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How Twitter gave us the modern spooky campfire story

Share at your own risk

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When author Jay Killzurfavesoff moved out of his parents’ house for the first time and into an old, two-bedroom house with his girlfriend, he was excited. It was cheap, close to his university, and even had a fireplace in master bedroom. Then things started to get a little weird. The house was full of abandoned belongings from the previous tenants, as though they had left in a hurry. Their dog barked at nothing. Their keys moved around with no explanation. One night, his girlfriend saw a woman with long, dark hair standing in their foyer and called the cops, but when they arrived she was gone — almost like she had never been there. Finally, after an eerie bedroom encounter, the terrified couple moved out.

The 42-tweet thread, shared on Twitter, is chilling and suspenseful — a modern day ghost story ladled out piece by piece on social media. Each new tweet ramps up the stakes a little more, as followers shriek and beg for more, until it resolves with no concrete answers. Read it alone just before bed, and turning off the lights will feel like an act of bravery.

Like all good stories, the creepy ones are best shared. As a teenager, my friends and I would swap scares over stolen beers in Missouri parks. We talked about everything from serial killers to local hauntings, but the most chilling were the most relatable: The story of a friend’s mom, for example, accepting a ride from a stranger who detoured to his house and told her “I could have done anything to you,” before taking her home.

But where my friends and I retold that car ride story countless times over the years, changing, losing or gaining pieces as it went, Twitter lets you share scary stories straight from the source with the click of a button. Users have no obligation to repeat the tale in its entirety, and can pick and choose elements that they find the most appealing. These stories, drip-fed to users in real-time, offer the thrill of additional updates, as well as the suspense that comes with waiting.

With a low barrier to entry and the chance for anyone’s tweets to go viral, the platform is a perfect place to share chilling tales from the past — or ones happening in real time. Manuel Bartual used Twitter to weave his own fabricated retelling of a vacation gone terribly wrong. Adam Ellis has been telling Twitter’s best-known scary story, the “Dear David” saga, for almost three months. Ellis began his months-long thread in August with “So, my apartment is currently being haunted by the ghost of a dead child and he's trying to kill me.” He has since tracked his haunting through video and photo updates, hooking readers into following him and checking back regularly for the latest news. The story has been fervently covered by media outlets for months, and Ellis says everyone from mediums to ghost hunter TV shows have reached out to him.

There are real horrors to be found on Twitter, from vicious harassment to up-to-the-minute news updates on the worst parts of humanity. Fake news spreads as easily as real happenings; mobs are easy to incite. It’s a relief, then, to see the other side: Users who use the platform to tell stories that thrill and excite. There may be truth to these stories or they may be fabrications, but the facts hardly matter. They only need to feel real to scare us and thrill us, one tweet at a time.