Last Saturday two girls stabbed a 12-year-old classmate in suburban Milwaukee, claiming they were trying to impress Slender Man. This incident left many puzzled people wondering who on earth Slender Man is, that he could inspire such violence. The fictitious creature was created on the Internet, and has become an urban legend, a boogie man from a scary story, the kind that generates screams around the campfire in the dark. But apparently some buy into the myth and believe that the mythical figure is real.
The character is said to be a paranormal entity who likes to lurk near forests, killing, absorbing, or carrying off victims. In some accounts of the legend he particularly targets children. His appearance is that of a tall thin man, long-limbed, in a black suit with no face. Some say that he does have a face, which appears different to everyone who sees him. Some versions have tentacles protruding from his back.
Slender Man, who was created in 2009 by Eric Knudsen as part of a Photoshop contest for paranormal images, began on the website Something Awful. A blog chronicling Web culture called Know Your Meme said the contest’s goal was to use the created images to fool other Web users by uploading them to paranormal websites. When Knudsen created the character he submitted two black-and-white images of children that showed an undefined figure lurking in the image background. One day later Knudsen submitted a third photo along with an imaginary doctor’s recounting of a mass killing. Slender Man went viral.
Something Awful users began creating Slender Man stories, which spread to other sites. Since his creation he has also appeared in short stories, fan art, video games, videos, and other media all over the Internet. He has also spread to “creepypasta,” a form of Internet-based short horror fiction that is often done in such a way that it appears like a reporting of news or true crime.
The girls accused in the stabbing said that they knew Slender Man from creepypasta.wiki, a site that compiles such types of horror fiction. They told police that they truly believed the character was real, and said that he teleported, read their minds, and threatened to kill their families.
Chris Edmond is a writer known as MrCreepyPasta in online communities. He has 500,000 YouTube subscribers and 385,000 Facebook followers. Edmonds says the goal of creepypastas is to further the horror genre and be creative. Although creepypasta sites are not aimed at children, Edmonds says that about one-third of his audience is between the ages of 13 and 17.
According to Slender Man creator Knudsen, turning a story into an urban legend requires the audience to be unaware of the origin of the story. Unverifiable third and fourth-hand accounts are needed to perpetuate the myth. By 2011 the character had spread so deeply through the web that its origins were already “difficult to pinpoint,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who did an entire feature story on the Internet-concocted creature that was scaring teens silly.
Knudsen says he feels like more of a manager of Slender Man that his creator, and laments losing control of a character who is now out doing his own thing. He says he cannot believe how the legend had spread so far away from its fictional origins. He says he never expected it to move beyond the Something Awful forum.
By Beth A. Balen