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is facebook stalking ruining your life?

‘Facebook stalking’ isn’t much like real stalking. Real stalking is where you follow someone around, look through their windows, trawl through their garbage cans and whisper their name until you fall asleep. Facebook stalking, however, involves looking up someone on Facebook, either by looking at their profile (if you’re their ‘friend’) or by looking at what they are posting on other people’s walls and looking at the pictures others have uploaded of them. But, despite these differences, while Facebook stalking is much less creepy than ordinary stalking, both have the same end in mind. That is, both involve finding out information about someone.

Facebook stalking is complicated by user privacy settings. For instance, people make it so that you cannot view any personal data (apart from name, friends, a photo and a birthdate) unless the person agrees to let you (by friending you). Additionally, even if they do friend you, they can create a specific user group for you and can block certain contact from you. There are, of course, ways around this.

People can spend tremendous amounts of time checking up on their partner’s profile and analysing every exchange they may have with another potential mate that is available. Alternatively, people can look up people they are curious about but feel as though they can’t friend, like an ex-partner’s new partner, by friending the friends of this person or by creating a false account that the ‘stalkee’ can friend.

Generally, people who stalk others on facebook don’t want others to know that they are doing it. However, there are exceptions. For instance, if you have a mutual friend with the person you would like to facebook stalk, you can do so by asking them to show you the information in which you seek.

Ironically though, while information is available on Facebook, if you are prone to Facebook stalking, whatever happens to be on there will not be enough to appease you. The problem is this: if you find something, it won’t feel like enough. This is because even though you may have found a bit of information, you won’t be able to access the full context in which the information exists. For example, say you’re a girl in a heterosexual relationship, you find a photo of your boyfriend with his arms around another girl. You were worried that he was cheating on you, so this gives you evidence, right? Well, not really. What if she was very drunk and just about to fall over? Or what if this photo was taken before you had started dating? Finding this bit of information merely compels you to look for more information which might help you decide whether or not he is cheating.

The problem is, on Facebook you can only ever find little bits of information, small re-tellings, a photographic glimpse of a moment, not enough to be able to decide on anything. The internet can be a pretty ambiguous place. It’s difficult to trace sarcasm or seriousness, whether somebody is being rude or playful, or even whether a photo means that someone is cheating on you or merely in the same room as someone else.

Another reason why it’s unsatisfying is because when you don’t know what kind of information you’re looking for in the first place, you are likely to find nothing. When you ask yourself why you may be finding nothing, the following questions may come up: ‘am I unable to find something because it was so incriminating that they deleted it?’ or ‘did they put me in a different user group so that I couldn’t see certain things?’ The cycle of a desperate hunt for information that may not even exist continues.

Additionally, sometimes the answers simply can’t be on Facebook. For instance, if you’re trying to find information about a new partner of an ex-partner, you need to examine the reason why you’re doing this. Mild curiosity is one thing, but if it’s becoming obsessive, then it may be that you haven’t found closure in your previous relationship and you need to figure out what you weren’t that this new person is, to understand why the relationship failed. The truth is though, knowing all about the new partner isn’t going to get your relationship back and it isn’t going to help you seem like someone ready for a new relationship.

And the result? Some people, in order to feel as though they can continue on with life without drama and the compulsion to gather information on other people, they need to quit facebook. This may well be extreme given facebook’s great power in connecting with old friends and arranging your social life. Becoming addicted, or obsessed, is a real possibility though, and facebook is a platform that perfectly facilitates neuroses of this kind.

2 thoughts on “is facebook stalking ruining your life?

  1. Pingback: Some More Shameless Self-Promotion « Think of pretty things

  2. You raise a really good point in this – you can never find out everything about a person from facebook and thus ‘stalking’ can never really have a satisfying end.

    I think there are an additional two issues here though (probably a ton more, but I’m just going to raise two); one is that real stalking instills a great deal more fear in the object of the stalking than facebook does. I’ve never heard of someone face-stalking me, but the lack of effort that it involves means it’s usually pretty harmless. A tool for procrastination rather than overt obsession with a person. I’d probably be kind of flattered if someone started talking to me about things that I’ve listed as interests on my facebook page because they were interested in me, though I doubt I’d ever be self-indulgent enough to assume that was where they’d gotten this information from. I’d just think we were kindred spirits (which is probably where a lot of the appeal in this lies).

    The other factor is that in daily life, there are certain things people need to do to function. They need to take the rubbish out, so they can’t really do a lot to avoid someone looking through theirs. They need to get from place to place, so they can’t really do a lot to make someone not follow them (this is excluding things like AVOs and angry warnings from gruff sounding men). But the individual is entirely in control of what they put on their facebook page. Many of us spend a lot of time perusing people’s profiles and can accordingly assume that others will, at some point, do it to us. We are essentially presenting our ideal selves to the world via facebook, I’d even go so far as to say we WANT them to have this information, otherwise you’d just delete your account or limit the ways in which you use it. It’s become an integral part of the way we communicate, but people can remove the ability to post on their wall, remove their events rather than responding to them etc etc.

    Still, it’s a waste of time, and this projected image of oneself is actually another reason that facebook stalking is a useless pursuit. We’re never going to know the person from their profiles, we’re only going to know what they want us to know, and they’re going to conceal all the juicy/undesirable bits anyway.

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