12-year-old girls, influenced by an online character, arrested for stabbing friend
Two 12-year-old girls lured their female friend of the same age into the forest in Wisconsin, USA, and stabbed her 19 times before leaving her to die. Fortunately, the girl survived, and was able to crawl to the road, where she found help and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Her attackers are being tried in the court of law as adults for attempted first-degree murder.
As shocking as this story is, perhaps what comes as a bigger shock is the reason for the girls’ actions. The two friends claim they were trying to be Slenderman’s proxies and were going to commit murder to be worthy of him. Who is Slenderman, you ask? An online fictional character.
Slenderman was created for a competition on the website Something Awful. He has a public figure page on Facebook and fictional stories are published about him on Creepypasta.wikia. The community on Creepypasta seem to be just as shaken and outraged by the events and by the girls’ claims as the people who had never heard of Slenderman before.
On their forum, the website’s users say it is outrageous to put blame on the website, which makes it perfectly clear that all stories published are fictitious. Some users have even started a fundraising page for the stabbing victim on YouCaring.
Being consumed with virtual reality is often treated as a running joke in our society. Most of us in the Global North and an increasing number of people in the Global South cannot imagine what our lives would be like without the Internet. Moreover – many of us have come to expect access to the Internet wherever we are: in a café, at a train station, on the go. Laptops, smart phones and tablets are our best friends now. Or are they?
The “About” text on Slenderman’s Facebook page says that all he is doing is looking for a friend, and a couple of dozen victims are acceptable on the path to friendship.
Slenderman’s “proxies,”two girls who viciously attacked another child, were friends. Their goal was to prove that Slenderman was real and, presumably, to make a contact with him: to become friends.
What did they miss in real life to become so deeply entranced with make-believe? And how destructive is make-believe when children are driven to commit murderous actions?
It has been said over and over again that the word “friend” has been devalued by social networking websites, where the number of “friends” on your account becomes a status symbol, rather than an indication of meaningful connections you have established with people in real life.
There is nothing wrong with connecting online. Online communities help businesses prosper, charities raise funds, and people find like minds, based on a hobby, cause or interest. However, nothing can substitute human interaction off-line. Actually speaking to one another, sharing a meal, going for a walk or engaging in a physical activity with your friends shapes and enriches our lives.
Real life friendships are crucial for children, as their personalities are still emerging. Spending time with their parents is crucial for children. Physical and emotional contact with parents provides children with a sense of security and confidence. Moral guidance from parents and/or caregivers shows them the way.
It is obvious that these real contacts were absent from the girls’ lives.
There is nothing wrong in believing in fairytales when you are young. In fact, good fairy tales provide children with similar qualities as friendship and family: good moral principles and belief that good inevitably prevails over evil. However, when children are fed vicious, negative and outright evil stories, the outcome is predictable.
The whole worldview of the children becomes infected by aggression and hatred embedded in these dark stories. This, couple with the absence of good parental guidance and good friendships, can unfortunately, in some cases, result in children committing acts of violence.
It has been said before, but I’ll say it again – our children are our most valuable resource. They’re impressionable. Trusting. Full of hope. And as much as we may try to protect them from predators and passing traffic, teaching them “never talk to strangers” and “look both ways,” we can often overlook the dangerous influences in our own homes. Network television shows filled with sex and gore. Video games based on violence and revenge. These supposed forms of entertainment are teaching the next generation that aggression is the easiest answer.
For the millions of level-headed people around the world playing video games who aren’t showing up to work with loaded AK47s, I sympathize with you. As always, a few bad apples are threatening to spoil the bunch. But the threat is very real. And unless we acknowledge that our children’s online identities and influences can have very serious real world repercussions, we’re going to see the same sad stories again, and again, and again. Except in this game we call life, there are no bonus lives. Only funerals.