By: Ashley Zepeda
What started out as a simple competition on a popular internet forum has exploded into pop culture today, motivating children as young as twelve to commit heinous crimes ranging from arson to attempted murder.
In 2009 a popular internet forum called Something Awful had a contest to see which user could create the most convincing supernatural picture by taking old photographs and editing in paranormal beings. One user submitted an old black and white photo of a group of children in which he had edited in an impossibly tall and thin faceless man with long, reaching arms wearing a black suit and necktie that he named “Slenderman”.
This image quickly became shared and re-shared on the Something Awful forum and many others. It gained popularity, branching out with people all over the country creating their own fan art and fictional stories. Capitalizing on its relevance in pop culture, online companies began creating games and video shorts featuring Slenderman. The idea of Slenderman even inspired a major motion picture entitled “The Tall Man” in 2012.
Slenderman became a popular subject among the younger generations, who spend a majority of their time browsing the internet, especially among middle and high school aged children. In May of 2014 the obsession escalated when two twelve-year old girls were charged with attempted murder after luring another twelve-year old girl into the woods during a slumber party and stabbing her nineteen times repeatedly in the name of Slenderman. After the media brought this case to the public’s attention a woman from Hamilton, Ohio came forward stating that her thirteen year-old daughter had attempted to stab her after recently becoming obsessed with Slenderman. Another fourteen year-old girl set her house on fire, with her mother and nine year-old brother still inside, after she became aware of the Slenderman stories.
This disturbing occurrence of adolescents committing crimes motivated by fictional stories is not limited to the Slenderman cases. This past month in Louisville, Kentucky there was a city-wide scare after a group of individuals, believed to be adolescents, announced that they would be participating in a 12-hour crime spree based off of the recent popular movies, “The Purge, and The Purge: Anarchy”. This trend brings to light an important question of how the internet and its unfiltered 24/7 access to information, whether it be fictional or factual, is affecting our youth.
This is the first generation to grow up in a world where technology has allowed them to be constantly plugged in, whether browsing social media, watching videos or posting on sites. The problem lies in the fact that this younger generation lacks the maturity and knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction, which as seen by the recent Slenderman crimes can be a dangerous line to blur.