Your parents tried to warn you. Don’t take candy from strangers. And in 2011, a film titled Take This Lollipop attempted to relay the same message to internet users worldwide. This film was an interactive horror short film that touched on the subject of information security in the internet age, and it went completely viral and won several awards. Pretty impressive for a film that lasts only a little over two minutes.
Why did Take This Lollipop resonate so deeply with its viewers and make waves all over the internet? Well, first of all, the viewing experience used the Facebook Connect platform to make the viewing experience unique to every viewer. This film would use your Facebook information to tailor the movie to you personally, making it all the more scary.
Take This Lollipop also made a statement about a topic that was very important back in 2011 and is still very important today: cybersecurity. Unsurprisingly, since this is still such a hotly debated topic today, director Jason Zada decided to release Take This Lollipop 2 last year in 2020. This sequel brings us to question what information might be being shared through our Zoom calls, which have become such a prominent method of communication during this global pandemic.
What Is Take This Lollipop?
The title of Take This Lollipop was inspired by parents’ requests for their children to not take candy from strangers, and also from the 1963 song “Please Little Girl, Take This Lollipop” by Bobby Jameson. Director Jason Zada first conceived the idea in September of 2011 when he awoke one morning and set out to create something spooky that would relate to the issue of cybersecurity.
The short film features a creepy-looking guy (who is rather sweaty for someone just sitting at a computer) who has found your profile on Facebook. As he scrolls through your profile, the camera flashes to his computer screen, and you can see that the photos he’s viewing are the actual photos that appear on your Facebook profile.
This sweaty, creepy man continues to look through your profile, occasionally caressing the screen when he finds a particular photo of you that strikes him emotionally. Whether he’s inspired by love, jealousy, hatred, or some combination of the three is unclear; however, the man then turns to make eye contact with you by staring straight at the camera and then rushes out into his car. Using data collected from Facebook, the film shows the man pulling up Google Maps and pinpointing your actual home address (or whatever address might be on your Facebook). Basically, this maniac knows where you live.
As the man drives, the viewer can see him in the driver’s seat going absolutely bonkers. Between brief moments of calm, he can be seen convulsing in strange ways and letting out histrionic yelps of agony. It’s clear he has something nefarious planned, and it’s clear that the plan involves you.
The final scene of the film shows the man parking and stepping out of his car. The viewer is to assume that he has arrived at their house, and is coming to carry out whatever he planned to do (probably kill you, by the looks of it). To add to the creepiness, he has a picture of you taped to his dashboard, another picture taken from your Facebook profile. This horrifying stalker was played by Bill Oberst Jr. and the film was shot mostly inside an abandoned hospital.
Naturally, Facebook didn’t take all that kindly to a film designed to enlighten viewers to the potential cybersecurity issues with Facebook. When Take This Lollipop first went live on YouTube on October 14, 2011, it was initially flagged by Facebook as malware and removed from the site. However, after Zada explained to Facebook that Take This Lollipop was not misusing or sharing any personal information, it was put back up.
The film went on to win several awards in 2012 for its experimental style and innovative use of social media.
Take This Lollipop 2
After the smashing success of the first installment of Take This Lollipop, Jason Zada decided to update his formula for more recent times. Take This Lollipop 2 was released in 2020, and this time, Zada focused on the potentially dark aspects of Zoom and deepfake technology. If you’ve seen recent webcam-based horror movies like Host or Unfriended, this most recent installment of Take This Lollipop is almost like being a character in one of those films.
When you arrive on the homepage for Take This Lollipop, you’re greeted with nothing but a lollipop taped to a black wall with the word “lollipop” behind it. Upon closer inspection, however, you’ll notice that there is a razorblade contained within the lollipop. Is this a clear warning that you shouldn’t take the lollipop? Yes. Are you going to do it anyway? Of course.
Unfortunately, unlike the first movie, you have to pay $1.49 to play Take This Lollipop 2, or you could just watch someone else play it on YouTube, or read the rest of this article and pretty much get the gist.
Spoiler alert: if you’d rather play Take This Lollipop 2 for yourself, stop reading here.
The movie begins with you entering your name into the website. Next, you’re put into a four-way Zoom-esque video chat with three “strangers”. There is a chat bar on the side of the video chat in which the other people start sending messages. You can send messages as well, but they don’t ever really get an appropriate response.
First off, one of the people in your Zoom call says that she’s received a picture of herself on her webcam via text. Shortly after, things start to get eerie in her corner of the Zoom call. The light behind her mysteriously turns off and a shadowy figure appears in the background. In a pretty predictable fashion, she’s then dragged off-screen and her webcam turns off. At this point, the illusion that you’re on an actual live video chat with three other people has been shattered. It becomes pretty obvious that it’s a prerecorded video.
Next, the man in the top right corner of the Zoom call starts claiming that his computer is being controlled remotely. When he tries to close down his computer, whoever is controlling his computer blocks him from doing so. Then, a strange message appears in the chat sidebar telling the man to check his phone. His camera then switches to his phone camera and, you guessed it, he gets attacked by a mysterious figure.
Finally, it’s just you and a girl named Sophia. She starts telling you that something is behind you, and if you look at your own screen, you’ll notice a strange glitchy figure walking behind you. Sophia’s screen then grows in size until she takes up your entire monitor. At first, she starts crying hysterically; however, her face suddenly changes to that of an old man. The old man starts laughing maniacally until his eyes go white, he screams, and the camera shuts off.
The next part of the simulation involves you joining an entirely new Zoom call with three new participants. Once the other three people appear, your face will also appear in your segment. This time, however, you’ll be the deepfake, and you’ll see your mouth moving and hear yourself say, “My name is Alex. Who wants to play lollipop?” Creepy stuff.
What’s the Message?
It seems like Jason Zada is trying to make a point with this interactive film that you can never be too sure what people are doing with your information, or even with your physical appearance. In a world where deepfake technology is rapidly advancing, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that someone could steal your face (so to speak) and pretend to be you on the internet, or even on your company Christmas party Zoom call.
While in the first Take This Lollipop Jason Zada definitely put on a spotlight on the fact that someone could come after you using your online information, in Take This Lollipop 2, he really kicks it to the next level, and shows that people might actually have the ability to become you using modern deepfake technology.
In my opinion, Take This Lollipop 2 was not a very scary experience. It only fooled me into thinking that the events happening on the screen were real for a couple of seconds, and then it became very obviously faked.
However, I must say, the concept underlying Take This Lollipop 2 is truly terrifying. Imagine someone stealing your identity to the point where they can pretend to be you in a video chat! In what other ways will identity theft advance in the future? Maybe we’ll get to the point where you see your friend on the street, but it’s not really your friend, it’s someone who’s stolen their identity. Maybe that sounds like the plot to a bad sci-fi movie, but you never know!