Users of Turkey’s equivalent to Reddit received an unsettling message late last night. Across the site, users began complaining that they’d received a mysterious DM from an account named “iamwaldo” that left many people feeling paranoid and anxious. It appears that was the intention of the message, which is actually a viral marketing ploy to promote the new season of Black Mirror.
As English-language Turkish outlet The Daily Sabah reported, the message read, “We know what you’re up to. Watch and see what we will do.” The “iamwaldo” username, the publication notes, appears to be a reference to “The Waldo Moment,” an episode from Black Mirror’s second season.
When we reached out to Netflix, a spokesperson declined the opportunity comment, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed to Gizmodo that the streaming service was behind the messages.
Multiple Turkish outlets reported the same story, and users have been discussing the incident on Ekşi Sözlük, a popular forum for user-generated content and discussion that’s similar to Reddit. Some users noticed the DM-sender’s username and put two-and-two together, saying that outraged reactions were overly dramatic and that the promotion was “funny.”
Others weren’t amused. One user on Twitter complained that “no one has a right to discomfort [get people anxious] for the sake of advertising.” Users on Ekşi Sözlük’s Netflix forum expressed similar sentiments, with one writing: “Whoever had the idea, it is not cool. We have authors who suffer from panic attacks and suffer from cardiac arrhythmia. No one has a right to frighten anyone, even for 10 minutes, whether they are trolls or advertisers.”
Many people wrote that they plan to report the incident to legal authorities.
One can imagine that this kind of promotion could be particularly distressing in Turkey where martial law was declared last year following an attempted military coup, and government surveillance of citizens’ lives on and offline is common. But honestly, American redditors might find themselves alarmed as well, considering how many people use that site to indulge their worst instincts—not to mention a general distaste for self-promotion.
As a marketing stunt for Black Mirror—a show about all of the dystopian ways that technology, corporations, and governments could make our lives hell in the near future—this promo makes a certain amount of conceptual sense. At the same time, it also illustrates the precarious nature of a tech giant getting in on the dystopian themes that Black Mirror attempts to warn the public about. The show started out on the BBC, a publicly funded television network. It’s move to Netflix, a private media company with world domination on its mind, gives Black Mirror an extra hint of subversive mischief. Its creators can feel like they’re kind of getting away with something. But when the big corporate entity attempts to get in on the satire, it leaves a bad aftertaste.
Netflix came under fire for a similar attempt at being cool earlier this month when it tweeted, “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?” Many people felt it was creepy to repurpose user data in order to make a joke. The tweet also seemed to highlight the Netflix addiction that’s best summarized by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings assertion that the streaming service’s biggest competitor is “sleep.” It’s the kind of thing that sounds good to shareholders but makes the average person question what they’re doing with their lives.
In a similar vein of lacking self-awareness, Mozilla pissed off users recently when it injected into its browser, without users’ permission, a sponsored plug-in promoting the USA series Mr. Robot. The stunt makes perfect sense in relation to the show’s premise about hackers trying to take down the powers that be; but from a user perspective, no one wants to be reminded of how much power their browser provider has over the experience.
Other Turkish users pleaded with everyone to calm down because they were just magnifying the intent of the campain—creating buzz for Black Mirror. It’s a pretty dystopian idea that a company can execute a promotion that many people find disturbing, and any criticism of it just amplifies its initial intent. As the show’s creator Charlie Brooker has said of Black Mirror’s premise, it’s “the way we live now—and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”