Slender Man is that rare meme that is not inspired by or tied to a specific person, yet transcends the internet’s vast chat rooms and Twitter feeds to have a very real effect on people’s lives.
Alternatively known as Mr. Slim, Daddy LongLegs, and The Tall Man, Slender Man’s origins are innocent enough: He was created in 2009 as part of a Photoshop contest on the comedy site Something Awful. Users quickly took to two photographs that were posted, showing a very tall, thin, and faceless figure with tentacles for arms who lurked on the outskirts of a playground. Story after story began filling the Something Awful feed, building a creepy history for the suited-up character.
From there, Slender Man took on a life of its, or rather his, own. According to Know Your Meme, fans introduced Slender Man to the paranormal user board on 4chan, and later Creepypasta, a forum for horror stories. The latter provides some insight into the character's rise to viral status: “Much of the fascination with Slender Man is rooted in the overall aura of mystery that he is wrapped in."
Among the many stories involving him, there are some common qualities: Slender Man often lives in the woods, murders or abducts children, and has a psychological power over his victims. As Creepypasta explains, "It is often thought as well that he enjoys stalking people who become overly paranoid about his existence, purposefully giving them glimpses of himself in order to further frighten them."
That part of the legend is what ultimately took Slender Man from internet forums to the front page of national newspapers. In 2014, two 12-year-old girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, stabbed a third girl, Payton Leutner, 19 times. According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, the premeditated attack, which occurred in a wooded area near Milwaukee, was committed in the girls' attempts to prove their devotion to Slender Man. They had apparently read about him on Creepypasta. Leutner survived the attacks and crawled to the edge of the woods, where she was found and taken to the hospital.
This year, Weier and Geyser are set to be tried as adults for attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and could face up to 45 years in jail. Their story, which became the subject of an HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman, is the scariest kind of cautionary tale, demonstrating the disturbing power that an internet myth can have over its readers.