The alleged stabbing of a 12-year-old girl by two of her friends last week sent the media scrambling for an explanation. According to police, the attackers said they believed in Slender Man, a fictional creation of online horror forums where fans post short stories and fake documentary photographs of a tall, faceless monster who abducts children.
If that account is correct, what would it mean for fan fiction to motivate a real-life attempted murder? Do internet message boards dangerously blur the line between imagination and reality? Or is the media’s rush to place blame a dumbing-down of a complex situation?
Rebecca Traister wrote an article in The New Republic that tried to find some answers. She tells Kurt Andersen that there’s nothing new about pre-teens getting carried away by their imaginations. “People have taken this immediate blame-the-internet stance,” she says. “Taking cultural cues and making them your own — that is not a habit invented by internet technology. When you’re telling ghost stories around a campfire, you’re doing a version of that.”
Like the death metal scare of the 80s and 90s, Traister says, the panic over Slender Man doesn’t say as much about online horror as it does about our culture’s anxiety about the power of the internet.
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