Revisiting the Spam Folder: Using 419-fiction for Interactive Storytelling. A Practical Introduction

Abstract (in English): 

This workshop will be offering the participants both a theoretical and practical introduction to interactive narratives in "419-fictional environments" created by scammers and scambaiters. We seek to understand different sides of online fraud and through creative storytelling reflect on issues like online privacy, virtual representation and trust within networks. We also draw parallels to other practices and cultures like: gaming, transmedia storytelling or creative activism. Through a participants take the first steps of creating their fictional characters and infiltrating a scammers storyworld to observe and interrupt their workflow.

We explore how persuasive narratives are setup, how characters are designed and how dialog is exchanged to build trust between the acting parties. We will use social media and various content generators and other tools to orchestrate internet fiction, creating entrance points to a story world and spreading traces of information online. By reflecting on scam bait experiences we enter a discussion around the topic of interactive narration connecting to the participants' and their general work in this field.

With the term "419-fictional environments" we refer to computer mediated story worlds where advance-fee fraud is used as a confidence trick to lure the victim into paying a fee in advance, with the future hopes of getting a larger amount of money in return. The origins of advance-fee fraud dates back to the 16th century and is known as the "Spanish prisoner", Internet and new communication systems have rapidly increased the opportunities for the scammers to reach victims. At the same time they have helped the scammers to hide their personalities and their working practices. Scammers can work with standard office computers on a global level, tricking their victims by impersonating: fundraising Charity NGO’s, State Lottery institutions, Conference/Art Festival organizers or as romance seeking lovers on Dating websites. These types of cyber crime are often called "419-scams", "419" referring to the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with cheating and fraud.

The workshop will give participants valuable first hand insights into raising awareness about online advance-fee fraud scams and to raises issues of trust betwixt and between real and virtual. This by exploring the practice's of scambaiters. Scambaiters are persons who reply to scam emails, being fully aware that the emails are written by scammers. "Scambaiting involves tricking Internet scammers into believing you are a potential victim". This means that the scambaiters turn the tables and lure the scammers into incredible story-plots, always giving the scammers the feeling that they will get a lot of money. Scambaiters do this for different reasons. Tuovinen et al. illustrate three possible motives: community service (social activism), status elevation and revenge. The workshop provides a base to discuss if components of scambaiting culture can be used in terms of community service in form of creative activism. We also welcome discussion around the game like interaction that takes place between the scammer and the scambaiter. How storyworlds are build, which tools to stay anonymous are used, how characters are designed and dialog exchanged to build trust between the actors.

(Source: ELO 2015 catalog)

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Record posted by: 
Hannah Ackermans