Subliminal Hacking
The Art and Science of Social Engineering


January 14, 2016

Derren Brown Pushed To The Edge … A Good Reminder

Tuesday the 12th January 2016, Derren Brown returned to our screens and presented us with Pushed To The Edge. The premise for the show was to demonstrate how social compliance can influence behaviour, and how plausible would it be to get someone to commit murder by pushing someone off the edge of the building.

The show started off with a gentleman on the phone, impersonating a policeman and getting a member of staff within a coffee shop to distract a lady and remove her baby under the guise she was a known child abuser. Many tweets on Twitter mention this wouldn’t happen, or its cruel etc, however the true fact is that in the right conditions and the perception of an individual in authority providing you with a viable story it could happen exactly as witnessed on the show.

Then the main theme of the show is the murder of Bernie, by pushing him off the side of the building whilst he has a cigarette. At the climax of the show, the main participant ends up not doing the push, but then we see 3 other participants who have been through the same process do. As usual the media and social networks are mixed in was this brilliant television, or super cruel, unethical and that Derren has gone to far.

So I thought I would share my perspective, obviously I am a Derren fan and I enjoyed the show, but for me its not his best work, and I much prefer his stage stuff, but I actually think the show proved to be a good reminder on how susceptible people are to being influenced to do something, that may or may not be in there best interest (just like when being socially engineered). I also think its a good time to have this communicated, seeing as we currently live in a world of heightened terror with seemingly everyman and their dog looking to blow something or someone up for a cause they believe in.

Firstly a key thing to remember is that everyone involved (aka the participants or victims if you will), signed up to be on the show. Sure enough they may not of been aware of the specifics and extent, but if you are a fan of Derren (and you will be if you sign up) you have a good idea of the extent he may go to, so it is an informed decision. Also, and this is an assumption, they probably couldn’t air the TV show without consent of those who participated after the event, so I wouldn’t say these people are victims, and yes friends and family may see them from a different perspective for a short period of time, but more likely will realise it could quite easily of been them.

Also the people selected / shortlisted were those most susceptible to act in a socially compliant manner. Like any show this is a key requirement to get the desired result, but as mentioned before given the right conditions we can all act in ways we or others may not think we ever would.

For me the best thing about this show, was the generation of mass awareness. I imagine everyone who watched it will question what they would of done, be that they totally wouldn’t do it, or perhaps they would have up to a certain stage. This is great as it gets the brain thinking, you are then more likely to spot similar things happening to you on varying scales. Also another point is that there was no special magic or voodoo going on, just bog standard influence and manipulation of the situation.

Social compliance is part of our everyday lives, we do things and question it, or ask our friends and family to get congruence before acting, its all similar. Most importantly the bad guys are doing this, to help them achieve their goals, or aid them in their agenda.

So even though I don’t think its the best Derren Brown thing ever on TV, I think its done a good job to shake people up a little bit, and hopefully the message isn’t totally lost in perspective focus on how cruel and unethical it was (I guess we will find out in due course after Ofcom investigate the complaints).

Anyway this is just my perspective, and we are all entitled to one and I welcome anyone to share theirs in the comments.

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    About the Author

    Dale Pearson
    has worked in IT since 1998, Infosec since 2004, and studied and performed hypnosis, mentalism etc since 2009. Dale is a full time Red Teamer with a love of social engineering and qualified hypnotherapist. He spends a great deal of time researching the various skills and techniques that make up the art and science of Social Engineering.


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