Below is an in depth review and recap of the start of White Helix, a new technologically driven experience by unknown creators.
Over 1 billion photos are liked on Instagram each day. However, some of those likes are more interesting than others. When a random account liked a photo of mine from a few years back, one of the rare selfies on my profile, I almost passed it by. But out of curiosity I look at the profile: _whitehelix
The name catches my attention—and they also have zero followers and are following zero people. Odd, I thought. So, I decide to be their first. Over the next few weeks, this random profile disappears into the sea of people I know in real life, people I know virtually, and people I wish I knew. But everything changed on March 12th at 1:59 am.
I need you to text me.
The White Helix Instagram posts their first picture. A screenshot of a text message conversation from a phone with 1% battery. The conversation has a single string of text and an image of a face obscured by a glitch in technology. However, the phone number that texted them is not censored—it is proudly displayed at the top of the text message, daring me to connect with them. Half-asleep, I text the number. And they text back.
I’m already past help.. there’s no recovery. All I can do is help others become a voice for what happened to me. For now, I’d like to remain anonymous. But before we continue, Taylor, do you acknowledge that everything communicated between us has the potential to be stolen, shared, and utilized against our consent? If at any point you wish to erase your involvement, simply text Clean Slate for me to initiate the program. We’ll talk soon, Taylor…
And with that, Anonymous disappears into the void for weeks. Yet, White Helix’s Instagram is still active. They post an image of me, distorted by the same glitch, to their Instagram; the next image in their camera roll is a second image I have in my phone. Have they hacked my phone? Do they have access to my pictures? What else did they find in my phone? Anonymous reaches out to me shortly after.
That account is run by the people who I think blackmailed me.
If they are blackmailing this person, and they have access to my phone—they could easily blackmail me. As we build trust, Anonymous identifies herself as Samantha, and we bring others to her cause. She feels relief that she might actually be able to do something to help against whatever is blackmailing her. But as more people join her cause, they are also put into danger. White Helix posts pictures from their camera roll, complete with distorted selfies, suggesting that they have that ability to hack anyone’s personal device. I wonder why I am trusting Sam so easily–someone I don’t even know. But my pondering it interrupted by an Instagram message from White Helix:
Let’s clear up some misconceptions. There’s still plenty of time in the future for you to get to know me, but first allow me the opportunity to get to know you. The things I do know sketch a carefully curated concept of how you want to be seen. What do you keep below the surface?
We hide behind screens, allowing others to judge us for the lives we want them to think we have—the lives we portray online. Yet, is this really us? Would we ever post a photo of ourselves we think is unattractive? We have carefully curated an image of who we want to be, afraid to let others into the real us for fear of being vulnerable. White Helix is asking us to peel back that curtain.
They give me a series of tasks. Go to a crowded bar and sit at the counter alone. Record yourself talking about how you feel for one minute. Delete the first photo on your Instagram account. That’s not who you are anymore. Text a lie to a close relative. Record yourself dancing to the entirety of a song. And many other tasks, each focusing on being vulnerable, shameless, or possibly giving them blackmail material for later. I complete them effectively and send in my proof.
We’ll talk soon, Taylor.
But lines began to blur. Who can you trust online? Sam receives a call from someone she thought was me. They ask her for personal information—information she is uncomfortable sharing to a stranger, even if it is a stranger she converses with online. To prevent this from happening again, we decide to set a special code in case we need to contact the other outside of these messages. And then a week later, I receive a call from Sam. She’s frantic, scared. I ask her the code word, and she responds: wonderland. She asks me for my address—she needs to send me something. I write it out and send her a picture.
It seems others have received a call from a person claiming to be me. I don’t know how much you told them, but it wasn’t me. They’re interested in you for a reason I don’t know. The least I can do is be there for you as you have for me.
Who. Has. My. Address? I freak out. Will they come to my house? Will they show up in the middle of the night? I am reminded of the same fear and paranoia I felt during Blackout 21. What do you do when you don’t feel safe at your own home? But this has all been online thus far. They wouldn’t visit in person, right?
I am wrong. This isn’t all online. They contact a friend—they have a job for him. They have hacked a man named Chris’s phone. He’s cheating on his girlfriend with another woman. Chris thinks his girlfriend will never find out; White Helix thinks differently. The two lovers are meeting—and White Helix wants my friend to take pictures of two for Chris’s girlfriend. I wonder what White Helix has on him to make him comply. He arrives at the bar, takes pictures of the intimate couple, and is approached by a man. Taken to a back room, they converse:
Man: Are you a SIM?
Friend: I’m human.
Man: That’s what it calls the people they control.
Friend: What is it?
Man: White Helix—I think it’s a software; how else would it know so much?
He also receives two Polaroids. The first reveals a bathtub with blood smeared across the word seemingly spelling the word SIM. This is a symbol I’ve seen before, a symbol given to those who are under the control of White Helix, a symbol Sam has tattooed on her finger. The second photo is a ghastly and mysterious image, captioned only with the words, “Find Floydd“. But who is Floydd? A few weeks later, White Helix posts a screenshot for a NYC-based tattoo shop entitled Bat Tat NYC. With reviews detailing their “cheap and quick work” and “ink made from virgin blood,” I am intrigued. But what really catches my attention is the final line of the review: “Ask for Floydd.” I quickly call the number on the listing and leave a message for Floydd, telling him I want a tattoo. Silence. A month passes and no word from White Helix. Then my phone rings.
“Hey, this is Bat Tat NYC. Sorry for the delay in returning your call, we’re in the middle of a move. But I hear you want a tattoo?”
The web of White Helix is only beginning. This experience is already generating a relevant commentary on the role of social media, privacy, and responsibility. It holds a front-facing camera up to us and asks what dark secrets we have hidden in our technological closets. Reminiscent of Black Mirror’s “Shut up and Dance,” White Helix preys the horrors we don’t want anyone to see, that we don’t want to take responsibility for. But is White Helix really the enemy—or is it us for doing the deed in the first place? Is it Chris for cheating or White Helix for exposing him to his girlfriend? If White Helix is software that judges you empirically and without empathy, where is the line between guilty and not guilty? The small community formed because this experience have been actively and intelligently debating these questions and the prevailing themes, which have been some of the most ethically and morally ambiguous dilemmas I have had to consider. I have already placed tape over all of my cameras, and I’m excited to see where this journey takes me.
Do you have the integrity to admit your sins to clean your slate?
For more information, follow _whitehelix on Instagram.