USC Digital Folklore Archives / Digital

Cyber Ghost: Toads & Texts

Informant: Michael Davis is a sophomore at Cal Poly SLO and is currently majoring Business. He does not really believe in ghosts and thinks that going on ghost hunts with his friends is exciting. His story takes place in an abandoned home that may have been an asylum in San Jose.

MD: “Back at home, my friends and I went to check out this abandoned home, or maybe it used to be an asylum. There were four of us, and we pulled up in the driveway of the abandoned house. When we got out of the car, we saw in the distance that there was another car with its headlights on. We also saw a toad in the middle of the driveway and it started croaking. We walked up to the house and saw that it was blocked off by a “Do Not Enter” sign. We went inside anyways and saw that there were chains on the floor of the house. As we went into one of the rooms, we found another toad that started croaking. We just hung out in there, because it was kinds like a competition of who could stay in the longest. We went on exploring the place but suddenly heard chains rattling, but the chains we saw were still on the floor and there were none hanging anywhere. After a few more minutes inside the house, one of my friend’s phone starting buzzing and going crazy and then he started to get these text messages on his phone. It said something like “Why are you here”. We freaked out all walked out of the house. Right after we got out, my friend was like “I swear I heard some quiet, old, scary voice telling us to get out.” Then right outside, before getting into our car again, we saw another croaking toad. On the drive back to out house, my friend’s phone kept getting text messages saying stuff like “why were you in the house”, “I know what you did in there”, “I know what happened in the house”. We tried calling the number, but every time there would be the automated voice saying that “this number does not exist”, but it was clearly texting my friend! And what was even more freaky was that after a couple of months of visiting that house, the same number texted again and asked “why they were in that house”.

Impact: “This is not the first time I’d gone into a haunted place looking for ghosts. I like ghost hunting because of the adrenaline and thrill of it. But this experience was one of my more extreme ones, because usually there are some creaking doors or maybe shadows. It was scary ‘cause my friend got the same text even after the whole incident. I also went home that day and researched about the toads we kept on seeing in and around the house. Turns out, according to some websites, seeing a toad three times or something is representative of a ghost presence.”

My thoughts: I got goosebumps while hearing MD’s story because personally, everything I hear my phone buzz from getting a text messages, I would wonder which one of my friends would contact me. But I would be really scared if I got a text message from “nobody” because texting involves physically typing, so I don’t know how the ghost’s message got translated electronically.



Cyber Ghost Story: SnapChat Picture Disappearance

Informant: Leah Suh’s cyber ghost story takes place in the old theater of Greystone Mansion and involves the use of an app called Snapchat on her iPhone. Greystone Mansion is a beautiful estate in the hills of Beverly Hills; however, the place is haunted and there have been many recounts from people hearing and seeing ghosts.

LS: “Okay so I don’t really call this a “ghost story” because I don’t believe in ghosts, but I this experience definitely felt supernatural to me, and is was hella scary. So in high school, for an extra credit assignment for my APUSH class, we went on a field trip to Greystone Mansion. During the tour, the tour guide was talking about all the haunted experiences he has had, and how other people have also seen or heard things such as gunshots or been pushed by something in the hallways. I didn’t feel like the place was haunted or anything until we walked into the old theater, and as soon as I walked in. I took a picture on my phone, using flash ‘cause it was real dark in there, and uploaded that image to SnapChat. A few minutes into the tour guide’s lecture, the lights in the theater went out and there was complete darkness. It was super quiet because no one expected it, like they weren’t purposely tryna scare us. Then I felt my phone in my jacket pocket buzz, and then my phone died. The lights came on again after some seconds, and the tour guide said “okay, let’s go to the bowling ally and get out of here.” As we began to head for the door, my phone buzzed again and turned itself back on, and it was weird because this whole my phone was basically fully charged. Because when it died in my pocket, I’d just assume it ran out of batteries, but when it turned back on, it was full ‘cause I’d charged it that morning. Anyways, after leaving the theater, I checked my SnapChat and the image of the theater I had uploaded was gone. This was the moment when I was like “maybe this place is really haunted and that ghosts are real?” After the tour, I kept thinking about the events of the day, and I got this feeling or urge to delete most of the pictures I had taken of Greystone Mansion from SnapChat. I do remembering leaving a picture of the beautiful courtyard.”

Impact on LS: “I’m Christian so I’m not supposed to believe in ghosts. As you can imagine, this experience impacted me because I used to be a firm non-believer in ghosts because of the Bible and my religion. But now, it’s like, I don’t know if I actually believe in ghosts, but I am more open to the idea of a person’s soul staying on Earth, rather than going to either Heaven or Hell.”

My thoughts: I was actually with LS when this event happened, but it was interesting to hear it from her perspective. For example, I did not know that she eventually deleted the rest of the pictures from that day. I find it scary in that these supernatural powers are powerful enough to erase things from the web and social media. One lesson from this story is to not disrespect ghosts, haunted places, or even allegedly haunted places.


Cyber Ghost: Queen Mary Ghost Detector

Informant: During Brittany Pedrosa’s senior year of high school, she was ASB president and had to pick a location for her school’s prom night. One of her choses was the Queen Mary ship, and in order to get a better look at the layout, her and her fellow student representatives went on a tour with a tour guide on the Queen Mary. Before going to the ship, she and her friends had heard that the ship was haunted and decided to download a ghost-hunting app on their iPhones. She does not remember the exact name of the app because she deleted it right after the tour.

BP “It’s not that scary, but it scared me. I went with my friends to check out the Queen Mary for our possible prom night location, and before I went I downloaded this thing called Ghost Tracker. It would show dots if there was an entity and words would also pop up. The words would be related to the ghost, like if someone drowned, it would say something like “pool” or “cold” or “breathe”. We went with a tour guide around the Queen Mary and I just kept my phone tracker on, not really looking at it. But when we went up to one of the rooms, my phone turned super bright and I could see it illuminating from my pocket. So I picked up my phone and saw that it had a dot and said “fire” and “smoke”. When the tour guide came up to that room, he told us that sometimes people would smell smoke because there was a guy who died in there from a fire, and he used to smoke a lot. That scared me because the app was accurate in detecting the ghost and some things about it.”

Impact on BP: “Honestly, this experience freaked me out ‘cause, it’s like even if there aren’t any actual solid evidence that ghosts exist, there certainly are signs that indicate there is some kind of invisible ghostly energy still lingering in this world. Like for me now, I just kinda avoid topics related ghosts and the supernatural, because I don’t really want to know if they exists or not, so I would say I don’t believe in ghosts, but I also believe that there are things out there that are supernatural.”

My thoughts: I found it interesting in that BP’s ghostly experience actually made her not want to believe in ghosts; whereas, I would usually guess seeing or getting signs of ghosts would make one believe in ghosts more. BP’s belief in ghosts reminds me of the discussions in class about what is means to believe in a “ghost”, because the definition varies among people. For example, some people would consider unsettling ghostly energy or an unsettling feeling as signifying the presence of a ghost; however, BP would not say that there is a ghost, just some supernatural energy that is undefined and unexplainable. BP’s story also makes me wonder how the app, or any ghost hunting apps/electronics, actually measure and detect ghost presence.


Cicada 3301


 Zack was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up in a house in rural Norwell Massachusetts in a secular family. His father is a musician and his mother a homemaker. Zack is a photographer who works with musicians and has traveled extensively both in his childhood following his father on tour and in his current occupation.

Original Script: “I learned about it on a web form from being posted to a form I was on. When they post a puzzle they basically come out and say solve this puzzle it will lead to the next riddle and so on and so forth. A lot of highly skilled cryptographers would sort of docu-blog on there progress as they were trying to figure out. The more they progress the more serious it began to seem, people where literarily flying places to solve clues, it was very Dan Brown. Most people who get close to solving disappear. Some people think they have succeeded and ended up requited into an intelligence organization. While it could be a hoax the difficulty of the challenges is genuine. It’s a total Mr. Robot”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Cicada 3301 is an Internet puzzles that appear mysteriously on various online chat forms annually. That focus on data security cryptography and steganography.

Context of the Performance: Annual online puzzle.

Thoughts about the piece: It seems to me that the Cicada 3301 is similar to the newer folkloric tales and myths that develop and are spread on the Internet. At the heart of this is the mistrust for the Internet and the mystery that comes with the anonymity one can find on the Internet. The informant is a member of multiple conspiracy theory forms that analyze myths, stories and other mysterious happenings so he is connected to forms that share stories like Cicada 3301.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

看颜值 Score of Face


“In the year of 2016, READ more if you were ugly, RUN more if you were a fat-ass. For those who are both ugly and fat, stop wasting your time, just GO DIE! In the year of 2016, you have to look good even for telling this kind of joke!”

The popular culture in China nowadays has an unusual spotlight on people’s face, and there is a standard look that pleases the majority people. Ironically, that standard is based on the look of western people. Many people there have spent lots of many to do the surgery in order to look more “beautiful,” which are stereotyped into big eyes, high nose, small face… This almost became a “must” standard for the majority to judge on others, they call it “Score of Face.”

I think this is a funny, ridiculous and creepy phenomenon that people want to fit the arbitrary standard of beauty, and eventually they almost all look the same.





Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

王八蛋 Son of a bitch

A “wángbādàn 忘/王八蛋” is the offspring of a woman lacking virtue. Another meaning of 王八 is 鼈 biē, fresh-water turtle.[4] Turtle heads reemerging from hiding in the turtle’s shell look like the glans emerging from the foreskin, and turtles lay eggs. So a “wang ba” is a woman who has lost her virtue, and a “wang ba dan” is the progeny of such a woman, a turtle product, but, figuratively, also a penis product.

This profanity term has actually been widely used in China for many years, and it is a pretty offensive one to use. I find in both western and eastern culture, it is considered to be very offensive one when the subject is related to close family members.



吃土 Eat Dust

吃土 “Eat Dust” is a popular phrase that Chinese people started to use a lot on the Internet since 2015.

There are several different interpretations of this simple phrase:
1. the mostly recognized one is that people use it to make fun of themselves that they are too poor to buy food, so the only thing they could eat is the dust.

2. the word could also be used to attack other people, just like an euphemistic way to ask them to “eat shit.”

3. some video gamers use it because when their characters defeated in game, they will usually fall off and face to the ground, looks just like they’re eating the dust.


If we bring this cyber word to a lager context of real world Chinese society, this could also reflects the very imbalance of money holding right now in China. Even though it’s a decade that plenty of opportunities are coming up for people to make money, there are still a large amount of people in China don’t have a good living condition, whereas Internet becomes a perfect platform for them to release their stress.


folk metaphor

安利 Amway/Brainwash

This word is also a very popular phrase that has been widely used online for these couple years in China.
The word now means strongly recommending somebody to do something.
Usually the person who uses it personally likes the subject so much and therefore wants to share with others so badly.
The interesting thing is, the word itself actually originates from an American marketing company Amway, the sub company of which has a huge reputation for being overly persuasive when they try to sell their products in China. Then people started making fun of that company and using the word “安利” (Amway) as a verb instead of a noun to describe the behavior of strongly recommending others to try something.
Moreover, as the word has been widely spread on the Internet, it tends to mean more like “brainwash” when people use it for fun.

MLG Remixes

The informant is a 19-year old college student.


BW: An MLG Remix is hard to explain.. It’s like,, making fun of the culture of like middle schoolers on Xbox Live, and everything around that. There are these gaming channels on Youtube that celebrate the highlights in a game of Call of Duty or Battlefield or something–usually CoD, and then set it to Dubstep music. MLG Remixes make fun of that by adding lots of really loud dubstep, a bunch of songs piled on top each other ’till you can’t even hear them… and also a bunch of other symbols and reoccurring.. “motifs” you can call them. Like Mountain Dew, Taco Bell, Snoop Dogg, smoking weed–they usually all show up in these MLG Remix videos. They’re meant to be funny too, like over-the-top, hyper-crazy, ironic.

What does MLG stand for?

BW: Major League Gaming. That’s the whole crowd that they make fun of, because they’re so serious about video games.


Various MLG Remixes:


Life cycle

Dixie Cup Ness

Informant is a facebook page that regularly posts memes. As the page’s primary following is teens and young adults, most of their content is humor based on 1990’s & 2000’s American youth culture.

Dixie Cup Ness

This particular post shows Ness, a character known from successful Nintendo game ‘Super Smash Bros Melee,’ with a retro Dixie cup print on his clothes. By combining the popular 2001 video game character with the distinct folk pattern of 2000’s school cafeteria cups, this satirical image is aimed to evoke nostalgia.