Slenderman Documentary Explores the Internet’s Grave Impact
By Allie Waxman
The screening of Beware the Slenderman at DOC NYC raised questions about the internet’s influence on the developing brain.
Hosted by CNN’s Brian Stelter, the film’s post-screening panel featured filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky, psychologist Dr. Abigail Baird, and Bill and Kristi Weier, parents of the doc’s subject Anissa Weier. The film, which documents the case of Weier and Morgan Geyser, two 12-year-old girls who stabbed their friend to please a faceless man of internet folklore, examines controversial topics including adolescent culpability in the criminal justice system, mental illness, and the pervasive power of online falsehoods.
The Weiers were first approached by Irene Taylor Brodsky about the prospect of the film following a court hearing. Kristi Weier explained she agreed to participate after having established Brodsky’s empathy to their story: “She made me understand that this documentary was going to be heartfelt and moving and not just some E! True Hollywood Story.”
Brodsky respected that the Weiers had trepidations but complimented their willingness to share. “All four parents in this film did not make the decision lightly,” she said. “We didn’t start working together until three or four months into the filming process, but once they made that decision [to speak], they didn’t look back.” The director stressed their cohesion was essential in creating a successful final product: “I think we always moved forward together, and that was critical.”
As the “Slenderman” internet meme and the girls’ case are now practically synonymous, Brodsky thinks the meme, in conjunction with the girls’ developing adolescent brains, calls into question their culpability. “We spoonfeed children so much material” the filmmaker said. “Their brains are not processing as though they are little adults. They’re taking things at face value.”
Psychologist Dr. Abigail Baird, who also appears in the film, explained, “The reason we have an adolescence is to move from being children to being an adults.” Unlike peer groups and social communities, the internet does not provide individuals with a reality check. On the contrary, said Baird, “you could find lots of overlap for everything these girls believed, they just didn’t check all of the facts.” Brodsky added, “This man is faceless and the realm of possibility is infinite.”
Impossible to ignore was the role technology played in Anissa and Morgan’s “incident,” as the Weiers’ refer to it. One year after it occurred, the Weiers’ school district implemented an iPad program for elementary school students, issuing one to their younger son. While uneasy about the technology, Kristi believes it is a “useful tool for our children and our generation” and neither parents want to limit their son’s educational growth. Bill admitted he questions his son’s activity on the iPad, “I find myself forcing him to keep the iPad in the same room where I am.” He urged parents to stay on top of their kids online: “Technology is advancing faster than the adults can keep up with it—people need to be aware.”
Bill and Kristi Weier declined to comment on the status of the case, but noted their last appeal was rejected and Anissa and Morgan will be tried as adults. In terms of Anissa’s wellbeing, Bill commented, “We try to keep her as upbeat as possible. She definitely has her down days, but when I go to visit her, we talk about what’s bothering her, and are constantly encouraging her to not keep it bottled up inside.”