Episodes include “Death by SWAT” about the consequences of “swatting” – a harassment technique that involves a person making a false report to emergency police against an innocent target – and “A Murder in D.C,” about the conspiracies around the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, the slain Democratic National Committee staffer whose death was used by right-wing activists to help exonerate Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.
“‘Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet’ is a collection of stories gathered over years of making films about the world of technology,” says Knappenberger. “I’ve always been interested in how technology changes the lives of everyday people, and in how our perceptions and brains are changed. The big questions hang over all of these stories, but the main focus is on the lives and events of people caught in this web. It is not all bad — new possibilities emerge along with dangers — but the stories take surprising turns since the truths we tell ourselves are often not real.
The docuseries, which was also produced by Luminant Media, features three separate stories of people caught in a dark and twisted web of modern misinformation and digital deception. “I’m Not a Nazi” revolves around a woman who recounts her journey to becoming a mouthpiece for white nationalist hate speech. Her work culminates in high-profile violence and murder. “Sextortion,” meanwhile, features several women recalling their harrowing experiences with one man’s heinous attempts at virtual blackmail, aimed at obtaining sensitive sexual material. “The Stingray” is a two-part episode about a skilled hacking duo who revisit the cyber schemes that landed them in the sights of law enforcement.
“To voyage bodilessly in the virtual world doesn’t mean we are separated from real world consequences,” says Knappenberger. “Our lives still play out in the physical world even if our minds are mired in misinformation. With the Buffalo shooter spouting racist “replacement” ideology and the effects of disinformation on democracy made clear with a stark information war alongside the bombs in Ukraine, how does this web of misinformation reverberate through our modern life?”
“Web of Make Believe” marks Knappenberger’s first collaboration with Imagine Documentaries — the nonfiction division of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment — and his fifth Netflix project, including “Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” and “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror.”
Says Sara Bernstein, executive producer, Imagine Documentaries: “There is no better platform and audience than Netflix for ‘Web of Make Believe,’ and no better partner than Brian Knappenberger to guide viewers down this dangerous and complex rabbit hole, as he is a visionary and authority on investigating the intersection of online personas and reality.”
Watch the trailer below: