6 times digital was a little too much like Black Mirror in 2019

Roughly a 7 minute read by Kate

Black Mirror

We’re big fans of all things digital, but in recent times even we have to admit it’s bordered on the downright creepy. The rise of artificial intelligence and digital listening have led to advanced levels of personalisation and targeting that just a few years ago would have been the stuff of dystopian fiction.

Black Mirror has made its success from imagining the terrifying but fictional limits of our technological advancements. However, in 2019 we spotted a few real life stories that were a little too familiar…


AI-driven dating

Dating app Loly raised a lot of eyebrows this year, with claims that it’s developed an AI that’s better at picking your partners than you are. Using a ‘Heat Index’ (patent pending), Loly professes to be able to analyse traits to rate potential compatibility between users and generate match recommendations.

While many people have bemoaned the many disappointments of online dating apps like Tinder, the idea of our autonomy being taken away in such a personal decision as choosing a partner is unsettling, and throws up questions about the role instinct plays in our pairings that often trumps surface-level compatibility.

Black Mirror pairing

We can’t help but draw parallels with Black Mirror’s season 4 episode ‘Hang the DJ’, where characters are led through a series of compulsory dates and relationships by ‘the System’ on the promise that it will eventually gather enough data to pair you with your perfect match.


Social credit scores

China’s social credit system has been in the works for years, first trialled regionally in 2009 with a national pilot in 2014 with eight credit scoring firms involved. The scheme was centralised in 2018 and plans put in place to finalise it by 2020, which has really thrust it into the spotlight as a potentially overly-invasive system of control over its citizens.

While we’re all accustomed to being scored in some fashion online (Uber ratings, credit scores or Ebay buyer/seller reviews to name a few), China’s is the first of its kind that could have a wider impact on every aspect of your life.

A range of behaviours from crimes to smaller instances of bad etiquette can knock down your social score, which could then impact your ability to be hired, get a mortgage, or travel abroad. On the flip side, good deeds that lift your score will open up a range of perks like lower interest rates and queue jumps.

Black Mirror pairing

The full extent of this system was imagined by Black Mirror in ‘Nosedive’, where social climber Lacie obsessively stages every moment of her life in a bid to improve her online rating. The fragile nature of the system is thrown into sharp relief when a series of unfortunate events lead to her score plummeting in a snowball effect of bad interactions.

While China’s social credit system is much more regulated than the one in Black Mirror, where your social score can be immediately knocked down by a downvote from a petty passer-by you have the misfortune to bump into in the street, ‘Nosedive’ provided a hyperbolic look at how it could all go wrong.


SERP manipulation

Boris Johnson really mastered SEO strategy in 2019, with his PR team feeding him interview soundbites that seemed designed to knock negative news coverage off page 1 of Google.

For example, his claim that he paints model buses in his spare time was speculated to be a tactic to hide news articles relating the now infamous Brexit campaign bus, while a quote describing himself as a ‘model of restraint’ may have been crafted to bury search results relating to his alleged affair with entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, who used to be a model.

While Black Mirror hasn’t actually covered this, there’s definitely an element of manipulation in this use of SEO understanding to control which content less digital-savvy users are seeing and consuming.


Suiting up for VR

Over the past few years Tesla have been working on Teslasuit, a full-body suit that utilises electro-tactile haptic feedback to mimic sensations while in a VR game.

They showed off their latest progress at CES 2019’s Innovation Awards Showcase, boasting real life imitations like temperature change, physical contact and the feel of rainfall, for even more immersive VR experiences.

Black Mirror pairing

The suit also uses biometrics to track your movement within the suit, so it can learn about how you move and even interpret how you’re feeling in order to adapt the content accordingly. Is anyone else having flashbacks to ‘Playtest’?


The sponsored proposal

Earlier this year, influencer Marissa Fuchs, aka @fashionambitionist, shared a video on her Instagram Stories from her boyfriend Gabriel Grossman hinting at a marriage proposal, after which followed a whole series of posts detailing an extravagant scavenger hunt across the globe leading to her boyfriend holding an engagement ring. So far, so sweet, right?

But then, a campaign proposal deck came to light from three months earlier, pitched on Marissa’s behalf to a number of brands offering them the opportunity to star in her proposal story.

The couple deny to this day that the scavenger hunt was a stunt, claiming the deck is no more than a ‘logistical plan’ created by Gabriel to coordinate the complex proposal, but the direct call outs for brand sponsorships seem to suggest otherwise.

While ads by influencers are now largely accepted as part of their content (provided they meet the fan expectation that they only promote brands that they genuinely use and endorse), this went a little too far.

The commodification of such a personal and emotionally-driven event in someone’s life combined with the apparent attempt to pass the proposal off as a genuine surprise to Marissa led to a significant backlash online.


Google intent signals

Intent signals are a popular way of categorising user behaviour in search marketing, with search terms usually categorised into navigational (looking for a specific website), informational (looking for a piece of information) and transactional (looking to complete a conversion).

Tracking these intent signals is actually an extremely efficient way to create effective content for SEO and target ads for PPC. Content aimed at the informational stage ensures your brand is introduced to the user early in their research journey, while ads targeting transactional intent keywords ensure you’re in the right place when a customer is ready to buy.

Google even offers custom intent audiences, so marketers can more easily target users exhibiting search behaviours that make them likely customers for their brand.

Black Mirror pairing

While it’s all above board, the increasingly sophisticated nature of user-tracking and machine-learning can occasionally make users feel like Google is reading their minds. Not a million miles away from the memory-reading tech in Black Mirror’s series 4 episode, ‘Crocodile’…

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