Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Slenderman Problem

In Wisconsin two girls stabbed their friend nearly to death so that they could run off to live in the woods with Slenderman.


Let me be clear up front that I have no idea if the girls are lying or to what degree, if any. I know only what is stated in the article behind that link. It's quite possible the girls are selling bullshit to try and cop an insanity plea or some damn thing.

But what if they aren't?

In case you aren't familiar, Slenderman is an urban legend that got its start online. Slenderman is a tall man in a suit with no face who appears most often in the background of old photos and apparently abducts, terrorizes or kills children. Also Slenderman is not real. He or it was created by a Something Awful forum poster named "Victor Surge". This is known Khaleesi.

And yet somehow, two children decided that Slenderman was real enough to try and kill for. Which begs the question: How do you convince someone he's not real?

One of the original Slenderman photos. He's over there.

More and more we live in a world where The Truth is a subjective thing. The Internet, if anything, is exacerbating the problem. For every fact online you can find a document stating the fact is bullshit, and offering a competing view of the world. Not all of these views are valid. Some of them are insane. But on the Internet facts and bullshit are treated the same. It's up to the reader to discern one from the other. And not everyone has the tools to do that.

Children believe. They believe in Santa Claus, in the Tooth Fairy, in Bloody Mary. As they grow older we expect them to develop enough critical reasoning skills to tell fact from fiction, but that's not guaranteed. And it's made a lot harder when facts and bullshit are commingling in the same places, with authorities or "authorities" sticking up for both alternatives.

And once you've accepted something as fact, it's hard to change your mind. Confirmation bias is the tendency to put more weight on information that supports an existing belief. It's a hard-wired component of humanity. Even if the "fact" is total crap, you'll look for information that "proves" it is right. And on the Internet, you'll probably find some.

The sum of all human knowledge no longer trends toward increasing accuracy. Falsehoods and propaganda are entering the electronic hive mind and while they are being challenged, we have no way to eject them from the collective consciousness. As our species moves to a global shared knowledge base, that knowledge is becoming delusional. It's a problem we're going to have to cope with before we start killing each other over bullshit. Yet again.

Creepypasta, the "home" of Slenderman, was obliged to release a statement that Slenderman is not real. That's something. But inevitably there's still someone out there who thinks "maybe he is". Or thinks "of course he is". Or is out in the woods hunting for Slenderman right now.

Hopefully that's the only point where this person loses touch with reality.

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