Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror (Netflix) investigates the efforts of an ad hoc group of print, television and student journalists, the Cybercrime Police and anonymous hackers to track down and catch chat room operators who use phishing and exploitative content from their victims others have extracted and sold online harassment techniques. The unbridled growth of internet anonymity is being weaponized here, and victims are left to wonder if security is just an illusion.
The essentials: “Dozens of victims, including minors, were blackmailed into making sex videos and posting them on Telegram…” The story caused scandal when it received widespread coverage in South Korean media in early 2020. Chat room operators on the Telegram app had violently coerced victims into sharing explicit content, then sold the material to thousands of users, who paid them in cryptocurrency. Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror Traces back to the beginnings of the “Nth Room” case, through the spatter of online chatter, the chilling simplicity of a “phishing” data attack and the ugly face of anonymous exploitation, right through to a whistleblower’s email. Kim Wan, a journalist with a South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh, describes how the email prompted him to pursue a Telegram user named “Baksa” who was sharing explicit content that he had forced his “slaves” to post. But when he published his article, Kim himself was instantly doxxed. Baksa and another user, “God, God,” became isolated, protected by a wall of internet anonymity, and their relentless attacks continued.
Once users’ photos, videos, identification and location information were phished, Baksa and God God escalated their threats and sexual harassment. Victims “were asked to perform grotesque, bizarre acts,” says Kim Wan, “and everyone in the chat room watched them together.” The Hankyoreh formed an investigative reporting task force, which was joined by a group of student journalists known as Team Flame, and together they collected what they could identify from Baksa and Gottgott’s online remains. Police cyber investigators have also been called in and some progress has been made. But the main perpetrators remained active, isolated and brazen. As a South Korean news magazine headlight ready to broadcast the story, Baksa sent a message. “A woman will either throw herself off the roof of the SBS building or set herself on fire if you spread something about me.”
With more research into the victims’ identities and a careful investigation into chat room activity, the police were able to prevent any loss of life and began closing in on Baksa and God God. But their operation encompassed so much more than just Telegram. Similarities to classic phone scams are bubbling to the surface, and the unregulated world of cryptocurrency exchanges is becoming an integral part of their capture. And a group of hackers, who remain anonymous themselves, are teaming up with the police to finally get a handle on Baksa’s back and bring some sort of justice to the many victims of online sexual exploitation.
What movies will it remind you of? Netflix is also there The Raincoat Killer: Hunting a Predator in Korea, a documentary about the South Korean authorities’ search for an elusive serial killer. And in the True Crime Doc 2021 why did you kill mea grieving mother creates a fake MySpace page to search for and eventually catch the man who murdered her daughter.
Notable performance: cyber hell’‘s visual representation of the online, social media landscape in which the crimes at Nth Room took place is a striking mix of the familiar and the unsettling. Text boxes and voice prompts, app icons gleaming from iPhone screens, and a slew of links, .jpgs, avatars, and web addresses morph into grimly animated reenactments of the world in the chat rooms and the queasy poking around of a stranger’s invasion of the inbox.
Memorable dialogue: Bul, one of Team Flame’s student “outreachers,” says that if she could go back, she would work harder and even sooner to expose Baksa and God God. “To be honest, I really regret that,” she says. “The Nth rooms were like the gates of hell. It had always existed, but we had ignored it all along. But since that door is now open, society as a whole must face up to this problem. Things are changing for the better, but I don’t think we’ve changed enough.”
gender and skin: cyber hell doesn’t further exploit the Nth Room sacrifices by including anything explicit. But the sexual violence they experienced is a pervasive theme of the document, which ends with contact information for any viewers who are victims of sexual harassment and are seeking information and support.
Our opinion: “It was like I was fighting the illusory world Baksa was in, not Baksa himself,” says Kim Wan. “And it was a lonely fight.” The journalist’s comment hits the unrest that is omnipresent Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror. It’s a feeling—even a certainty—that the digital harassment orchestrated by the likes of Baksa is just a click away from each of our social media-infested online lives together. It just emphasizes what we probably already knew, which is that we take the safety of our online selves for granted, and it’s really just a thin membrane laced with our mother’s maiden name from what we called our first pet . But having our identity stolen or our finances stolen is bad enough. Even more unseemly about the Nth Room case is the illustration of how insatiable the anonymous online demand for cruel horniness can be. Baksa’s “corrupt sexual ethics” is one thing. But that he cultivated such a willing audience for the exploitative content he stole speaks to the greater social charge cyber hell highlights.
Our appeal: Stream it. Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror examines the amazing power of anonymity in the social media age, how it can enable and isolate some truly horrific behaviors, and makes victims of digital exploitation wonder how they will ever feel safe.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenganges