Tradition in the Modern World: Internet Folklore

Folklore is one of the oldest forms of communication in the human language. Most of the time, folkloric tales are exclusive to the (ethnic) communities by which they are told. For example, La Llorona is a prevalent legend in the Latin community, and tales of singing sirens (or mermaids) are usually told by sailors to other sailors. Folklore is also mostly, if not always, told orally. That is essentially what makes folklore, folklore. After the invention of the printing press, communication rapidly increased, and this time it included more than just folk tales. The printing revolution enabled us share knowledge more explicitly and more efficiently than ever before. Technological modernization over the past couple decades has further boosted the rate in which information could be produced and passed around. Nowadays, one quick search on Google could give thousands of entries containing information.

So, it seems as though the concept of folklore or legends has vanished with the technological revolution. However, with the expansion of the internet space over the last twenty-or-so years, people from different geographical and cultural communities are now able to interact with each other even more. So much so, that internet users have formed their own separate community on the world wide web. And as I’ve mentioned before, communities usually come with their own strand of folkloric tales and urban legends.

Origin: The Blair Witch Project and other ARGs

One of the earliest forms of internet urban legends could be Alternative Reality Games, or commonly known as ARGs. ARGs are still prominent on the internet today, some of them even found on the popular app TikTok. However, the most well-known ARG on the internet is The Blair Witch Project. In the 1990s, this movie was one of the first to be filmed in the point of view of the characters themselves, using the aesthetic of home-made videos to convey a real experience. However, the marketing for this movie was even more revolutionary. This was the first movie to promote itself through the internet. The website could have been the main reason why so many people believed this movie was real. The websites contains extensive information about the supposed Blair witch in Maryland, with interviews, diary extractions, and recorded voice memos that seem very real to the public. While The Blair Witch Project is the most famous ARGs, some have argued that the first ARG could be the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds by Orson Welles. Broadcasted in 1938, this broadcast was conducted live and contained a real performance of the original story. Welles’ idea of creating a new reality through his story telling left the nation in complete disarray. While it is easier now to debunk most ARGs on the internet, the element of realism remains essential to the genre of ARGs today. 

2010s: SCP Universe and Creepy Pastas

The last decade has especially seen a substantial growth of urban legends falling under the genre of Creepy Pastas. These are essentially short scary stories involving supernatural entities. From Slenderman to Jeff the Killer to most recently Momo, it seems as though each year there is a new viral creepy pasta story. Unlike old folk tales involving supernatural entities, entities from Creepy Pastas are usually given an explicit description of their origin, early life and there are even times where viral photos of the entity are passed around. This is also true for the latest string of internet urban legends, the SCP universe. In this alternate universe, the SCP Foundation is an institution that captures, contains and studies thousands of supernatural anomalies found around the world. These creatures are divided in 4 different classes, depending on their level of threat. Much like The Blair Witch Project, there is also a website dedicated to the legend, and readers are able to learn more about the foundation and the anomalies themselves.

It is quite interesting how an old tradition like Folklore was able to not only survive the every-growing developments of the modern, technological world, but how it also penetrated and evolved on the internet. The art form is most prominent (and most of the time originates) on web forums like Reddit and 4Chan, and are also commonly reproduced by creators on Youtube and podcasters.

Sources used:

  • Loey Lane – Exploring the Forgotten Blair Witch Cult Website | A 1990s Viral Internet Mystery:
  • Inside a Mind – The Broadcast That Terrified A Nation:
  • The Infographics Show – The SCP Foundation EXPLAINED: