Psychologist says Slenderman could have seemed very real to stabbing suspects
MADISON (WKOW) -- An expert on children and their perception of media says she believes two 12 year-old Waukesha girls accused of stabbing their friend when they say they did it to win the approval of Slenderman, a fictional character they believed to be real.
Dr. Joanne Cantor is a psychologist and former director of the Center for Communication Research at UW-Madison. She says the internet is very different than more traditional forms of media, because it is always there and the content never ends.
"If you're talking about a supernatural thing which is also very difficult to prove wrong, then its not unusual for 11 and 12 year-olds to really buy this," said Dr. Cantor.
Supernatural is exactly how Slenderman is described on several websites, including creepypasta.wikia.com, which is where the girls told police they learned about him. While the character has existed in folklore for centuries, his popularity and legend has exploded online in recent years.
"A faceless, tall, eerily long-limbed humanoid clad in a black suit and lurking in the background emerged in an online forum as a pair of photoshops and a half dozen lines of text," is how UW-Madison Lecturer Andrew Peck describes Slenderman's online legend beginning in a documentary short he produced on the subject in 2012.
Dr. Cantor says that combination of a supernatural being and the internet can be very powerful.
"You've got to take the girls' words literally. I mean they got this idea and got the impetus from that. You don't know what they would have done without that particular website, but probably it wasn't quite this," said Dr. Cantor.
"As is so often the case with a lot of these horrendous, horrific events, we sort of see a copycat phenomena at several levels," said Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, who says that concerns him as both a cop and a parent.
"Even though this is very rare, it is important for parents to know what kids are doing online and in other media and be engaged with them," said Dr. Cantor.
Without that, Dr. Cantor says children will be influenced by what they see in that virtual world.
"There's limitless amounts of time you can spend. I mean, you find the site you like, you can be there interacting with people forever," said Dr. Cantor.
With smart phones and tablets, it is easy for kids to spend all day looking up such things on the internet and much more difficult for parents to stop it. That's why Dr. Cantor suggests parents get in front of their kids and try to find out what they're looking at and who they're talking to online as often as possible.
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