How a Meme Becomes Myth

What could drive two 12-year-old girls to allegedly stab a friend in a methodical, premeditated fashion? If you take their word for it: Slender Man, a character conceived on an internet forum in 2009 and subsequently featured in countless amateur stories and a series of low-budget games. Here is the local paper’s account:

Both suspects explained the stabbing to police referencing their dedication to Slender Man, the character they discovered on a website called Creepypasta Wiki, which is devoted to horror stories.

Weier told police that Slender Man is the “leader” of Creepypasta, and in the hierarchy of that world, one must kill to show dedication.

Contrast that with the origin story of the character:

On June 8th, 2009, a “’paranormal pictures” photoshop contest was launched on the Something Awful (SA) Forums. The contest required participants to turn ordinary photographs into creepy-looking images through digital manipulation and then pass them on as authentic photographs on a number of paranormal forums. Something Awful users soon began sharing their faux-paranormal creations with layered images of ghosts and other anomalies, usually accompanied by a fabricated witness account to make them more convincing. On June 10th, SA user Victor Surge (real name Eric Knudsen) posted two black and white photographs of unnamed children with a short description of “Slender Man” as a mysterious creature who stalked children.

If you’re 12, 2009 may as well be a century ago, and the Creepypasta Wiki may as well be a sacred text. It is impossible to get inside the heads of these children, or, for now, to understand what else may have motivated them. Maybe these stories were the catalyst! Or maybe they were just available in the periphery of broadly disturbed lives.

It is easier, however, to get in the heads of reporters, who are using language like this.

That’s from the Washington Post, which goes on to refer to Slender Man, an internet meme, as “a mythological demon-like creature” and “the demon.” The Daily Mail calls Slender Man a “prevalent internet myth.

I suppose that’s a more compelling way to provide context than describing Slender Man as “a recent phenomenon in the ad-hoc creative writing communities on sites like 4chan, Reddit and Something Awful,” or something, but it also gives far too much credit to what amounts to a forum myth that started as a prank. Which might be fine, if the accused weren’t getting so much credit themselves: They will be tried as adults.