide. They hide behind their laptop screens, their smartphones, tablets and mobiles and they put forth their opinions via a bevy of platforms safe in the knowledge that their relative anonymity protects them. But the dichotomy at the heart of this is that the net isn't that anonymous - these seem people store reams of private information and reveal their innermost secrets. The online world is viewed via a split personality.

And what if you're a user who isn't as pure as the driven snow as you think? Casey appears initially to be a young girl positively luxuriating in being born in such technologically advanced times as she flits from Skype to Twitter to IM to speak with her friends. When an ex appears to tweet something hurtful and private about her, her first reaction is to lash out for revenge from someone tech savvy enough to hack into the ex's account.

But who is this knight in shining armour and what is his motivation?

"I help victims of cyberbullying" he claims.

But what exactly is a cyberbully? What actions warrant that title?

The great flip to Chanan's piece is that Casey is slowly revealed to be a cyberbully herself, appearing responsible for the trolling and eventual suicide of a former classmate. Trapped in her bedroom by a disembodied voice from her hacked laptop, Casey is hostage to her own online life - a mouseclick away from becoming public unless she apologises and pays the price for her activities. 

This was a deeply absorbing piece of television with a strong performance from Williams virtually acting by herself for much of the duration. I guess the more technologically knowledgeable in the audience might quibble over the probability of such total control of someone's computer but it's no matter, the message was brought across in a clear way and in keeping with Channel 4's commitment to change perceptions through documentary and drama filmmaking. We need to take a step back and look at what the consequences of our activities online truly are, be that sniping at people or simply sharing too much information.

"Everyone does it. It's fucking nasty. But it's normal"

But should it be? That's what Chanan asks. Is this what we really want? I can imagine a great many parents wondering what their children are doing upstairs on their computers right now, believing it to be 'normal'!  The internet could and should be a remarkable advancement in broadening our horizons but if anything it's making the world a much smaller, more insular and selfish place. If Cyberbully gets just one person to stop before they type to consider if they would say this in real life then I imagine it will have done its job. Online needs to meet reality more and in a week in which a young man met a boy he had played games with online and murdered him this was deeply unsettling, contemporary public service drama.

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