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FlashFictionFridays #4 “Maskerade”

So, I knew this was going to happen. I only had a handful of stuff pre-written, which means that to keep going I needed to write new flash pieces. And then I just didn’t do that. My bad. Anyway, this comes in around 1300 words, which is oops?

“Maskerade”

By Shari Paul

“Controversial New App Quickly Goes Viral”

Staff Writer

“Maskerade” is the latest viral social media sensation. The app, which employs Deep Fake technology to help the user recreate and wear the faces of everyone from ancient historical figures to contemporary celebrities in short videos they can share anonymously or with friends, has quickly grown in popularity since it launched three months ago. User, Kayla, 17, says that the app has helped her get over anxiety issues as she is able to communicate without showing her face: “I used to be terrified of speaking to people, even people I met regularly, but now I have like fifty friends in my group.”

Of course, this is not without controversy. Various Black and Brown users have complained of videos where historical leaders of Civil Rights and other social justice movements are made to say things that go against what they are stood for. User, “Abby”, not her real name, says, “They say it’s all in good fun, but I see these videos being shared in other apps to mock and harass people. It’s like the kpop fancams but worse.”

The creators of the app acknowledge the controversy but insist that the intent was to make learning history fun and help people communicate in an easy, unique way. As for claims of misuse, they provided a link to their TOC and state that racist abuse and harassment is absolutely not tolerated and will be dealt with.

Regardless of the controversy, Maskerade’s sharp rise in popularity may mean this is the next big app dominating the social media sphere for the foreseeable future. Personally, it’s pretty funny to have Luddite caricatures leading a protest for better WiFi.

“Maskerade’s Newest Feature Embraces Controversial Origins”

Staff Writer

Two years since its successful launch, the creators of Maskerade have announced a new feature to the social media app, Jumbie, which they claim will allow users to take the experience one step further: holograms. Yes, you read that right, Tupac in your living room. And that’s not even the best part, the filters will allow the user to create holographic images of not just celebrities and historical figures, but gods and demigods of mythology. Want to add extra oomph to that joke about releasing the Kraken? (Do people still say that?) Well here’s Zeus to do it for you. They have everyone from obscure Japanese demons to Bigfoot.

This new feature is, again, not without problems. Critics say that this just adds another layer to the desecration and harassment that the app has allowed to continue among its users, largely unchecked. A number of prominent BIPOC activists have stated that the app is treading into territory the creators themselves should know to avoid. The creators have pushed back, insisting that they have worked with prominent scholars to ensure respectful and culturally accurate images are produced. Users are excited about the possibilities, with one saying, “I can’t believe they got the orishas in there. I’ve been doing African studies forever and I find them fascinating.”

I have already set my phone to update when the feature comes out. Can’t wait to tell you about it.

“We Told You”

Laika Owens

I’m just going to come out and say it: we told you this would happen. Maskerade was a bad idea from the start, letting people live their best minstrel lives through mainly BIPOC historical figures and people with impunity. ‘Jumbie’ though, that was next level terrible. Some things are not to be trifled with and boy did they ever. Ten people dead in ten minutes before they deactivated the feature. There’s already talk of criminal charges and lawsuits, but the creators are unreachable and have been for days. Whichever way this ends, I really hope it’s the end of that godforsaken app, too many of you got far too comfortable with the disrespect.

“Ten Minutes of Terror: Night of the ‘Jumbie’”

Anonymous

“No, the thing popped out and he’s just staring at me. It scared me.”

That’s the last message that my friend sent me the night of the Masquerade launch. It was exactly 12:07am. She was the last person to die before shutdown at 12:10am. Her parents did not find her until the next day, when they finally broke down her door at 9:17am. And when they did, her father said it was as if the light had been ripped from her.

It’s a description repeated by the family and friends of the other victims as well. Even at her funeral, the staff did their best, but she still looked “dull”. I try to remember her as she used to be, full of life, always smiling and happy, eager to try new things. It’s how she got into Maskerade and I, uninterested in trying to create content for yet another data-mining social media app…didn’t. But there’s a problem, you see, because while she was texting me the night of the Jumbie launch, my friend was also livestreaming the event to her 16000 followers. Some of the 2300 who were online at the time were recording, and so, months later, while her family and I are still struggling with her grief, I will occasionally be surprised with the video of my friend’s murder.

It was supposed to be an AR projection of some African Voodoo spirit or the other that I still do not know the name of. In the video, after she makes her choice, it just “pops out”. She starts a little, laughs, and taps out her message to me on her phone. The chat on her livestream goes crazy. She does not notice, no one does, the way the thing tilts its head at her. Would not have mattered if she had. It’s over in an instant. As she turns to look at it again, it lunges for her and disappears. She slumps to the floor, dead.

I guess this is how the others died, no matter what they pulled out of the app. One of them, a devout Christian, supposedly called for an angel. Did you know that it says you can’t look at them directly? Unlike my friend though, the others were able to have some measure of privacy. They were not livestreaming so there is no video for others to repost and reshare and meme and mock as if it they were not people who had others who cared for them. No one could have predicted how those first ten minutes after the app launched would go. But now that we do know, we have a responsibility to the victims to respect their memories. People matter, we should never forget that.

“Maskerade Reborn?”

Staff Writer

You’ve surely heard the news by now, and it’s true. Maskerade the app is taking on new life as a game. Most of the details are still under wraps but it’s expected that a trailer will be available by next year, with information on the release date and platform availability later. The developers, who are said to be working with the former app’s creators—though in what capacity is unconfirmed—have promised a much safer experience. To quote one of the developers, Brian Waters, “We looked at the whole thing and thought that this would be amazing as a game. The VR possibilities alone are endless. While we understand that there was a tragic incident involving the app, it was made clear in the courts that improper use was at fault and not the creators or the concept. All we ask is that you give this a chance.”

When asked if the game will include the Jumbie extension, the developers were tight-lipped. However, if a tweet by one of the developers is anything to go by, well, look out for it. “It’s going to be killer.”

Fin

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