Social Media: A New Medium for Horror
Creepy Twitter threads are the latest inventive way of creating urban legends online.
The Rise of Internet Horror
Ever since mankind began telling stories, we as a species have had a dark fascination with horror. Humans like to scare—and to be scared.
From books to radio to film, we loved finding new mediums to tell our ghastly tales. In particular, the rise of the internet offered a new form of this storytelling. It was inevitable that those with a passion for telling twisted tales would find their calling online. Along with stories having the ability to 'go viral,' the Creepypasta was born. The name is a perversion of the internet slang term 'copypasta,' which in itself was born from the 'copy' and 'paste' functions on computers. Copypastas were blocks of text that would be copy and pasted to different websites over and over again. In the same vein, Creepypastas were horror stories being posted on a variety of forums to scare potential readers.
The main advantage of this new form of horror was the anonymity of the posters. They could write in extreme detail about the mysterious objects, rituals, or creatures, and how it affected their lives without their lives off-screen being scrutinised for inconsistencies. It also allowed each tale to grow as it spread to different websites; there may have been one original creator of a particular creepypasta, but anyone could add to the legend or share their own experiences.
Escape From the Screen
Creepypastas did not stay contained to the internet, either. Many people by now have heard of Slenderman—the long, pale, suited man with no face. The character was originally created as part of a photoshop competition, but soon the online legend was formed. Everyone knew the tale. Incredibly popular video games were made based on the story, such as 'Slender: The Eight Pages' released in 2012 and the followup, 'Slender: The Arrival' in 2013.
Then, in 2014, an unbelievable news story broke. A girl had stabbed her classmate to 'Appease Slenderman' while her friend egged her on. All three were twelve at the time. The victim survived, and the perpetrators sentenced to a mental hospital for a number of years. You can read more about the story here.
Clearly, the horror stories being told online were not just a passing fad. The medium was here to stay.
So what was next for online horror?
Twitter threads, of course, and the two that became the most popular both started in August of 2017.
The New Wave of Online Storytelling
Adam Ellis is an illustrator and former Buzzfeed employee who posted his first horror thread on the 7th August. It was the story of David, a small boy with a dented head that haunted his dreams. The appeal of this story, like a lot of online horror, is its presentation as a real event—a debate that continues in his mentions even today. Every time stamped tweet made you feel you were getting the story in real time. His words were soon backed up with blurry photos and video evidence of the strange things starting to happen around him. As of now, Ellis has yet to wrap up the story and updates to the story are still posted occasionally on his twitter. Here are all of the tweets so far, compiled by Ellis for easy reading.
Our other case study is Manuel Bartual (@ManuelBartual on twitter) whose spooky hotel story (written in Spanish) about weird-acting strangers and doppelgängers left many unnerved and waiting for more. Here is a link to a thread of the English translation of his tweets.
He ended his tweets by claiming it was just a story he made up, but many of his followers were quick to point out that he was clearly in trouble in previous tweets and this may be his doppelgänger claiming that nothing happened. Another Twitter account similar to his also popped up at this point, although no one was sure if this was part of the story or a fan trying to confuse people.
So what is the future of horror? It's hard to say. As technology grows, so does our capacity for communication, and along with it our ability to tell stories—horror or otherwise. New formats are requiring writers to get creative, and this will only benefit the genre further.