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A red room is a composite urban legend. It is allegedly a hidden website or service on the "dark web" where you can see and/or participate in interactive torture or murder. It is essentially the snuff film legend retold for the YouTube era. It is similar to other moral panics involving the so-called dark web in that it was made popular by uncritical reports provided by both traditional and social media. The phenomenon is an example of the Woozle effect where publications are continuously built upon misleading citations. According to technology writer and researcher Eric Pudalov, red rooms do not exist: "It's near-impossible to stream live video over the Tor network (or even other anonymity networks like I2P and Freenet). So, that would render a service like a red room (i.e. a site that streams live torture and murder) impossible, and certainly not profitable."
According to Pudalov, websites presenting themselves as red rooms are in fact scams aiming at stealing bitcoins. However, videos with illegal and ultra-violent content, such as the infamous Daisy's Destruction, by the notorious child pornographer Peter Scully, can be found on the dark net.
Conceptual predecessors in film and TV
- The 1983 film Videodrome featured a segment where a news channel 'tunes in' to an apparent live satellite feed of military interrogation torture taking place in a room with red walls, which sends the protagonists on a journey that leads them to question the difference between reality and television. In fact, Videodrome is the likely origin of the entire red room myth.
- Found footage pseudo-documentaries helped continue the trend, starting with the notorious exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust (1980). The Last Broadcast (1998) would mix IRC into real-time murder investigations. The genre was popularized by The Blair Witch Project (1999), which spawned meta discussions as to whether the events depicted were actually real.
- The 1998 British TV mini-series Killer Net, as well as films like FeardotCom in 2002 and Untraceable in 2008, would feature scenarios to do with logging onto a website and participating in murder.
- In 2008, Daisuke Yamanouchi released Red Room 1 and 2, which featured elements visited before in the likes of The Running Man mixed with Saw. The films were dark satires about a reality TV game show in which contestants complete an increasingly degrading and gruesome set of tasks for the audience's pleasure. The earlier 2006 Thai horror comedy film 13 Beloved covered similar ground.
- The 2010 British film Chatroom dealt with bullying, internet suicide, and chat rooms at around the time when cyber-bullying and grooming were attracting mainstream attention.
- Also from 2010, the short-lived science fiction series Caprica featured a virtual reality-based voyeuristic murder club. This environment, explored by apparently naive school girls, elicited concern from characters within the series, reflecting contemporary society's anxiety over uncensored internet content and youth.
- Popular 2011 fan fiction and later film adaptation Fifty Shades of Grey features a red room for dubiously consensual but nonetheless romanticised BDSM.
- In 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, the red room is the name of the secret location where Black Widow was trained as a child to be a spy for the KGB; graduation consisted of surgical sterilization to remove the distraction of reproduction.
The name "red room" may also be a pun on "redrum", the backwards spelling of "murder" (made famous by Stephen King's The Shining and its film adaptation).
On the internet
In the early 2000s, the red room animation went live, becoming infamous in Japanese internet communities for a popup it produced asking 'Do you like —?' This was further cemented into the Japanese consciousness by the real life Sasebo slashing perpetrated by a girl who had played the game.
Chain letters, chain emails and viral Facebook images have often promised deadly consequences for the recipient or a another person should they fail to pass on their message within the specified constraints. And yes, this has been made into a film too.
Live streamed suicides such as on the defunct justin.tv used to create media coverage in the mid-late 2000's.
In August 2015, Facebook and Twitter's default video player settings led many users to witness a murder uploaded by its perpetrator just minutes after it had occurred due to the platform's autoplay settings.
The role of social media and suicide is increasingly in the news, associated with online bullying, trolling and voyeuristic elements, as well as some interventionist involvement. Directed harassment of this nature may be known as cyberbullicide.
Why people look for this stuff
Oliver & Raney, 2011 discuss several reasons individuals may generally seek out negative content, including fulfilling cathartic and purging needs, making downward social comparisons, maintaining bad moods, and learning information that may ultimately help one deal with negative or unhappy circumstances.
In June 2014 psychologist Bridget Rubenking of the University of Florida attached released a study into the different forms of disgust, its involvement in memory formation and the psycho-physiological responses elicited. The study distinguished between 3 types of disgust, socio-moral such as betrayal, humiliation or racism (which varies somewhat by culture), body product and death, and 'body envelope violation' (gore). Undergraduates were shown representative clips of media whilst having their heart rates, sweat and facial expressions measured.
It determined socio-moral disgust varied in a number of different ways such as eliciting a slower reaction likely due to the increased neural processing required. Additionally increased attentiveness and 'defensive' physiological response were detected. Lowered memory of the events before the point of disgust elicitation and increased following were also reported as the fight of flight 'freeze' response is initiated.
As such it's hypothesied that people have various motivations to seek out disturbing content, real or otherwise and that use of disgust in media and increase its engagement potential.
To borrow the words of the Internet axiom: "What has been seen cannot be unseen".
With the rise of social media jihadists, beheadings of western journalists by ISIS were increasingly in the news, videos spreading simply via Twitter and basic social media channels, have created a sickening association between the internet and images of gruesome death. Technology has even reached a point whereby murder has been live streamed to Facebook. From Rotten.com to contemporary sites like Know Your Meme, people are increasingly obsessed with seeing death on the internet.
In internet pop culture
The earliest driver of the speculation was like a hidden web service called 'The Human Experiment,' accessible from the early days of Tor. You'll also see speculation about gladiatorial fights to the death, human-hunting, and human trafficking.
Since the popularization of the dark web myth, people have sworn they have 'stumbled' upon red rooms, or that their friend's cousin who totally works for the NSA saw one. Other users like to 'warn' users they whilst they personally cannot vouch for their existence, that they should be careful because they are 'unfortunately real'.
The alleged existence of such websites are perpetuated by YouTubers such as Takedownman and their fraudulent testimonials, as well as a vast number of intrigued would-be-fans on social media forums. Creepypastass like 'The Suicide Show' provide first person narratives of purported experiences. Often fake top level domain names will be required for access.
The 2016 indie horror title Welcome to the Game features the player going into the dark web in a quest to find a real red room, along the way encountering many other fictional dark web tropes.
In August 2015, there was a minor social media buzz when an advertisement for a "Red Room" was spread via Reddit and other channels with a countdown to the release of a video that would allegedly depict the live execution of ISIS prisoners. What was delivered instead was a troll video and a fake FBI take-down notice.
Dark web's red rooms
Shadow web red room
The site features top end security like disabling mouse clicks and a stock image background. The background image is rotated from time to time.
“”We've compiled a customised open source Firefox browser specifically configured to securely and anonymously access our streaming servers over I2P.
A blogger's interview goes into further details of the scam.
Common scam site
There is a common copy and pasted scam site that imitates a red room and occasionally says the show will begin in an allotted amount of time, normally around 2hours to 6 days. If you click the "Join" button, near the bottom of this page will be the bitcoin wallet key of the scammer with offers such as "spectator", "commander" and "master" each with different levels of 'control' though as this site is a scam they are fakes. They also offer the ability to download the last stream for 0.2btc though that is also fake. Images of the fake red room can be found here.
Blogger Secrets of the Dark continues to index even more such scams.
- Do Red Rooms exist in the deep web? Quora.
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- The Human Experiment
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- Human-hunting on the internet, also not a real thing
- My Brief Encounter with a Dark Web 'Human Trafficking' Site
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- 'Real' Dark Web Doesn't Exist
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- Dark web websites that 'claim' to be red rooms
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