Social Media in Thrillers
By Aisling O’Mahony and Mary Karayel
With so much technology at our fingertips, social media is becoming an increasingly prominent presence in our lives. From the moment we wake up, we’re checking stories, liking posts and responding to messages. It’s difficult to remember a time when online interaction wasn’t so prolific. However, social media is still a relatively new invention. The first recognisable social media platform, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. Since then, countless other social media platforms have emerged, quickly rising and falling in popularity. Each platform offers new ways to share vast amounts of your information online, placing your whole life on show for the world to see in exchange for a like, or a follow. We upload a carefully curated, filtered view of the perfect life we’re living, however far from the truth it might be. At their core, mysteries and thrillers revolve around discovering the dark truth hidden behind the lies. So, it’s no surprise how enthusiastically these genres have embraced elements of social media in their stories.
As wonderful as social media can be as a method for human connection, it has an undeniable dark side, and it’s this dark side that’s often explored in thrillers. An aspect of social media that frequently crops up in thrillers is the dichotomy between what is real and what we see on the screen. Some of us might use a sneaky filter or a little editing to get closer to our ideal image. However, when taken too far, social media becomes the perfect platform to spin a web of deception and dishonesty. For instance, Shame on You by Amy Heydenrych revolves around cancer survivor Holly Evans, famous for her blog on healthy eating and clean living. Yet when she’s attacked by a surgeon who claims to know her, her pristine image starts to crumble. Similarly, People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd follows Emmy Jackson, an ‘Instamum’ who shares every aspect of her life online, or so it seems. Her sceptical husband knows better. As Emmy’s social media presence begins to take a strain on their marriage, they face an even greater danger as one of Emmy’s followers becomes increasingly obsessed with her ‘perfect’ life.
Thrillers also often utilise social media as a way to dredge up the ghosts of the past. For example, in Friend Request by Laura Marshall, the protagonist receives a friend request from an old school friend, which might not seem like anything unusual. Except that this particular friend has been dead for twenty-five years. The constant influx of information provided by social media is also a useful method of building up tension in thrillers. In Follow Me by Angela Clarke, a murderer leaves the police cryptic clues and taunts via Twitter posts. As the body count grows, so does their follower count, a grisly testimony to the human obsession with all things morbid.
Similarly, Rachel Edwards' novel Lucky epitomises the destructive effect the internet can have on our lives through her exploration of online gambling. The haunting psychological thriller follows Etta, a thirty-something-year-old, who turns to online gambling to raise the funds needed for her partner, Ola, to marry her. Whilst her intentions are harmless, Etta is plunged into a dark online world of addiction and blackmail from the very online personas who persuaded her to try gambling in the first place. The anonymity of her blackmailer, who seems to know everything about her and Ola, makes this a compelling read that I finished in just two sittings! This book is perfect for those wanting to explore how vulnerable we make ourselves online and are too trusting of strangers in the digital world.
Another element of social media frequently explored in thrillers is the erosion of personal privacy. For example, in The Circle by Dave Eggers the protagonist, Mae Holland, gets a job at The Circle, a prominent tech company. The Circle have developed new surveillance technology allowing constant access to the lives of people wishing to go “transparent.” As Mae moves up in the company, she and those around her also go “transparent” with some horrifying consequences. Another thriller that delves into social media’s detrimental impact on personal privacy is Followers by Megan Angelo. Similar to The Circle, it is set in a world where celebrities live their entire lives on camera. The novel follows three women, Marlow, a celebrity who longs to escape the constant surveillance, and Orla and Floss, who both long to be in the spotlight and are prepared to do anything to get there.
And, we cannot talk about thrillers using the internet without mentioning You by Caroline Kepnes. The thriller, first published in 2014, shot to fame in 2018 thanks to Netflix’s TV adaptation and Kepnes just published the third book in the series, You Love Me, this year. The book’s stalker, Joe Goldberg, scaringly narrates the book as if it is a love story, starting when he meets Beck and stalks her online and in-person after discovering her name on her credit card. Orchestrating chance encounters and finding out everything he needs to know via her Twitter, Goldberg is a terrifying and unreliable narrator (don’t let the casting of charismatic Penn Badgley’s as Golberg in the Netflix series convince you that this is at all romantic!) Whilst we all jokingly talk about stalking a crush online, or friends from school we haven’t seen in ten years, Kepnes brings us back to the terrifying prospect of being followed online and the danger that ensues from such constant access to people from the comfort of our own homes.
Remind me to check all my social media privacy settings...