Tyler Vendetti
July 12, 2014 9:31 am

When two 12-year-old girls allegedly stab a classmate at a sleepover, one’s logical reaction would be to condemn those children’s violent actions. But when the violent actions involve the Slender Man, that’s not always the case. According to a new article out this week by journalist Kathleen Hale, many Wisconsin teenagers are sympathizing with the two middle schoolers involved in the stabbings, suggesting that the alleged act was simply an extension of the “female bullying” trend that is rising in schools across the country and regarding the event as somewhat normal.

How is a child violently attacking another child ever considered understandable?

Before we delve into that conundrum, though, we must first look at what caused these 12-year-olds to allegedly attempt murder in the first place. As the story goes, in 2009, Eric Knudsen, a user on the comedy website Something Awful, posted a description of a faceless monster AKA Slender Man (also know as Slenderman) on one of the site’s forums, one specifically discussing fake supernatural creatures. Other users began contributing to the post and the Slender Man character grew in popularity, eventually going viral and inspiring a string of video games, web series, and films. He became more than just an Internet meme; he became a legend.

Fast forward to May 31, 2014. After months of reported planning, two girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin invited their “friend” over for a sleepover and played a “friendly” game of hide and seek. Halfway through, the pair teamed up and police reports claim they stabbed their victim a total of 19 times. (Miraculously, the girl survived.) When asked why they attacked their classmate, they allegedly claimed they wanted to impress Slender Man so that they could all live together in his mystical forest mansion.

The Slender Man story is significant in many ways. First, it highlights how regular “mean girl syndrome”  can spiral out of control into something far darker. Or, more seriously, how the repressed emotions of a stressful social environment (middle school) can manifest itself through physical violence if pushed hard enough. Should we work to eliminate the dangerous environments that plague our school systems and inspire hurtful female rivalries and drama? Yes, but such things are easier said than done.

Second (and you knew this was coming), Slender Man demonstrates the unsettling influence that the Internet has on today’s youth. What’s to stop the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme from inspiring a wave of obsessive teenage girls? Who says people will draw the line at sacrificing their classmates to Big Foot or the Chupacabra? All of them have gained popularity through Internet forums and have weaseled their way into our popular culture, so what’s to prevent them from following in Slender Man’s footsteps?

At the end of the day, a lot of questions remain unanswered. Should these girls be tried as adults for their crime? Or should we view them for what they are: young girls who were so completely consumed by the Internet that they became misguided in their morals? How much influence can the Internet have on young people and how can we prevent it from reaching dangerously high levels?

These are questions that need answering so we can prevent more incidents like the Slender Man stabbings and abolish any culturally mindset that empathizes with this kind of violence.

Featured image via WordPress.com.