(Ironton Tribune, The (Ohio) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 08--Since bad news travels fast, most of you have probably heard about the two young girls who heinously stabbed their 12-year-old friend to please a fictional Internet meme.
The two girls, also 12, told police they wanted to prove the meme, "Slender Man," was real, and that stabbing their friend was a means to that end.
A quick Google Image search of Slender Man reveals an unnaturally tall man in a black suit. His face is featureless. He is so thin, in some images he is barely noticeable amongst tall trees.
The image of Slender Man is not horrifying or grotesque, but more unsettling.
The mythos of the man is varied, but he is commonly described as a stalker and torturer, mainly of children.
Pretty scary to think of some creepy being stalking forests and looking for children to prey on, right?
But Slender Man isn't real. He is just a creation of an Internet forum user who joined a thread of other users who were editing real photographs by adding supernatural entities. That was about five years ago.
From there, the meme went viral. People wrote stories, made videos, created more photos, until Slender Man had an origin story complete with historical references and behavioral profiles. He had become some kind of folk legend.
A legend two Wisconsin girls read about on a website called Creepypasta Wiki and took seriously enough to kill for.
Thankfully they didn't succeed in killing their victim, but now some are blaming Creepypasta as being the inspiration for the attack.
News Flash: There are countless websites containing material not suitable for children. Some of them aren't going to be as obvious as a porn site. It is very easy to monitor what sites anyone visits on a home computer and even block inappropriate ones. But everyone already knows that.
Although I wouldn't lump Creepypasta in the same category as porn or gratuitous violence websites, a site filled with horror stories and images probably isn't what children should be reading if they can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
So at what age can a child differentiate between real life and pretend?
When I was a young child, my mother allowed me to watch horror movies with her. Even though I love horror movies now, I have no idea why she let me watch them back then. I always got scared.
I hate to call it bad parenting, but "Killer Clowns from Outer Space?" How was I ever going to look a clown in the face or eat cotton candy again?
I say that half-jokingly. I don't think my mother was a bad parent.
Although I still have certain reservations about clowns, I think I managed to turn out well adjusted. But I'm pretty sure any future children I may have one day won't be watching horror movies until they can spell "David Cronenberg."
But even as a child, I knew the monsters, giant insects, aliens, etc., were not real.
I'm not sure there is an exact age for every child, but I would think 12 years old is plenty old enough to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. It is certainly more than old enough to know hurting another person is wrong.
What is even more disturbing about this story isn't that the girls thought Slender Man is real. For a moment let's chalk that up to ignorance that everything printed on the Web is factual.
What is most disturbing is that these girls wanted to seek favor with an entity, which they believed stalked and killed people, including children like themselves. Something they had allegedly been planning for months.
Is that because their immature minds were consuming material written by and for adults? Maybe, but it sounds like a much deeper issue.
It is sad and tragic that a young girl was brutally attacked because of something as stupid as a fakelore Internet meme, but I think diverting blame to the meme is misplaced.
I'm not sure you can place blame on any one person or group for an act of violence that possibly stems from an intellectually disabled mind.
Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at email@example.com.
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