USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Squidward’s Suicide

Squidward’s Suicide is an urban legend surrounding the Nickelodeon children’s television show, Spongebob Squarepants (referencing the character “Squidward”).


BA: So, the story goes, that there was an intern at Nickelodeon; I think he just started working there, and he was really excited about it, I guess. And during one of the episodes, when they’re watching the..I think it was the final cut before air, I guess… And they were looking at the timestamps, and they saw it was edited only a few seconds before they watched it–basically the times of them editing it didn’t match up, and they realized. So, it starts out kind of normal, but something’s off: the eyes of all the characters are hyperreal–like not real, but not exactly CGI. But that’s, “that’s whatever”. SO they keep watching, and it’s an episode where Squidward has a performance (Squidward is a musician). He really f***** it up, it was really bad. But the booing was really intense, it was very unsettling.

Do you know if that was intended by the animators, or if that part just showed up?

BA: Oh, no no no, it was not intentional. The part where the eyes were hypperreal, that was not supposed to happen. The part where the booing was really unsettling, that was not supposed to happen. But, whatever, it happens. So, he’s in his house. And he’s sobbing. Sobbing uncontrollably. Then those sobs turn to screeches, and again, very unsettling–oh, it’s something like… there’s a noise that happens, that doesn’t sound like speaker noise, if that makes sense. So, the animators hear that and they’re like “so, this is super weird”. And I guess the creepiest part is that there are frames that are intercut into the episode of, like, dead children, who are completely maimed with their eyes falling out. And it looks like a crime scene, except there’s no tape or chalk, so it looks like whoever did it took those pictures. And they played it back, and they could see the kid move between frames, and they could tell he was still alive. Then, at the end of the episode, Squidward kills himself, and we don’t know where all the changes to the editing came in.


There are several variations to this story: In some versions, the episode was sent on a disk from the serial killer in Scotland to Nickelodeon, where an intern played it and later gave it to higher-ups for investigation by law enforcement. There’s also a version where the disk was made by a disgruntled ex-employee of Nickeoleon looking for revenge by broadcasting images of murdered children on a children’s network. Either way, this legend has circulated on the internet and even inspired some animators to recreate the episode based off the legend, then post those images to falsely prove that the legend is real.



Polybius is an urban legend videogame–meaning a video game that is only rumored to have existed.


What’s Polybius?

BA: Polybius is a video game, supposedly made by SEGA, that caused the kids to play it to have seizures. They say there’s only been one Polybius cabinet–this was the 80s, when games were in cabinets in arcades, like Pac Man and Asteroids and stuff…and this cabinet was in Portland.

Why was there only one cabinet?

BA: There was only one cabinet, because that’s how they tested the game before release. It was a big game by a big company, and it used new graphics technology, so they just secretly tested it under a fake name…if the game passed testing, it wouldn’t be called “Polybius”. But… the kids who played it got addicted to it and had seizures. People reported seeing men in suits watching them play, and some say it was the United States government watching to see the effect of the game, to somehow use it as a weapon. Anyway, they scrapped the game and hid it from the records once the kids had seizures, so they couldn’t get any bad press, so nobody’s heard of it since.


The mystery of Polybius originated on the internet in discussion boards in 1998. It’s since snowballed to a huge essential question: “Is Polybius real or fake?”. Some claim that it is a fabricated story based on the overwhelmingly negative reception of the early testing stages of Tempest, while others claim to have been part of the developer team responsible for the game.

There are some slight references to Polybius in popular culture, such as a background joke in The Simpsons and the plot of a long-cancelled G4 series, Blister


Getting “Rick Rolled”

On sites like YouTube, it has been customary to “Rick Roll” someone who is looking for specific content/video. Often, when someone is searching for something of interest online, it is common to click on a seemingly relevant link to instead find the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 song “Never Gonna Give You Up” playing. Even though this prank is harmless, it tends to be incredibly frustrating for its victims, as they are left feeling deceived and without whatever it is they were looking for. For the pranksters who are uploading these videos intentionally, this prank is quite entertaining because it allows them to feel that they have tricked a complete stranger.

The informant, Ian, is a 21-year-old university student who considers himself a gamer and internet enthusiast. He was first introduced to this phenomenon in the 9th grade after attempting to find a video he had been looking for on YouTube. He admits that while it can be frustrating to fall victim to it, it is still highly entertaining because it is so unexpected. He also enjoys how silly the video seems compared to today’s music videos. To him, the trend is interesting because it represents the randomness of and complete lack of control over the internet.

This phenomenon is fascinating because of its unpredictable nature. In American society, people tend to value completely understanding their actions and being able to predict their consequences. It is because of this that these videos are so disconcerting. We are so used to being able to easily find what we are looking for that it is genuinely surprising when something completely irrelevant shows up instead.

The relevant video can be found here:


Chain Emails

Chain emails are emails that are sent to several recipients so that more people eventually receive the message. They appear while individuals are checking their inboxes. Often, these emails contain messages contain requests asking recipients to forward the email to others. These can manifest in many ways. For example, one may offer a funny joke and ask that it be shared with the recipient’s friends. Others threaten recipients with bad luck unless they share the story included with someone else. Some may even offer monetary rewards in return for passing the email along.

The informant, Ian, is a 21-year-old university student who considers himself a gamer and internet enthusiast. Ian initially received one of these emails soon after creating his first email account while in middle school. He feels that most of these emails are frustrating scams, since they often ask for private information and the email addresses of others so that the senders can have more victims to spam. He was taught this idea by his parents, who had been using email accounts for much longer than he had. Over time, Ian has programmed the junk inbox in his email account to detect and delete these messages, since they are impossible to predict and completely avoid.

This phenomenon is fascinating because it represents a negative aspect of the internet that we have become accustomed to. Because so many of us have come to expect these emails, we have learned to simply accept them as an unavoidable nuisance, even though the true intentions of the senders can be quite nefarious in nature. The internet is not that old, so it is interesting to see that so many have accepted its unpleasant features without attacking their sources head on in order to end them.

Examples of Email Chains can be seen here:

Imler, Dan, Ben Nagy, TaraLyn Riordan, and Asmeret Tekeste-Green. “Examples of Chain Letters.” Folklore and the Internet. Miami University, 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Folk speech

The “Trollface”

The “trollface” is a popular image that can be found online. It is meant to represent the face an internet “troll”, or prankster, makes after playing a prank on another. The image often appears on an online discussion when an individual intentionally interrupts the flow of the conversation by mischievously misdirecting the original poster. The image usually follows one of these situations, indicating that a trick has been pulled. Sometimes, the image includes intentionally misspelled words or grammatical errors in order to frustrate readers even more. Because of the negative connotation surrounding it, the image can be frustrating for those who had been taking the conversation seriously.

The informant, Ian, is a 21-year-old university student who considers himself a gamer and internet enthusiast. The image has a special place in his heart, as it is one of the first internet memes that he encountered in his younger years. He learned about the image after seeing it posted in the popular comedy website, where many similar humorous images and videos are posted. For Ian, this image in particular is entertaining because it represents the triviality of the many arguments that internet posters have. He argues that after coming across so many useless and childish arguments that people on the internet have, it is refreshing to see someone mess with them with a quick joke and the posting of the image.

What is interesting about this image is the fact a simple image that used to be insignificant has gathered much connotation and meaning. Even though the image was posted by a single individual, thousands of people came together online to assign a definition and purpose to it. Because of this, the image should be considered a strong indicator of the collaborative nature of the internet.




“Swatting” on the Internet

Swatting is the act of pulling a prank on another by falsely reporting serious threats such as incidences of domestic violence, shootings, and hostage situations to the police. Using altered caller IDs and voice modification devices to conceal their identity, these pranksters use these terrifying threats to mobilize police forces into entering the homes of and arresting the chosen victims.

The term “swatting” was coined by the FBI in 2008, when the phenomenon began gaining serious popularity. Typically, this prank is pulled within the online gaming community while gamers are using Twitch, a website used to livestream a gamer’s playthrough of a game to the entire world. Because these livestreams can be so popular, it has become customary to swat a gamer while he or she is using a digital camera to stream his/her face. This way, thousands of people around the world can watch as a person is aggressively arrested and charged for a horrible crime. Often, the videos recorded from these events are posted onto YouTube, where many who find the prank amusing decide to participate in it themselves.

The informant, Ian, is a 21-year-old university student who considers himself a gamer and internet enthusiast. He knew a victim of this prank in high school, and has since maintained interest in the internet phenomena. While Ian considers the act terrible, he is still fascinated by the immorality of those who partake in it. Although he sees the activity as an awful internet trend, he watches videos of it because he is intrigued by the violence surrounding it.

As someone who has grown up with the internet as its culture has become more advanced and developed, it is quite interesting to see how dark some of its aspects have become. Although the internet can be very personal, the popularity of this activity is likely a result of the lack of face to face contact between those interacting on it. When a prankster cannot physically see the long-term consequences of his or her actions, it becomes easier to commit to the act. This is probably why so many have swatted others.

More information concerning this subject can be found here:

Mench, Chris. “What Is Swatting, and What Does It Tell Us About the Internet’s Worst Qualities?” Complex, 25 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Examples of this phenomenon can be seen here:

CrowbCat. “10 Streamers Get Swatted Live.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

I’m Still on Dial Up

The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.

This piece compares the inability to think quickly to dial up Internet.

“I’m just not fully functional. I’m still booting up—I’m like on dial up speed, honestly. I guess there’s, like an example, you know. That reference to dial up. You know what I’m staying, though? You need to know what dial up is in order to, you know.”


This is an example of terminus post quem, as both dial up Internet and wifi needed to exist for this reference to make sense. In order for this metaphor to be successful, both the speaker and the listened would need to be aware of the different in speed from dial up to wifi. This ties the reference to the 21st century, and as time passes, it would seem likely that dial up would be referenced less and less.



In Conclusion I Am Bitter



Pepe the Frog

The meme: “It’s like a frog cartoon that…people use as a reaction image…I don’t know??? Some people use it to express sadness.”

The informant is a college student who gets on Tumblr every day, regardless of having a love-hate relationship with it; the website is where she first encountered Pepe the Frog, but she says that she sees it used on Twitter as well. When I asked her what she thought when she first saw it, she said, “That it was another dumb meme.” I then asked her if she knew the exact origin of Pepe the Frog, to which she responded, “No, Amanda.” Further research on the website shows that “Pepe the Frog is an anthropomorphic frog character from the comic series Boy’s Club by Matt Furie. On 4chan, various illustrations of the frog creature have been used as reaction faces, including Feels Good Man, Sad Frog, Angry Pepe, Smug Frog and Well Meme’d.” The meme has spread very rapidly in the last year. This is probably due to the popularity of Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit recently. Even if people don’t know the exact origin, they find it funny and worthy of using. The Internet is a weird place.


Folk speech

Leauge of Legends – Slang Words and Memes

About the Interviewed: Jared is a sophomore at the University of Southern California, studying Finance. At the time of this interview, he is also my roommate. His ethnic background is distinctively Chinese, and his parents are first-generation American immigrants. He is 20 years old.

At this point of the interview, I highlighted upon my roommate’s love of League of Legends, a massively popular online computer game.

Jared: “League of Legends is an extremely popular game. People play it all over the world. You play it by choosing a hero and joining a team. You have to help your team defeat the other team. It’s pretty simple.”

I ask him about any slang words or unique vernacular he may have encountered while playing such a globally accessed game.

Jared: “Sure. There’s a ton of humor and inside jokes between people who play the game. Internet memes and things like that are pretty popular on there. Aside from basic things like, LOL and WTF, League has other things. A few of the more recent ones- one of them is like, BM, which stands for Bad-Mannered, it’s like when you do things out of line, or sabotage the team, that’s what BM means.”

I ask him if it came about as a result of cooperative play. 

Jared: “Yeah pretty much. Another one is ‘GG, no RE’, I don’t know if you’ve heard that, it means “Good Game, no Rematch”, if you want a rematch, you just type RE.”

I ask if he thinks that these phrases came from the community or the people who made the game.

Jared: “They’re probably from the community – thousands of people play the game everyday. There’s actually a meme going around right now – LOMO. There was a guy on one of the Chinese teams – Vasili – instead of typing L.M.A.O. [Laughing My Ass Off] he kept typing L.O.M.O, so people have been saying LOMO a lot lately.”

Here, I ask Jared if he thinks that League’s multi-regional nature contributes to the evolution of these slang terms and jokes.

Jared: “Totally, yeah, It’s always changing.”


Players of the popular online game “League of Legends” has developed a number of slang terms and abbreviations as a response to the rapidly evolving culture of the game.

 Games like “League of Legends”, that have large, active global communities, are sources of evolving culture. In order to make the game more efficient, players invented terminology to keep things fluid – terminology that can be recognized almost universally, from players in America to players in Korea. The Internet is full of subcultures such as this, but League’s mass popularity ensures that its culture is always on the move.