Behind the creepypasta: The Internet’s horror stories
by Philip Jamilla
Last April, the story of a particular “Lucia Joaquin” made rounds on Facebook.
The crudely-written story, almost entirely in the form of a chat exchange, details an online interaction between a certain Enzo Cruz and Lucia Joaquin, whom he just added on Facebook.
Their conversation starts off innocuously: Lucia flirts with Enzo, and Enzo willfully obliges with Lucia’s request for pictures, even requesting that they take a picture together despite the fact that they had just known each other.
Later on, and to Enzo’s horror, he finds a picture of himself in his bedroom on Lucia’s Facebook profile — with Lucia laying just right beside him.
Of course, the story is obviously fictional. Was it scary? Probably. The story seemed believable enough.
Perhaps, it is why the post has garnered around 68,000 reactions and more than 26,000 shares as of press time. These statistics do not even include the screenshots and copies of the story circulating on Facebook and other platforms such as Twitter, even the memes generated by the story.
The story of Lucia Joaquin is not new, nor is it the only one. Lucia Joaquin is just part of a large phenomenon known as “creepypasta” — Internet horror stories — and the Internet gives birth to millions of new creepypastas everyday.
It is still unclear how the phenomenon specifically started, or with which specific story it started.
The term, more or less, is pretty much known to come from “copypasta” — a portmanteau of “copy” and “paste” —and is used in message boards like 4chan for text, videos, and images copied-and-pasted across forums.
Creepypasta is basically copypasta’s horror genre.
Researchers often draw comparisons with creepypastas and other narrative forms such as folklore and urban legends; and clearly, the phenomenon is deeply influenced by these narrative traditions. However, what various studies are sure of is that the creepypasta is a phenomenon that could only emerge from — and thrive in — the Internet.
While it has taken on various narrative forms and media as it became increasingly popular, the creepypasta had its humble beginnings on chain messages.
One of the most popular — and most enduring — chain messages is about the vengeful spirit of one Carmen Winstead, popularly titled “They Hurt Her;” a ghost story cum cautionary tale on bullying, including specific instructions to pass the story on and horrifying consequences for those who will refuse to pass it.
No one knows who wrote the message, nor can the original message be traced — and even now, no one has claimed authorship of the message.
Nonetheless, despite various experts disproving the accounts detailed by the chain message for lack of police records and evidence, it persists to be shared up to this day — either out of belief in and fear of the story, or simply for the sake of entertainment.
The obscurity and ambiguity of credible details, combined with just enough tinge of familiarity and possibility, is one of the trademark characteristics of the creepypasta.
Will Wiles, who has written about the phenomenon in his essay ‘Creepypasta’ is how the internet learns our fears, says that this is basically the goal of the creeypasta — and also largely the reason for its popularity: “Creepypasta aspires to be urban legend: dark social memes with just enough familiarity to give a frisson of awful possibility.”
The creepypasta, however, would only begin to gain mainstream popularity with the birth of Slenderman.
Slenderman first appeared in a series of images in 2006, in a forum at the comedy site Something Awful, where users were instructed to create paranormal images. Victor Surge (real name Eric Knudsen)’s creation — a tall, faceless figure in a suit linked to alleged child abductions — quickly became a hit as the character expanded into an entire mythos, with other users adding more stories and accounts related to the Slenderman.
Spawning video games, films, YouTube series, and even a real-life murder, Slenderman has proven to be creepypasta’s most popular child and effectively becoming the phenomenon’s de facto mascot.
Nonetheless, outside the rather overblown sphere of the Slenderman mythos, creepypastas as narratives are best known for dealing with man’s relationship with everyday technology. Often-used examples include stories about cursed video games, lost television show episodes, ritual-games, and corrupted files passed and downloaded over the Internet.
Like the story of Lucia Joaquin, the most intriguing of creepypastas specifically tap into possibilities of the supernatural haunting the deep recesses of the cyberspace, manifesting before people as their everyday lives become more and more intertwined with technology.
Interestingly enough, these stories do not purely exist in text: More often than not, a reader would find several images, videos, and even audio clips attached or linked within the text to serve as evidence for the story.
Creepypastas then become immersive, multimedia narratives— a feat that could not be achieved by oral narrative traditions such as folklore and urban legends; the stories then become believable despite questionable origins or even obvious lack of credibility.
The most popular post in the Reddit thread r/NoSleep, My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook. I’ve got the screenshots. I don’t know what to do, is a good example. Not only does the post include screenshots; The screenshots include actual pictures, and the user who posted the story continuously updates his account in the comments.
Unlike fake news articles that are meant to fool readers, creepypastas explicitly demand the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
However, with convincing evidences attached, the story leaves almost no room for disproving — taking readers from mere suspension of disbelief to the chilling fear of realizing that the stories are indeed possible.
And like any relatable content, the share button is for everyone to press. Thus, the digital campfire keeps burning.