Halloween season is a good time to check out the ghosts of YouTube, which is really watching videos that claim to show supernatural activity. There are a lot of these videos, some first person and others presented in a documentary style. Some are spooky and sometimes scary. Sometimes a ghost is seen and other times is of the poltergeist variety. Since we are limited by what is shown, and cannot verify the circumstances of the incident, one must be cautious in accepting them as truth. It is very easy to post images that look real but are not.
Consider Slender Man , a fictional character created by Eric Knudsen who posted them under the name of Victor Surge in the Something Awful forum. It became wildly popular and fed into the Shadow Men stories that you read in ghost forums or hear on radio shows like Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Another one I viewed appeared to have an office being ransacked by an invisible entity. Chairs were moved, file cabinets opened and closed, in basket contents tossed on floor and doors being closed. Except nothing shown could be proven as supernatural. Special effects people have been doing this stuff for years in movies and tv shows.
One of the more popular videos concerns a screaming ghost at a hotel. Our point of view are security cameras and we hear the voice of someone talking to another party about screaming sounds coming from a room no one is occupying. So a man is dispatched to check it out. We see him exit the elevator and head towards the room. Not only does he hear the screams, but we do as well. Which is odd since the security cameras have no microphones, so we must be hearing them from the man outside the room. His communication device looks like a standard hand-held device which requires you to press a button to talk. He might be pushing the button to allow us to listen but we cannot really hear what he is saying as the dispatcher is relaying what the person is saying to another party. The room is supposed to be empty and screams are coming from it. At this point you have no idea what is on the other side of the door. It could be someone depressed, in a state of inebriation, or someone high on drugs. The dispatcher advises the man to wait and call the police, which is the sensible course of action here.
For reasons unexplained, the man enters the room anyway using a flashlight. Now why did he not turn on the lights? Some speculate he could not do that as the room key activates the lights. Even if that were true, that would be reason to wait for the police to arrive. You have no idea what is in there. The reason he enters the room is obvious: there is nothing in the room nor any sounds to frighten him. If he felt threatened in any way, he would wait for police. As it turns out the room has been trashed: carpets slashed, furniture tossed, and a shower running. We see a silhouette of something that could be a ghost exit the room and turn left. A light flickers on the right but not in the corridor where the entity is moving down. It looks like someone used the room for an illegal party, something hotels and motels deal with a lot. And why would a ghost bother to rip up a room in the first place? In the end you are left with more questions than answers and likely the film is an amateur attempt at showing a ghost (a grade d production) on film.
There is another that claims a poltergeist has scared a dog and man. The man finds one of his dogs cowering under the bed and later hears a crashing noise coming from the attic. He investigates and finds something or someone has been going through his stuff. He puts down his camera and walks around. A large can sitting on luggage topples over and he runs away leaving his camera behind. The lights go out and then we see a motion, likely a gloved hand, striking the can. Poltergeist? Not likely. Using night vision is popular too since it allows you to see things that cannot normally be seen in the dark because it amplifies light from the lower end of the spectrum. So naturally a ghost might be seen except the one I saw appeared as a black object (an image of a woman in 19th or early 20th century clothes). While everything else was amplified, the apparition appeared as a black image being superimposed on the night vision image, which made me suspect it was a fraud.
Not everything is a fraud, some purported images can be nothing more than tricks of light, dust particles, and sometimes our desire to find a ghost. In other words we see something we do not understand and think it might be ghostly. Perhaps it or is not. I have no idea whether ghosts are real or not but one must carefully examine evidence and exclude everything plausible to end up believing it was a ghost. Ghost hunters love to go to houses, cemeteries, and other places to find ghosts. And they often claim they do. Except as Paul McCaffrey notes in Skeptical Briefs*, most do not use the proper scientific method. In his study of an alleged haunted Harper’s Mansion in Australia, the team spent a lot of time examining the environmental conditions over a longer period of time than most ghost hunters do. This allowed them to have a baseline of what is normal for the house and what would stand out. They had teams check out everything, cameras to record movement, sensors to detect changes in temperature. The house was made secure so no one could enter or leave during the tests and drapes closed. They did this for four months. And while there were times that could have shown something out of the ordinary, examination of the audio and video data did not find evidence of supernatural activity. There were no unexplained disturbances on the audio or visual recordings, Unusual noise often turned out to be something outside like a car, dog, people talking, footsteps, or wood cracking.
So in the end the ghosts of YouTube can be fun and scary too watch, just remember that a lot of it is just entertainment. Especially the ones that say they are true.
*The Harper’s Mansion Ghost Study (Paul McCaffrey, Skeptical Briefs, Newsletter of the Committer For Skeptical Inquiry,Vol. 24 No. 3, Fall 2014)