I swear this is an actual headline:
I spotted that on the website of KMJ, a Fresno radio operation, but the article is circulating far more widely, since it's syndicated by ABC News. (And yes, it was ABC that provided the headline.) Here's the lede:
A fictional horror creature popularized by Internet memes is now linked to three violent crimes.
A week after two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls allegedly stabbed their friend 19 times to honor Slender Man, more real-life connections to the spooky character are emerging.
A man accused of killing two cops and a civilian before committing suicide with his wife in Las Vegas on Sunday often dressed up in costume as Slender Man, a neighbor told KTNV.
And a Cincinnati mom told WLWT she thinks her daughter may have been inspired by Slender Man when she attacked her with a knife in their kitchen, wearing a hood and white mask.
At that point the piece calms down a bit with some quotes from Andrew Peck, a folklorist who's less prone to panicky language. Sadly, not all the coverage since last week's stabbing has had the benefit of Peck's pacifying influence. As Bryan Alexander writes at Infocult, this has become
a fearsome digital media story. Slenderman is a "demon creature" spawned by the internet, according to the Associated Press. An Australian site refers to "an internet horror-cult that almost caused a killing." That's probably the most extreme statement. Fox News dwells on the "internet monster". For NBC and the LA Times the internet meme "inspired" the stabbings….eCanada Now wades in further: "the girls in question became convinced the stories of Slenderman were true and were prepared to make a blood sacrifice of their friend in order to become proxies for the creepy thin man. Their plight is raising concerns about the impact of websites such as creepypasta.com which are the principal sources for information on the paranormal."
For the record: Creepypasta.com hosts horror fiction. Saying it's one of the "principal sources for information on the paranormal" is like calling H.P. Lovecraft the nation's leading authority on the occult.
Granted, the boundary between alleged fact and overt fiction can get pretty hazy sometimes. Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes how one local TV station covered the Wisconsin stabbing:
on "Studio A" on WITI, [Ted Perry] said the story will "chill you to the bone." But he probably wished he could take back speculation about whether Slender Man "really exists or not, I'm not sure at this point."
If you're not familiar with the Slender Man mythos, you should read Scott Shackford's Reason piece about it, published in the innocent days of 2013, before the monster came to life and started killing people became a media sensation. And be sure to check out the rest of Alexander's Infocult post, which explores how the character's roots in Web-based storytelling give him a particularly creepy feel. "These exist in a deeply social environment, getting shared, remixed, embedded, commented upon, edited, and spread around again," he writes. "There are no clear boundaries around the tale, as there would be for, say, a Hollywood movie or a novel, making the mythos more mysterious. Users participate in many ways, which is how myths and folklore have always spread. The digital architecture speeds up this process and renders both process and results far more accessible than oral stoytelling does. The internet platform or style which made the mythos successful also makes an anti-technology backlash more likely."
Finally, here's an argument that Slender Man has just been misunderstood: