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Recommended: Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet on Netflix

Netflix takes a harrowing look at how online behaviors create real-world crimes.
  • A member of the alternative media collective Unicorn Riot in a scene from Web of Make Believe:. (Photo: Netflix)
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    Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet | Netflix
    True Crime Documentary Series (6 Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet About?

    Across six episodes, this documentary series investigates how online behaviors have led to real-world crimes, ranging from sexual exploitation to robbery to murder.

    Who's involved?

    • Brian Knappenberger (The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, The Internet's Own Boy) directs the series and serves as an executive producer.
    • Ron Howard and Brian Grazer also executive produce.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    Though it's a documentary, one might also file Web of Make Believe under horror as it depicts meticulous detail how so-called harmless internet pranks and so-called political websites have given rise to terrifying behavior.

    The show's strategy is epitomized by the standout episode "I Am Not a Nazi," which explores how a woman identified only as Samatha came to be an influential member of the alt right. We follow each step of her radicalization into the white supremacist movement, and Samantha herself acknowledges both her vulnerability and her culpability. By the time she turns away from her tribe (she ultimately served as a key witness against the white supremacists who incited the Charlottesville riot in 2017), we understand how the flood of hate speech on mainstream websites like YouTube and Twitter helped push her further into hatred than she ever thought she could go.

    The same episode also features an anonymous member of a left wing media collective called Unicorn Riot, who explains his strategies for doxxing white supremacists and using the internet to dismantle their lives whenever possible. While there's no question that the members of Unicorn Riot are on the right side of history, the episode poses an uncomfortable question about how much leeway anyone should be given to use the internet as a weapon.

    That ambivalence is echoed in other episodes, including a harrowing look at the practice of "SWATing" — making fake emergency calls to send a SWAT team to an innocent person's door. We learn how one SWATing call led to a murder in Kansas, and a teenage relative of the victim says the world of online gaming now helps him escape his depression over what happened to his family. However, it was that same world of gaming that connected the people whose SWATing stunt caused his family's tragedy in the first place.

    So is the internet good or evil? Over and over, the series insists the answer is "both at once," and its ethical nuances are refreshing. Granted, the soundtrack relies on the "synthesizers of dread," and the dimly lit reenactments can sometimes make the show feel like a more graphic version of the original 1980s-flavor Unsolved Mysteries, but forgiving the occasionally hokey presentation, we're left with a complex exploration of what's currently happening on computer screens across the country.

    Pairs well with

    • Look at Me: XXXTentacion (Hulu), an incisive documentary about a troubled and internet savvy pop star.
    • Homeland (Showtime), whose first two seasons are a gripping depiction of how an apparently heroic soldier goes to the dark side.
    • Beware the Slenderman , the HBO documentary about how a website for spooky stories helped convince two children to commit murder.

  • Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet
    The full series premieres June 15 on Netflix.
    Created by: Brian Knappenberger, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard.
    Directed by: Brian Knappenberger.

    TOPICS: Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet, Netflix, Brian Grazer, Brian Knappenberger, Brian Knappenberger, Ron Howard

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