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Cryptid – Goatman
Goatmanvia YouTube

Cryptozoology: Inside the online communities hunting for strange creatures

Social media is abuzz with stories of urban legends such as Bigfoot and Moth Man – but what about these cryptid sightings feels so relevant now?

It’s 4AM in the backwaters of Reddit and a user who goes by the name u/truthisfiction has shared a post about a cannibalistic race of hairy hominids native to Sri Lanka. There’s no scientific evidence of the Nittaewo, though its existence can be traced across Veddha mythology and local folklore. “Different cultures around the world have a shared story of hominids being forced into a cave and burned to death by humans,” writes the user. A flurry of comments and upvotes fill the thread with similar stories of strange creatures whose existence has yet to be proven. 

For anyone who’s ever found themselves falling into online wormholes of the supernatural kind, the subreddit r/cryptozoology is full of weird gems like the Nittaewo. The page is a go-to for cryptid enthusiasts, AKA animals who aren’t yet recognised by science, and attracts the sort of hyper-dedicated internet nerds who, like me, enjoy the stranger side of online discourse. “I love the thought that there were animals out there that escaped our discovery. Scientists estimate that we’ll never know about the vast majority of animals because they went extinct before we discovered them and didn’t leave behind any fossils,” says the anonymous u/truthisfiction, who moderates the page.

Cryptozoology is generally considered a fringe science, and such accounts of fantastical beasts are met with disbelief across the wider scientific community. It’s safe to assume that many of these accounts are in fact hoaxes, yet for many cryptozoology fans, the fun is in the unknown. To imagine the cryptid – a creature that is by definition unknowable – demands us to suspend real-world rules and immerse ourselves in the fantasy of what’s ‘out there’. Each like, post and share adds to the online lore surrounding these creatures, with users swapping grainy shots of bug-eyed creatures with the same unbridled enthusiasm as a UFOlogist tracking down non-human biologics. “The number of people here is amazing,” u/truthisfiction gushes. “I’ve been able to talk to people from all over the world about their local wildlife and cryptids. I’ve even been sent reports of new cryptids or new reports of older cryptids, like giant frogs in New Guinea or deadly fish in Sudan.”

With over 2.3 billion likes on TikTok, cryptid sightings are gaining popularity there too, though admittedly the attention is less on the creatures themselves, and more on the aesthetic surrounding them. In these clips, users romanticise hunting for Bigfoot in the Great American Outdoors, with much of the aesthetic drawing from paranormal pop culture shows such as Twin Peaks and The X-Files. The term cryptidcore is an extension of this, spawning countless get-ready-with-me videos of people dressed in cargo pants and utility gear, usually juxtaposed with images of newspaper clippings, detective ‘crazy’ walls and vintage snaps of small town outskirts. There’s even an Aesthetics Wiki entry about the aesthetic, which lists the following attributes: dark forests, VHS tapes, kitschy t-shirts, alien imagery, supernatural tourist traps, tin hats.

For the Average Moth Man Enjoyer, these clips are the perfect entry point into the weirder corners of social media, characterised by online trends such as #weirdcore – an aesthetic centred on low-quality visuals that evoke feelings of disorientation, dread and alienation. Stories of Jersey devils, frogmen and folk creatures follow a similar memetic pattern to URL urban legends such as The Backrooms or zalgo text – both core characteristics of liminal TikTok – their uncanny ability to conjure an alienated familiarity in the user. 

Yet there’s more to these videos than a collective thrust towards the strange and surreal. The desire to uncover hidden truths extends across our post-truth landscape, from the tin-hat conspiracies we consume, to our ongoing fascination with creepypastas like Slenderman and Loab, and the UFOria sweeping across the mainstream. Similarly, we cannot fully comprehend the cryptid because it exists outside the human world. Like Mark Fisher’s notion of the weird – that which “allows us to see the inside from the perspective of the outside” – the cryptid functions as a cosmic fiction, unlocking the “shadow-haunted Outside” that lurks on the peripheries of our imagination.

Our fascination with strange creatures seems more relevant than ever at a time when rapid advancements in technology are plunging us into cosmic freefall, and the conditions of post-capitalism feel like an insidious intrusion on our wellbeing. In his 1933 essay Some Notes on a Nonentity, HP Lovecraft writes, “the punch of a truly weird tale is simply some violation or transcending of fixed cosmic law – an imaginative escape from palling reality”. So, perhaps the cryptid is a reminder of the weird reality we currently inhabit; it skulks the corners of our minds with cryptic utterances of a world beyond our own.

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