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My story is set in 1998 and is about a secret 1-in-1000 minority demographic of the human race that are all actually magical beings like vampires and werewolves and merfolk. They secretly live amongst the human race, and there are very harsh punishments for breaching secrecy on more than a personal level.

One thing I'm having issues coming up with is how exactly immortals would get their news about the things that happen in the immortal community around the country/world. The main issue being that they have to do it in a way that wouldn't clue the human majority in to the existence of these people, and most forms of long-distance communication involve extremely human-run infrastructure that it'd be nearly impossible to do anything organized with without there being a human somewhere who notices.

One idea I had was that an online news network could masquerade as a roleplay forum where people pretend to be reporters for a secret fantasy society, but the issue is only one organization could get away with that, or else people might get suspicious about all these roleplay forums using the same shared fictional universe without any deviations, or any media that inspires it.

What other options does my immortal community have for keeping this 1-in-1000 minority scattered across the globe informed about important events in their community?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd imagine some of the magical beings have useful powers for this. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ 1 in 1000 doesn't sound like a secret minority, it sounds like a giant distributed population who'd be discovered entirely by accident in multiple separate events all around the world in fairly short order. I think you need to shift your ratio by at least one order of magnitude, and probably two. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ 1 in 1000 would be 8 million people. It's difficult to keep a secret with that many people. Convincing the reader that there are no notable leaks in such a huge underground society would require a lot of hand-waving. But it's not like no author ever pulled that off. The Harry Potter universe comes to mind. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ "Human-run infrastructure that it'd be nearly impossible to do anything organized with without there being a human somewhere who notices": Notices what? That the infrastructure is used? Of course it is used, that is why the customer is paying for it. Just have one or two faefolk buy a pair of small servers, hook them up to a business-grade ISP, and you are all set. Now all you have to do is to devise a fun way to authenticate the fae folk and discriminate between them and the boring ordinaries. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with the way Men In Black does it? Use tabloid media that no one in the "real world" pays attention to or takes seriously. Hide in plain sight. You already have magic, so a magical "neuralizer" can handle severe breaches. In 1998 people could scream "Aliens are real! The truth is out there! God is real!" until they are blue in the face and no one would hear it. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Jul 25, 2022 at 16:26

24 Answers 24

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Create a online platform to answer computer related questions. Once it becomes popular, start using the platform to answer other questions that are not related to computers. As the topics become more and more diversified, add a channel for your news. You could call it Worldbuilding on Stack Exchange.

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    $\begingroup$ Gets confusing when some annoying mortal starts using your specific tag combinations accidently. "The panic of 2018 was caused by a false flag news story outlining an incoming, and previously missed, world ending asteroid. Galactic teleportation lanes were clogged for 3 days, and trillions of credits were wasted on unnecessary planetary flight." $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jul 26, 2022 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @TCooper: Having random mortals using the specific tag combinations is a good thing. If your tag combination is so obscure that mortals never use it, it's going to stand out. $\endgroup$
    – Brian
    Jul 27, 2022 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian It wasn't meant to detract from the use, just add some light-hearted possibilities to the results of such a method $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jul 27, 2022 at 19:27
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This has a real-world analog: missionaries (and terrorists, I guess. And embassies, and spies, and sleeper agents, and...).

In the early 2000s I ran a website for US missionaries in China, where they were not well tolerated. My clients ran the risk of incarceration, torture, and death. Bibles had to be smuggled in. They'd been doing this for decades, and the technological arms race was nothing new to them. They had plenty of ex-military types working on "the craft" of remaining concealed.

The problem, honestly, isn't the individual traitors or conspiracy theorists who might discover you and rat one of you out.

The problem is "state actors" (as highlighted by Snowden's leaks, which is why we all now use HTTPS).

An organized state actor can compromise some of your members, and the infrastructures upon which your communication relies (telecomms, mail), and use those to map out and eventually compromise the entire network.

So missionaries, like terrorists, organize into isolated "Cells", which do not intercommunicate. They use multiple messaging and signalling pathways, and self-organize their communications, so that if any node is compromised, the whole network is not. So Group A might communicate with group B over VPN, group C through courier, and send emergency messages to home base by making certain movements in an online game (I'm not making this up: we were asked to code this into our game server).

Broadcast messaging to hide from the "normals" is easy: just take over a media organization and steganographically include messaging in there, so long as you're OK assuming that any state actor who knows you exist will also be able to discover these channels and obtain the key to decode those messages. It's only "security through obscurity".

Point-to-point communications are harder, and typically need to go through trusted proxies to prevent mapping of the network. Trust becomes really, REALLY important for communication, and things like man-in-the-middle attacks by people who've built their equivalent of the enigma machine are a constant risk. The "Diplomatic bag" concept in embassies is another similar kind of thing, where the lines of communication must be absolutely trusted not to be intercepted. Unless you are the state, your communications should cross the boundaries between state actors as much as possible, to make tracing harder for them.

Secure communications is a whole big field of expertise, well worth reading up on to give your tale veracity: be prepared to read an awful lot of scenarios about Alice, Bob, and friends :)

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    $\begingroup$ I believe this is a different scenario. Humanity figuring out there is one mermaid is just as bad as humanity figuring out there are thousands. This approach adds points of failure with each additional communication channel. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2022 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ If you want to make it realistic, don't use HTTPS. The S means the HTTP traffic is encrypted with a method called TLS, and it can only be decrypted if you have the correct certificate, which only you have. That certificate is generated by a certifying authority. The problem is that authority can generate the same certificate for someone else, allowing them to decrypt your traffic. More info on security.stackexchange.com/questions/65754/… $\endgroup$
    – Blueriver
    Jul 27, 2022 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @TCooper Well, state actors have the level of power to be the CA. You wouldn't know you were being MITM'd. Then again, if you're 0.1% of the population, all immortal... you kind of ARE a state actor, so you probably have your own CA. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DewiMorgan Importantly you and I could converse over https that is perfectly secure(as far as the encryption is proven to be mathematically) if we generate our own certificates. As long as we both know how to confirm our certs are correct, it makes 0 difference whether browsers like chrome or firefox trust them as well. That's why many business use self-signed certificates for internal applications. CA are only useful for offering public services. $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jul 27, 2022 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is important as it's the only one that deals with counter-intelligence. All the other answers promote ideas that have had there time in the real world but are ultimately vulnerable to the resources of a government. The general population is really never the problem - they're busy living their happy little lives (and can do so because they do... not... know about it. Love that movie). It takes a government to really care about what a small group of people are doing. Any answer that doesn't address counter-intelligence isn't complete. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 28, 2022 at 8:43
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If you prefer a "hidden message" kind of news report, roleplaying games would be a pretty easy way to do so.

Think about something like Dungeons & Dragons. You create a game easy enough for anyone to buy. This game contains magical races (which are the same as your minority) and a bunch of lore. The world map looks similar to the one of your real world, with major cities in about the same places (but with different names) or similar design (so it's easy to recognise that "The City of Towers" is actually "New York" etc...).

Then release every week or month a news magazine that adds to the in-game lore and content. Part of that magazine will be "The Magical Gazette!", a fictional newspaper that reports magical news to make your world more immersive. In reality, it reports the actual news of magical beings, using the fictional places names as a reference.

To the average human, the whole thing would be a nice game to play with friends. To the magical minority, a way to get their news without ever having to worry about getting caught, because it wouldn't be suspicious if you bought a magazine for a game you play.

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    $\begingroup$ For another layer of concealment, it would be wise to have a long-term and intensive marketing campaign for the game, maybe a "cult status" of its own (think Monopoly and spin-offs being on the market for a century), to explain the millions of people from all walks of life playing it (being interested in magazines) intensively and over long time spans. $\endgroup$
    – Jim Klimov
    Jul 26, 2022 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't the problem with this the fact that these things are actually true, and recognizably so, even by the muggles? $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2022 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Quasi_Stomach I guess it depends on how much details he wants. But since it's a worldwide news network, I'd assume you only get major news. And since any news non-immunes related can be given through normal channels, I doubt anyone would notice something like "The city guards have cleaned up Golden Door, killing 3 vampires last month" (aka. "The police shot and killed 3 vamps in San Francisco). Anyone seeing a correlation would rather think "They are getting ideas from the news" rather than "There must be a secret vampire society using this game as a way to communicate!" $\endgroup$
    – Mr_Bober
    Jul 26, 2022 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ I really like this idea because it can make for interesting storytelling when executed properly, even though it's not the most practical and realistic. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @TomášZato-ReinstateMonica I really like this answer because I think it is the most practical and realistic offered so far. I may add another layer of detail that there are indicators to determine whether a story is actually news or not. I think you'd have to mix in some fiction to avoid it becoming too obvious. But so far, I think this is the best answer here. Hide in plain site, and effectively. Even if it was only one in a thousand of the one in a thousand that purchased the magazine, it'd have it's cult following and be one of the largest publications in the world. Bandwagon from there. $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jul 27, 2022 at 19:35
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The easiest way would be Freenet / Dark Web

Freenet was released in 2000, and it was the precursor to what we call Dark Web today.

Given your story is from 1998, you could easily implement a pre-release version of Freenet, or something similar.

I believe it's the easiest solution to your problem. It doesn't even need to be exclusive to your immortal community, since the infrastructure would be used by plenty others (criminal organisations, governments, journalists, religious cults, etc) which makes it easier to explain its existence.

It also removes the issue of distributing the content, and the issue of keeping it secret from the public (since only people with the address would be able to get to it. add a password-protected layer for extra security so if someone "stumbles" upon it, still can't get in).

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    $\begingroup$ PGP and anonymous remailers predated that by 10 years, so there's plenty of related stuff to build upon. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ ...but think the percent of people that used the internet in 1998. Yes the technology would work -- (or even something like Fido net) -- but your "average Joe" isn't going to be "surfing the web" in 1998. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2022 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ Even if the technology isn't used by most, it would probably do the job here. With how common those "fantastic" individuals are, you can definitely expect most of them to live in communities and groups that know about each others. In each group, you only need one individual with an access to the network and the whole group can now access the news and post online. The fact that one or two individuals are responsible of the news for the group could also lead to some interesting dynamics and plots. $\endgroup$
    – Matthieu
    Jul 26, 2022 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ The average Joe may not have had the internet in the 90s, but a lot of Western houses had some kind of computer, some had modems and there were millions of interested people using Usenet, MUDs and BBSes well before '98. If the immortals didn't already have good magical communication, they would have a reason to be among the early adopters. A few 'normal' people would know that their neighbour has a really nice setup "for work" but they wouldn't think it odd. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2022 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ Just a normal website which you can only access with a username+password could work too (or a site which is a different legitimate site until you enter the right credentials). The main advantage of the dark web above that is that if it's discovered, governments and ISPs wouldn't then also have a list of people using the site. And there's an added element of "I should keep this secret (and probably not leave it open on a browser when you have visitors or you leave the house)", along with fewer careless individuals visiting the site, even if the site itself is technologically similarly secure. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Jul 26, 2022 at 15:44
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Mail with metaphorical language to pubs/coffee shops/high traffic businesses which are hubs for local communities of the minority population. At the hubs, word of mouth could be used.

In 1998, the Internet was quite new, not available to many people aside from university students and primitive dial up access, and not easily available globally. Computer ownership and usage was far from universal in 1998 in many parts of the world. Communities might have started to think about online options, but wouldn't be ready to adopt them yet. Also, in 1998, communities would still be aware aware about the risks of major failures of security in electronic communications like ENIGMA during World War II, and would be wary of it.

Equally important, these populations would not be early adopters of new technologies. They would have been around for centuries, at least, and once they found something that worked, wouldn't be quick to change it.

But, mail was widely available everywhere in the world to even regional small towns in the most remote areas, in 1998 and had been for a long time.

It was secure enough that only a thin veil of metaphor rather than a hard core code (or perhaps a language specific to the minority, a bit like expatriate communities communicating via their homeland language) would be sufficient to avoid casual penetration of the network. Another way to cloak the messages without fully and elaborately coding them would be to use religious metaphors, so that any attempt to penetrate the network could be attacked as religious persecution.

Mail can be sent in untraceable ways with, for example, false return addresses and street corner mail boxes. It isn't expensive even worldwide and can get to even remote places like Papua New Guinea in a week or two. And, mail is a very old technology. Early versions of mail-like information sharing networks existing in the Bronze Age (we have cuniform letter exchanges in the archaeological record). It would be a lot less costly than personally sending word of mouth messages on a regular basis across the world. Messages could be destroyed once received.

There could be a smaller subnetwork of hubs to which news was reported, with with a cell-like structure, with two or three core hubs per territory that would know the addresses of the local hubs in their territory and one core hub per territory. So, even a catastrophe would not take out the entire network, just disrupt one territory's communications somewhat.

Most of the eight million members would know only one or two local hubs and some lore about how to find new hubs if their's were compromised somehow. Perhaps, 80,000 members would know one set of core hub addresses and how to understand the metaphors, perhaps 8,000 or fewer people would know all the hub addresses in a territory and up to about half of the global core addresses. No one outside a territory would know any significant share of hub addresses in other territories, and no one (or at least not more than a dozen or so people) would know all of the core addresses outside their territory.

Also, if you limited your mailing list to thousands of pubs or restaurants/coffee shops (in places, e.g., in the Islamic world where alcohol isn't served) that served as community hubs, then you also aren't revealing the locations of any of the members of the community if the hub is compromised for some reason. There would be a policy of not keeping lists of members, although sometimes the hub would have, for example, a billing address for a member who was a vendor or customer that was buried with other random third-party vendor or customer information. But the list of members served by the hub would only be in the operator's memories.

Yet, this system could spread news worldwide within a month or two to the most distant corners of the world from anyone who could get net to a hub, and in places with faster mail service, or for news only relevant to a single territory and not spread worldwide, it could receive news and distribute it all over the territory or faster news area within a week or so.

Coded messages in mass media (like personal ads or widely distributed artwork) would be less secure. Someone could break the code, and once someone cracked the code, the entire network would be compromised and would have to be rebuilt from scratch, not just discontinuing mailings to one or two hubs out of thousands that could be quickly cutoff.

A variety of means could be used for insiders to identify hubs, from subtle symbols (perhaps keyed to senses that the minority has more acutely than normal humans) to continuous word of mouth updating from one member of the community to another.

Fictional and Real World Examples

The notion of a coffee shop hub network for most members of the community has been explored, for instance in the anime/manga Tokyo Ghoul and to a lesser extent with pubs in the Harry Potter mythos.

A variant of this, used in Kate Elliott's Cold Fire series, would be for correspondence from core hubs to go to (and some core hubs themselves to be) law firms that would then disseminate the news to community hubs like pubs and coffee shops orally. The large volume of correspondence going in and out of law firms, and the discretion and confidentiality of law firms, would be useful in this kind of network.

Many networks for distribution of controlled substances also work this way, with the front business being a drop point for drug pickups that are hidden by the legitimate business that many people who have no knowledge of the covert activities also use.

Using an insider in a public business as a way of communicating secret messages is also explored in Spy x Family (with deeper use of codes), but the larger the community the less likely it is that a common code will be useful. Since 20th century mail was even more secure than it is now, so tough codes for seemingly innocent letters to hubs that get lots of mail in the course of business from all sorts of third-parties isn't necessary.

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Believe or not, this actually existed in 1998 - in the form of MUDs and MMORPGs, by that time already quite mature and widespread social phenomena (I almost wrote networks). Since these were mostly fantasy oriented scenarios, one of them could have been used by this minority and the rest of humanity would be no wiser. 1 in 1000 means there are about 5 million members, going by the typical computer savviness of the time, perhaps one in 100 actively participates in the "game", that means about 50 thousand members - quite within the capabilities of some of the bigger worlds.

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I think your question has been already answered by Umberto Eco in his Foucault's Pendulum: the secret society disguises the bulletin under the cover of art/fictional work, which can be decoded only having the right key.

To a reader without the key, the document would read like an enjoyable work of fiction. To the reader with the key, it would read like a newsletter.

And this has the benefit that whoever tries to uncover the secret society can be exposed to the ridicule of taking a fictional work for real.

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Letters to the Editor / Personal Ads

Before I get into the mechanics, I'm going to backtrack a little bit. Information is a valuable commodity, something which gets lost among the modern era of the Age of Information, where it is disseminated quite freely. But, make no mistake, it is a precious commodity, and among a community which needs to be very concerned about its own information getting leaked? That information is going to be premium.

A newspaper, or even an online message board, is going to be unlikely just because the information regarding specific subsets of the population is going to heavily and zealously guarded - after all, would you willingly share information that could get your entire clan revealed to the normals and wiped out?

Information will get out in two types - one, the informants and information brokers, i.e. people who specialize in this field and travel around, relaying dense pieces of information by word of mouth, the safest available option. But, presumably, there would be a need for mass non-specific information given out on occasion - let us say there's a calamity of some kind, or a community needs to call out for help fast but can't risk it.

There's an old trick to this - coded personal ads. (Letters to the editor works, but you have to get it published, and that can get tricky.) A coded personal ad is simple - just use keywords. The best cover for this would be some wildlife preserve society, i.e. 'A J. Thomas has noticed an unusual pack of wolves migrating north, he requests all aide that can be given to help track the migrating patterns. Please forward all information about it to P.O Box 1234', where 'J. Thomas' is the master phrase which indicates this is a secret demographic message.

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Flash Drives for Freedom!

There is a fantastic organisation called Flash Drives for Freedom of volunteers who are doing what they can to smuggle in information, news and entertainment from the outside world to the people of North Korea.

The packages of news are dropped into NK a number of ways, by secret delivery, hand drops, drone drops, traditional smuggling etc (details on exactly how it is done are sketchy (for obvious reasons!) but there is a fantastic episode of Darknet Diaries which covers it here.

Consdier:

  1. Your smugglers should be committed and trustworthy - can't have any faction defectors letting the wrong people know, or worse perform a man in the middle attack.
  2. The news must be in small packages which could be swallowed or hidden in a pinch if necessary.
  3. Perhaps your immortal news network have set up a relatively safe haven they can work from?
  4. Worried about the wrong people finding the information drop? Encryption is your friend. Consider our friends at Potterwatch - you need to know the password, and a new password is supplied in the old drop. Once you're out of the loop, or you're not in it you will need to find it out by asking other immortals - and the other immortals are hardly going to tell the bad humans how to get in!... right?

Essentially, smuggling news to people is really hard, but a motivated enough group of people would be able to make something happen.

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    $\begingroup$ How would this work? The Project works IRL because they can do their job without hiding as long as they are outside NK. In his world, they would need a way to exchange news in order to put them on the USB devices before delivery. So you're just moving the issue one step further up the chain. Also having to hand deliver makes it a lot more dangerous (and time consuming) than most other suggestions. $\endgroup$
    – Mr_Bober
    Jul 26, 2022 at 14:32
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Being immortal, these people have existed for centuries. Long before the internet was even thought of and long before Gutenberg invented the printing press with moveable type & printed the Bible, which later allowed gazettes and pamphlets to be printed and disseminated.

These people established their communication system long before that.

People have always traveled and they also know their own - someone always knows someone, somewhere else. They would travel from their own community in one location to another such community in a different location. Before embarking on a journey someone would say to the traveler, "when you get to your destination be sure to contact such and such, give such and such this message and be sure to give such and such this gift, or remind such and such of my friendship" - community appropriate symbolism.

They still maintain this system now and augment it with current forms of communication such a Facebook or Tik Tok, but in a "community appropriate manner" and nothing blatantly obvious that could identify them. The "others" might think it quirky, but a bit of fun.

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Numbers Stations and One-Time Pads

Numbers Stations are a very real phenomenon of mystery radio signals being broadcast from various locations in many nations.
The content varies wildly, most famous is the archetypal "numbers", which is usually the verbal readout of a series of numbers either by human, or a synthesised voice.

Not all of them do this, some of them broadcast snatches of music, or a series of tones.

The common belief is that these stations serve as a one-way communication with spies and other people who need secret updates regularly.

Sound familiar?

The catch is that the best way to keep this system secure is to use one-time pads, so the numbers would correspond to individual letters or words on a pad held by the listener, and once the transmission was made, the next one would use a different page of the one-time pad.

This obviously doesn't work for a large population. Imagine trying to distribute 10s of thousands of physical one-time pads!

One solution might be for the pad-data to be provided digitally.
Members of the demographic would physically go to a safe location where they can get an app on their phone updated with a more recent data-set once a month or so.

The other major hangup is that Numbers Station transmissions are typically short and more than a bit labourious to decode since you have to cross-reference the numbers with the one-time pad, usually by hand. You wouldn't want to transcribe a magazine article by this method!

What might make more sense, since we're already talking about a digital one-time-pad which you update routinely would be to further automate the process.

The numbers-station transmission would encode much much more complex data.
Think something like a dial-up-modem noise.
A series of rapid tones which the phone-app could decode into complex messages on the fly using one-time-pad style cryptographic techniques.

This would allow your secret community to receive routine updates as long as they're willing to go to whatever community-run safehouse is nearest and update their phones with the latest set of keys.

The biggest issue is that the phone-app itself will be a Shibboleth. Any humans who learn of its existence can identify a member of the community by stealing their phone and finding "Wolfnewsnet App" on its homepage.

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  • $\begingroup$ Radio was used because it was ubiquitous - the signal could go quite a ways, there wasn't a good way to stop it, and people would just ignore it. But what about a modern "numbers station"? Spam! Everyone has an email address, and everyone gets "mass emails" about printer ink, adult entertainment, and rich Nigerian princes. Encode your news in that, hide some sign-up pages in the dark web, and you're golden! And in this case, no giveaway. "You've got spam!" is hardly a smoking gun. $\endgroup$
    – ArmanX
    Jul 28, 2022 at 22:39
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Hiding in plain sight

Publish a tabloid with sensationalist headlines and distribute en masse in grocery stores and newsstands-- the kind of tabloids with stories about how Elvis is still alive and has had a baby with Bigfoot and JFK. People seeing the cover will think it's obviously nonsense and probably only a few people will wonder at why many of the articles inside providing details about the annual vampire's ball at the local community center seem almost plausible.

Hire actors to play deranged lunatics standing on street corners, wearing tinfoil hats, screaming about how it's all a giant conspiracy and the tabloids are telling the truth. This will result in anyone who closely scrutinizes the tabloids to lose any credibility if they express similar opinions, they'll likely choose to keep their opinions to themselves and second-guess any theories they come up with.

Want to have large social gatherings of your secret demographic? Host a comic con or something similar (cosplay required) then just walk around and catch up with your old friends.

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    $\begingroup$ ComicCon, DragonCon, and similar large cosplay events could host meetings for this community openly and nobody would notice anything. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ I knew somebody would come up with this one. Would be remiss to not mention Men in Black as an example where this method was used. (Unfortunately, because it was used in such a well-known franchise, anyone else who uses it now will be accused of ripping them off...) $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to say this, except specifically call out the Weekly World News $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2022 at 6:56
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Online auctions of unpopular software as an excuse to post disks

Who still purchased copies of Wordperfect 2.0 in 1998? Vampires, werewolves, and others like them. They simply slipped in a couple of extra files onto the already archaic 3.5" floppy disks that could be read with a hex editor.

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  • $\begingroup$ While I agree with your premise, some people were still using Wordperfect at that time. $\endgroup$
    – User70058
    Jul 27, 2022 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks Yes, but not Wordperfect 2, they were at v4, 5 and 6 in the late 90s. Anyone using 2.0 was not purchasing a second copy online, bar truly rare cases (or dead floppy disks maybe?) $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jul 27, 2022 at 19:16
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SHORT ANSWER:

If I belonged to such a community, I would have

  1. messages hidden by steganography in the bits of low weight coding for the colors of pixels in image memes broadcasted on social media;
  2. a program publishing a meme a day, most often empty, but hiding in it the secrete messages to transmit takend from a queue; and
  3. a program monitoring automatically all the pictures memes published by some accounts on social media for such messages hidden in it.

MORE DETAILED ANSWER:

For the record: one decade ago I started downloading a lots of memes, and a few years ago I ran an experiment to try to detect if they were used for such communication, but I did not find much difference in the entropy of the bits of low weight of memes found on the internet with pictures of similar resolution from my own archives.

That does not prove that nobody is using such technique to communicate, because

  1. the members of such a community might share their memes only in a given community, of which I did not download any memes because I did not make a conscious effort to download memes from other communities than my own).
  2. there are other, better, techniques than hiding in the bits coding for the colors of the pixels in png images, such as parameters in the encoding of jpeg images: such search was left as "future work".

Note that even if the messages are encrypted before being hidden in images, the distribution and entropy of the bits composing it is expected to be different from that of the bits of the image (but I did not check this formally).

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    $\begingroup$ Any decent encryption should produce a bitstream indistinguishable from random noise. The least-significant R, G, and B values for each pixel should also be random, as the difference between a 1 and 0 there is imperceptible. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure whether the entropy of the 2 least significant bits of the RGB values of the pixels would be the same as that of an encryption scheme: I guess it depends a lot of the software or camera which produced the image (I can definitely imagine some software producing images where all such bits are zero!) on one hand, and on the encryption scheme on the other hand (albeit any solid one should produce sequence of bits of maximal entropy). I will try to check it experimentally: I might ask my students to make a program to compute such entropy as an excuse for me to program it as well :) $\endgroup$
    – J..y B..y
    Jul 28, 2022 at 14:11
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Let's write some novels. I'm specifically thinking of Princess of Wands and Queen of Wands, by John Ringo. They are set in the same universe--Earth, present day, but there is a supernatural shadow war (although the events at the end of Queen of Wands would thrust it onto the front page if it didn't end there) going on. Let's write some more, multiple authors writing in the same universe.

Now, let's write a newsletter to keep those various authors informed of how the universe they are writing in evolves rather than just writing in a static universe. So long as the items in the newsletter aren't practical for outsiders to verify why would said outsiders realize it was anything more than skillful coordination?

Note that the stories verifiably fiction--they describe events which clearly did not happen. Why would an outside observer realize the newsletter isn't fiction?

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Cryptography, namely cyphers, offer a few options around hiding large amounts of information in plain sight.

Essentially you can encrypt whatever data you want, then transmit apparent randomness through any medium you like, such as sound, light, radio waves.

Examples of this:

  • A TV station that just shows "static", but putting the video signal through a decryption yields a newscast, or text, or any form of data really.
  • Popular songs on the radio are encrypted with an inaudible sound that is the datastream of a news outlet.
  • A light quickly flickering on top of a hill is unintelligible morse code-like transmission that can be decrypted into intelligible words
  • The printed newspaper ink is little dots under a microscope, but those dots are actually spaced perfectly to encode a message (which also appears to be nonsense but can be decrypted)

Every one of the characters would have to have a "decoder" to intercept the transmission, a "cypher" device to do the decryption and a "key" for the decryption to work, but you can be imaginative with that too.

To learn more- look into Cyphers

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the "static" TV channel, at the time people would have had to tune their TVs and would tune right by this one, whereas a member of the group would know to tune to this frequency, and with the advent of digital TV, normal members of the public would be even less likely to stumble across it while tuning in their channels because we'd all have those set-top boxes. You'd just have to make sure it looks just like the random noise you'd see when a station isn't tuned to anything to avoid arousing suspicion amongst hobbyists or counter-espionage people... $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Jul 26, 2022 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ For the "Static" TV channel, the signal would be clearly distinct from background noise. However, there are plenty of scrambled, pay-per-view channels (porn, sports, etc), so that's not too bad. Bigger downside is, what do you do once some burglar, TV repairman, radio ham or amateur crypto cracks the scrambling, or gets their hands on a TV which has the decryption chip? That's concrete evidence, which you'd want to avoid. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2022 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ @user You can't, because it would have to be much louder than background noise; otherwise, the background noise would swallow it. Televisions and radios amplify the signal until it's the right loudness, which hides this information from the user of the device; a more primitive television or radio (lacking the amplification circuitry) could be used to detect it. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 27, 2022 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Steganography (inserting a signal into another signal) is a different thing. You could use, say, the bottom bit of each color, which would get you 1/8th the bandwidth of a TV station. Spread across 8 stations, you've snuck a whole TV station in, at the cost of halving the color fidelity of each of the 8 other channels (they get 128 levels of each color, instead of 256). But you still need to distribute decoders. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ Very related to this, but occurred long ago: Codebreakers Find ‘Sexts,’ Arctic Dispatches in 200-Year-Old Encrypted Newspaper Ads. Replace "newspaper ads" with "google ads" and you have the same thing for modern times. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2022 at 20:05
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Publish a magazine that has a serialised graphic novel. All of the mundanes will believe it is a work of fiction, but the actual news is hidden within each issue of the story.

You'll have to avoid making it too obvious of course, so you'll have to use a bit of artistic flair (and interpretation by the reader).

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There's a number of criptographic as well as steganographic techniques the immortals may rely on, but all of them are dangerous in the long term. Secret keys leak, cryptoanalysis develops, and available computing power increases, so there're chances any secret message will be read by humans, sooner or later. Unwilling to be discovered, the immortals must avoid preservation of any - even encrypted - messages.

It means that only destroyable media should be used for secret messaging - one can't publish anything in a human newspaper, for instance; letters, various disks and the like should be destoryed by their receivers, human delievery services should be avoided lest something get lost or copied. The Internet and its analogues are extremely dangerous, only the immortals' own intranets will do. (By the way, books are extremely dangerous; the immortals would rather remember and retell even long texts, and may have rather different attitude towards literacy)

It's not really convenient, yes. I guess many would prefer oral news exchange; somebody may travel between different immortal communitites spreading the news. These immortals would neither phone each other, nor write letters, nor anything like this.

P.S. Whatever the communication system is, single immortal must be unable - willingly or not - to betray it completely.

P.P.S. It's out of scope of your question, but the immortals would be really concerned with all the modern privacy issues - video surveillance (it's said the 1997th year saw the first protest against CCTV, by the way), audio surveillance (though they still would have no overhearing smartphones), Internet privacy issues, etc. Leaving cities and avoiding modern technologies may mitigate these problems, but one doesn't simply conceal such a number of isolationist technophobes.

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Adult entertainment

Imagine if there were places where you would need to authenticate anyone who enters.
Be it adult section of the video library or a topless bar, you can justify security as well as authentication and/or membership needed.
This also happens to be the topic of Robert Rodriguez movie (and inspired series) From Dusk Till Dawn.

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Having a bulletin board with a password, and posting the content within would hide it in plain sight. Looks like a weird fan-fiction/fantasy website to anyone who sees it accidently.

Otherwise the page has the trappings of a LARP page.

Who would believe it is real?

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Technical solution

This is easy. Use TLS encryption and you are fine. The only thing that's difficult is to verify new users.

Fun solutions

While the technical solution is super easy, you could also use any of the many fun non-technical solutions from the other answers, but they aren't nearly as effective.

The real issue

Communication is not the issue, that's easy. The real issue is that you have 8 million people to hide. That's a huge amount of people. None of these people can ever mess up. Not a single one is allowed to ever spill the secret, even when they are tired, drunk and stressed. Never are they allowed to accidentally use their abilities or show what makes them special.

Considering how often accidents happen even on TV, which is one of the most controlled environments, it will be basically impossible to hide the whole population.

What will really spill the secret will not be the mode of communication, but day-to-day life.

Spy networks can stay secret, because everyone there is a trained spy with no real life going on during the spying operations. But you have 8 million people. You will probably have overworked single moms. You will have senile seniors. You will have reckless teenagers. You will have washed-up drunkards. And not a single one of them can ever slip up.

The real solution

Your people cannot be allowed to actually "live in the world". They need to live physically separated from the real world, only ever rarely really interacting with the real world.

Harry Potter does that by magically hiding the living quarters of magical folk and liberal use of handwaving.

Moving the people to a separate community in areas of low density has been tried many times an the past, and it failed pretty much every time, so that alone won't help.

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I feel like the easiest method for the demographic would be to have their own language, especially if it is different from most languages, and the demographic is extremely hostile to attempts to learn it. Then send letters & pamphlets in said language.

This is because it is almost impossible to reverse engineer a language without knowing what a certain passage means, and then it is still difficult. It also explains why the demographic is hiding all of their messages. It is also one of the few methods that were available in the long long ago, when I presume the demographic existed. So with all these a "secret" language looks to be the most probable option.

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They own a science fiction and fantasy magazine, distributed globally via post, and the editors have been werewolves since the 1930s.

Anyone can submit stories there, but certain authors names mean the story is of "special interest"; something like having the same first two letters in name and surname (Stephen Strange). The editors could easily reject any outsider that matches the rule by chance, or request they use an alias.

Being a fantasy magazine, the stories are expected to deal with the supernatural, so they would call no special attention, and no one would be surprised by Walter Waters always writing merfolk stories.

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Magic, of Course
You want a wholly separate channel of communication that can't be tapped, won't be found by scientists or engineers and requires skills to use that bar all but your qualifying group to have access to. It also has to be ready to go from the start of history.

The only qualifying capability would be a magic based system that is completely invisible and inaccessible by ordinary folks. The daily briefing is duplicated magically to each subscriber's briefing book. The briefing book is invisible and intangible(when not in use). This prevents mundanes from seeing or even feeling the briefing book.

Should they manage to capture or kill a magical being while they are reading it, it's still invisible and can revert to intangible as soon as they die or lose consciousness. It would take a very rare combination of circumstances to leave the book discoverable by mundanes even by touch. I assume that's wanted for story purposes.

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