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A Selection of Internet Urban Legends to Chill You to the Bone

These viral villains got our hearts racing.

internet urban legends
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  • Photo Credit: Victoria Heath / Unsplash

Don't look behind you. Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light? Humans can lick too. These are some iconic catchphrases from classic urban legends. Remember those? Before dedicated podcasts and Reddit subforums came into existence, these cautionary tales of paranormal shenanigans and vicious serial killers were passed around by word of mouth. You could always identify them because they were usually prefaced by, "This happened to a friend of my cousin" or "I heard this warning from someone in my bookclub. Her husband's a cop!" The connections were always tenuous, but still legitimate enough to lend credibility.

Today, these word-of-mouth retellings have transformed. Instead of chatting over drinks, the sharing of paranormal encounters and creepy close calls has shifted to the internet. Urban legends have become creepypastas, passed from one person to the next via email, blog posts, and forum threads. So here are a few urban legends that started on the internet, thrived on the internet, and sometimes spread beyond the internet.

Related: 20 People Share the Creepiest Things That Happened to Them as Kids

The Slenderman

the slenderman
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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Slenderman is the prototypical internet urban legend. It began innocently enough. In 2009, Eric Knudsen posted to a thread on the Something Awful forums dedicated to creating paranormal images. His submission featured an out-of-focus figure standing next to a tree. Who knew that this single post would ignite the imaginations of countless posters and future fans?

Other forum members soon built off Knudsen's initial submission, adding their interpretations of Slenderman. These new details would flesh out the supernatural figure in what would become known as the Slenderman Mythos. It even resulted in the creation of a popular web series named Marble Hornets.

Related: Slenderman: The Meme That Led to Attempted Murder

Unlike other urban legend villains, Slenderman doesn't actually do anything. He doesn't kill anyone or threaten them. He just stands there, waiting and watching. Talk about building psychological dread.

Slenderman could have remained confined to the internet, but a few devoted fans decided to bring him into the analog world. In 2014, two 12-year-old girls nearly stabbed another girl to death in a highly publicized case. In another incident, a Cincinnati teen attacked her mother and set fire to their house. All three perpetrators claimed their actions were a tribute to Slenderman.

Related: Slender Man Is Coming for You in This Terrifying New Trailer

After these real-life tragedies, Slenderman's popularity waned and never recovered. Nearly ten years after Knudsen's initial submission, Hollywood released a feature film about the monster. It flopped at the box office. No one wanted this story anymore. The internet moved on. Maybe the tragedies contributed to this, or, like all things originating from the internet, Slenderman hit his expiration date.

The Momo Challenge

The Momo Challenge is the perfect example of how random elements can come together and, fueled by social media, lead to a mass panic. Who's Momo, you might ask? Momo is a creepy-looking bird-woman who sends a series of tasks to complete if you text a number on WhatsApp.

The tasks start off innocently enough. For example, the instructions might tell you to watch a horror movie by yourself in the dark. No biggie, right? If you're a horror aficionado who accepted this challenge because you like thrills, this won't seem too hard. Unfortunately, it doesn't stay that way. The tasks become increasingly dangerous and culminate in encouraging self-harm and suicide. Failure to complete a task for any reason leads to threats of violence and doxxing. 

Related: The Origins Behind 9 Terrifying American Urban Legends

Originating in a Facebook group, the Momo Challenge gained worldwide infamy when YouTuber ReignBot made a video about it. Soon after, warnings about the challenge spread. The Police Service of Northern Ireland made a Facebook post, urging parents to monitor their children's activity on WhatsApp. Kim Kardashian even highlighted the challenge and its dangers on her Instagram. Internet trolls fueled the panic by splicing images of Momo into YouTube videos targeting kids.

Like all urban legends, the Momo Challenge has roots in reality. The signature image is a sculpture of an ubume—a Japanese bird-woman from folklore said to have died in childbirth. The original piece of artwork was made by Keisuke Aisawa and was displayed in a Tokyo gallery. As for why the Momo Challenge seized public attention? Simple. It preyed on social anxiety—in this case, parental fears—about what children were doing online while unsupervised.

Hide and Seek Alone

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  • Photo Credit: Alexis Arnoldi / Unsplash

Do you love playing hide and seek but hate having to play with other people? Don't worry. There's a version for you. Hitori Kakurenbo, or Hide and Seek Alone, is a game that allows you, as the name suggests, to play hide and seek by yourself. All you need is a doll, red thread, rice, nail clippings, salt water, and a pointed object. (Think a pencil, not a knife. Trust me.)

If these requirements sound suspiciously like a summoning ritual, you're not wrong. In theory, you're playing hide and seek with whatever possesses your doll. That's why you choose a pencil, because the last thing anyone wants is a possessed doll to be anywhere near a knife.

Hitori Kakurenbo first circulated on a now-defunct Japanese horror forum in 2007. In true creepypasta fashion, the instructions were copy and pasted across the internet until in 2008, they reached Saya in Underworld, a blog that translates Japanese ghost stories, urban legends, and creepypastas to English. From there, the urban legend exploded.

Related: 9 Scariest Haunted Dolls You Do Not Want in Your Home

People soon uploaded videos, supposedly chronicling their experiences with the ritual. Some investigators even attempted to use Hitori Kakurenbo to communicate with spirits. A YouTube channel even collected videos of people playing the game from Japanese forum 2channel.

Like other internet urban legends, Hide and Seek Alone experienced a meteoric rise and then petered out into internet obscurity. Still, we'll always remember those videos of warped television screens and weird sounds in dark, empty houses.

The Blind Maiden

This internet urban legend originated in Spain. There supposedly exists a website that can only be accessed at midnight during the new moon. You also must be alone and sitting in the dark. If you successfully access the website, you'll be greeted with disturbing images of terrified children with their eyes ripped out.

In true sketchy website tradition, a popup window appears and offers two choices. If you click accept, a woman will appear behind you and rip out your eyes. She'll also snap a photo to add to the website's gruesome gallery. If you decline, you'll receive the ripped-out eyes. Sounds like a lose-lose situation.

Related: 5 Horrific Urban Legends That Turned Out to Be True

As for how the urban legend spread, supposedly one child was so scared by the woman's appearance and fainted. The blind maiden assumed he was dead and left, allowing him to spread the story.

Black-Eyed Kids

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Black-eyed kids are such a staple of paranormal lore that people may not realize that stories of these infamous beings initially spread via the internet. The first black-eyed kid story was recounted by Texan reporter Brian Bethel on a paranormal mailing list in 1996. Were they demons? Vampires? Aliens? No one knew, but paranormal fans loved to discuss the possibilities. For years, Bethel's two encounters remained the only black-eyed kid encounters shared on the internet.

That changed in 2013 when MSN Weekly Strange featured more stories about the creepy children. The following year, British tabloid The Daily Star ran three front-page stories about black-eyed kid encounters. Soon thereafter, reports of black-eyed kid sightings rose around the world, to be told on podcasts, YouTube videos, and many Reddit threads.

Related: 9 Terrifying Encounters with Black-Eyed Children

If there's anything that internet urban legends have taught us, it's that they often burn bright and fast. It coincides with the nature of the internet where viral memes and stories have a limited shelf-life. But sometimes they take a life of their own and become self-sustaining. Because in the end, urban legends—whether they spread by word-of-mouth or on Reddit threads—depend on people to keep them alive.

Featured photo: Victoria Heath / Unsplash; Additional photo: Alexis Arnoldi / Unsplash