The BBC’s recent six-part psychological drama, Chloe, indirectly highlights the risks of oversharing on social media, as its central character forges an alter-ego based on information posted purely online.
Note: this article contains spoilers for the BBC One drama, Chloe
Chloe is an original six-part drama about a woman's obsession with her estranged best friend, the titular Chloe. Its central character, Becky, played by Erin Doherty, is conflicted and confused by Chloe’s death. Could she have done more to prevent it? Why did she die? Who, amongst Chloe’s friends, knows something?
But all Becky has left of her one-time best friend is her Instagram account, which she constantly returns to, pawing over each post obsessively, wondering what each one means and dissecting every last detail (It’s worth pointing that it’s not actually Instagram, Zuckerberg would never allow it, but it’s an identikit site designed for the show).
So, in an attempt to unravel the mystery that surrounds Chloe’s death, and armed with the details she has gleaned from Chloe’s “Insta”, she must somehow find, mix with, and gain the trust of Chloe’s highfalutin circle of friends - a network of people who Chloe seemingly kept separate from Becky but boasted about online; a group of marketing execs, politicians and artists living picture-perfect lifestyles of glamour, expensive gym memberships and high society art events.
This lifestyle is a far cry from her own - a single, plain, office temp who lives with her mentally ill mother. Her ennui, and her contempt for her own soulless existence must be buried deep if she is to become someone who can seamlessly mingle with Chloe’s more glamourous social circle.
Chloe’s account allows her to do this - it enables her to fine tune exactly the right type of person she needs to become to rub shoulders with these people, based purely on their traits, the places they frequently attend and the lives they lead, which are plastered online for all to see.
And while the show’s focus is on Becky’s obsession with her estranged friend rather than the risks and threats of the internet, what the BBC have done, either indirectly or very cleverly and knowingly, is indeed expose those perils of sharing our every check in, every location identifier, every tagged friend and indeed every facet of our lives. Because without this knowledge, which is free and easily accessible via a few clicks, our unlikely heroine Becky wouldn’t know where to begin her investigation, or how to manipulate her targets.
With Chloe’s account at her fingertips, Becky can effortlessly pick through each post and pinpoint where she’s been, who she was with and when, and what she was doing.
Using “Instagram” as her guide, Becky is able to concoct an entirely new, entirely fake but entirely believable persona and assume the identity of the fabricated Sasha Miles - an intelligent, well-travelled, arty type, who likes to frequent the type of events that Chloe’s friends attend. She’s convincing, and her tales are watertight enough for her to gain the trust of the people she needs to trust her - to begin with at least.
She begins to infiltrate Chloe’s tight-knit circle of friends with little suspicion and is even able to get close to Chloe’s estranged and vulnerable husband. It’s social engineering, only on a very real-world level.
We won’t give the game away completely if you’re yet to watch it, but the show moves on with Becky trying to piece together what happened to her friend using her alter-ego as bait, getting closer and closer to Chloe’s connections whilst hiding her ‘normal’ life.
“However, the pretense soon obscures and conflates reality, and Becky risks losing herself completely in the game she is playing.", says the BBC, adding no further spoilers.
It may well be a dramatisation, but the way in which Becky is able to convince people that she really is Sasha Miles, just be engineering an identity based on the information that Chloe posted on social media, is very real, and quite sobering.
It’s true that some people’s privacy settings are tight, but others leave their accounts wide open - especially Instagram accounts, which may have been the BBC’s reasoning to use a parody of that particular platform.
There’s nothing in the program to suggest Becky’s motives are sinister; she just wants to learn the truth behind her friend’s death. But leaving accounts open for intrusion could, potentially, present you as an easy target for fraudsters, or nefarious online scammers operating much in the same way as Becky was when she was able to deceive so many, so easily and so convincingly. A trickster, a conman or a fraudster could harvest the information you share and get close to you, either in person or online.
In the Security Awareness Training we offer as part of our Business Starter membership - or as a standalone service - we talk to staff about this exact topic, using examples of pictures posted on social media which can be reverse engineered by a fraudster to know where you have been and when, or where you may be heading and with whom.
Social media is great - it connects people, it’s engaging and it’s fun. But the one thing the BBC have shown with this series is that it can be used as a clandestine, open source conduit to a network of your real-life activity.
Chloe is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).