We all know that viral illnesses can kill. Ebola would be an example. So would small pox and the 1918 Flu.
But can an internet viral hoax kill? An interesting article titled “Murder By Meme: Slender Man and the Wakefield Anti-Vax Hoax” by Travis Langley, Ph.D. in Psychology Today looks at this issue.
In June, 2009, Eric Knudsen (aka Victor Surge) posted a pair of black & white photos of groups of children in which he had inserted a thin figure in a black suit into the background. This was the birth of the Slender Man hysteria. It led to the attempted murder of a 12-year-old girl by two of her classmates, also 12. Why would they stab their classmate 19 times? Apparently to serve as “proxies” for The Slender Man and to show that he really existed.
Crazy is as crazy does.
And then there’s the 14-year-old who read about Slender Man and decided she needed to burn down her home—-with her mother and brother inside. Fortunately there were no injuries but the house and family car took a hit.
But such internet hoaxes aren’t confined to the world on teen angst. It has also entered the world of legitimate medicine. And has done great harm.
Ever seen a case of Whooping Cough? Diphtheria? Probably not. I’ve never seen diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis) only a couple of times way back during my pediatrics rotation as a junior medical student. The reason these and other childhood diseases such a rubella and mumps are now not so common is a robust and widespread immunization program that has done a stellar job in keeping these illnesses at bay.
Enter Dr. Andrew Wakefield. He apparently created an entirely fraudulent research study that suggested that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine caused Autism. Based on this scam, allegedly funded by an “ambulance-chasing” law firm, many well-meaning and fearful parents refused to vaccinate their children. This led to outbreaks of these uncommon diseases. Here in my own backyard, Orange County, CA, we had an outbreak of pertussis that could be traced for the most part to a single pediatrician who bought into this “bad science.”
The truth? There is not a single piece of legitimate evidence to suggest that MMR is in any way related to autism.
And Slender Man does not exist.