‘Black Mirror’ Fact Check: Can Hackers Watch You Through Your Camera?

Season 3 Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance,” imagines blackmail via laptop camera

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: In Soviet Russia, TV watches you. The third episode of the third season of Netflix’s brilliant “Black Mirror,” entitled “Shut Up and Dance,” imagines a hellscape in which our phones and laptops are watching us, too.

What makes it more hellish is that it’s absolutely realistic.

As USA Today noted way back in 2013, it’s very possible for hackers to watch you through your webcam. So the scenario in “Shut Up and Dance” isn’t far off.

In the episode, hackers capture a young man named Kenny (Alex Lawther) masturbating in what he thinks is the privacy of his bedroom, and then force him to carry out a series of ever-more-horrible tasks. (Because this is “Black Mirror,” there’s a twist that will leave you feeling bad.)

There’s a reason Edward Snowden, as portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Oliver Stone‘s “Snowden,” covered his computer’s camera with a Band-Aid. Edward Snowden knows hacking.

The U.S. Justice Department’s website tells the true story of “sextortionist” Luis Mijangos, who prosecutors accused of spying on more than 200 women through their webcams, and blackmailing some of them.

“Having searched victims’ infected computers for sexually explicit photos, or having made his own by turning on their webcams without their knowledge, Mijangos would then engage in psychological games with his victims,” the department said. “He threatened to publish intimate photos of his victims on social media websites such as Facebook and MySpace for the world to see if they did not give into his demands to send him videos or photos of sex acts.”

This is one of the most gut-wrenching “Black Mirror” episodes, because it could take place in real life, today. You may want to stock up on Band-Aids.