Once you stalk the fun don’t stop

Human beings are starting to become really creepy.  Voyeuristic tendencies have always run rampant in our DNA, but the advent of social media networking sites prove just how nosy we’ve become.  The proof of our voyeuristic tendencies lies within the hours we spend on twitter and Facebook, following users who don’t follow us back, browsing profiles of mere acquaintances pondering for hours whether or not it would be prudent to send them a request…ever had an awkward moment where somebody tells you something about themselves and you have to act like you are really surprised but of course you’re not surprised because you’ve been checking their profile every day for the last week and know everything there is to know about them? I’m not talking about voyeurism in the traditional sense that we derive sexual pleasure from creeping on people’s SNS profiles/walls all the time, but we definitely derive some weird/awkward/potentially harmful pleasure out of gawking at pictures of people we hardly know, used to know, or want to know for hours on end.  We laugh off our weird obsession with following people and say “I’m such a Facebook stalker hahahaha” or “So is it bad I was like totally stalking the profile of the guy I met last Friday at the game to see if he had a girlfriend?” — the justifications endless. I’m not out to ask the question, “which came first, the internet or the stalker?” I’m here to talk about how we’ve always been, well, creepy, when it comes to our interpersonal relationships and that  media is now making it a lot easier.

Social media has definitely changed the landscape of our relationships; it has eradicated the geographical barriers of privacy.  Whereas once stalking was reserved for the (presumably) criminally insane, it is now utilized (in varying degrees) by millions of SNS users.  Once again, I’m not referring to stalking in illegal terms necessarily, it can also be used in reference to somebody looking through all of their best friend’s photo albums online (all 147 of them).  What really got me interested in this subject is not only knowing avid “Facebook stalkers” (who I also like to call girls), but was the discovery of Tweetstalk. Tweetstalk is a social media tool that allows people to stalk people’s profiles on twitter without having to follow them.  I found this very interesting that 1) this app exists anyways because relationships on Twitter do NOT have to be mutual and 2) that the name of the app itself is referring to the tendency users of technology have to silently stalk people.

In “Why Facebook Breeds Voyeurism” a user named Rachel deleted her Facebook account because she recognized the tendency she had to wasting time stalking people online. Stephen Chukumba then theorized that Facebook allows users to take part in “mass social voyeurism“.  Chukumba’s definition implies that Facebook makes people voyeurs because they can “anonymously sit and watch people broadcast their lives to the world.”  Chukumba also touches upon what I think the cause of Facebook stalking is, people wanting to rejoice in other people’s misery, or decay at somebody else’s success.  Relatively, Facebook stalking is harmless; you find out that your ex-boyfriend has a new girlfriend and (it sucks) but she has flawless skin and a great body, so you look at all of her pictures wondering if you had had her skin he would have stayed with you (pathetic, but not altogether not normal).

So we see that anonymity has become huge in social networking.  In the case of Facebook, it seems to be a by-product of the site itself; you know users, and through interactions with those users you may find other users that you don’t necessarily know but you can stalk with ease.  Nancy Baym talks about the prevalence of anonymity with respect to honesty in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age.  While Baym is talking about user participation in social networking sites, as opposed to people who are purposefully stalking user profiles, what she says about anonymity is applicable to both situations: she talks about the “sense of safety” in anonymous sites (116); she found that anonymous users tend to be “socially anxious and lonely” (116); from a psychological standpoint this makes sense; it would seem that the people who spend so much time stalking other people’s profiles or walls probably spend more time on the computer than talking to them in real life.  In fact, that’s what makes the whole cyberstalking thing so creepy; it wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary to talk to somebody who goes to the same school as you, works at the same place that you do, etc, but when replacing mere introductory conversation with hours of Facebook stalking it begs to be asked what has been changed in our interpersonal relationships?  Why do we feel more secure now stalking somebody’s profile that we kind of know as opposed to saying hi, or mentioning that you have mutual friends if you ever see them in person.

I think Baym hits this point when she talks about the ambiguity of the word “friend” in reference to SNS sites.  Baym says that because “friends in SNS can be strangers, admirers, confidants, co-workers, family, and a host of other relationship types, yet all be called the same thing on the site, it triggers inevitable confusion (145).”  It is this ambiguity in the nature of who is truly a friend and who is a mere acquaintance that helped spawned the term “Facebook stalking”; if you were restricted to only being able to connect with people that were without a doubt your real life best friends, then browsing their profiles wouldn’t exactly be stalking.  Stalking is reserved for people who “account for the behaviors of “friends” they barely know” (146.)

This also came up in the movie Life 2.0 which detailed the habits of 3 chronic Second Life users.  One user decided to delete his female avatar Ayya.  When Ayya was saying goodbye to her friends in Second Life, one other avatar was commenting on how upon meeting Ayya she just knew she was a girl and immediately had a strong bond with her.  It is this situational irony that simultaneously makes us laugh and pity the poor avatar.  This avatar was completely deceived by somebody because anonymity online is so easy; it helps us create fake identities, and helps us creep on the identities of others without them knowing.  We laugh off stalking or the stupidity of others who’ve been duped by online liars, but is that okay?  Baym states that the “norms that guide which media people use and for what purposes are still unclear” (149).  We think online stalking is acceptable, but will it always be? Baym says that as societies,”we will surely reach an operational consensus on these matters (149)” but I’m still not so sure.

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5 Comments

  1. I recently tweeted something that is almost word for word what you said at the beginning of your post! I think I tweeted something like, “OMG I forgot to pretend that I didn’t know a very specific, random fact about this person and now I seem creepy.” Of course, I’m sure I worded in on Twitter in a more witty and captivating way. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice this in your post: “‘Facebook stalkers’ (who I also like to call girls)…” I realize this is a minor statement in relation to your entire post, but I would be very careful in suggesting that the majority of Facebook stalkers are girls. In a way, it kind of goes against a major idea in your post, which is that basically everyone on Facebook stalks. In fact, stalking seems to be what Facebook is used for more than anything. When I actually stop and think about what I do when I log in to Facebook, I may chat with a few friends and post something on someone’s wall, but about 85% of the time I’m just scrolling through my feed and people’s walls, posts, pictures, and whatever else they choose to share. Is that what Facebook stalking is? It would be interesting to find out what group of users “stalk” the most intensely, but I can definitely think of several males who engage in Facebook stalking.

    Great job! Your post was very thought-provoking.

    Reply
  2. Wow, I definitely had no idea that things like Tweetstalk exist–though I guess it’s not really that surprising that there are technological affordances for secret stalking. I think that whole aspect of “background research” has become engrained in our generational concepts of dating, or really relationships of any kind. I feel like to a certain extent, it’s to be expected in this world where we meet dates online and through friends of friends; it makes sense to check out the background of the total stranger you’re about to meet. But then it’s just a bit awkward when we then cater our conversations to go with their interests, possibly going so far as to making connections that aren’t necessarily as real as we though, but rather primed by our online investigations. I think it’s important to look at the different ways in which people “facebook stalk” to see the impact of that act. Then there’s the issue of those people whose online profiles don’t at all resemble their real life? It’s scary to think that even after all this research online we may know nothing about the real person. But when it comes down to it, I can’t deny how entertaining SNS stalking can be.

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  3. You bring up something very interesting when you ask “…what has been changed in our interpersonal relationships?,” and hit on something that I’ve been curious about myself lately. It’s clear that SNS have changed the way we interact with each other, which I believe has had both positive and negative affects. On the bright side, even on SNS that are as large as Facebook, it does give us all a community to belong to. I often find myself bonding with both good friends and acquaintances over things we have experienced or witnessed online. Most importantly, and the most obviously, it helps us stay in touch with people we would probably not come in contact with very often. Thus, when we do see each other, I believe our interpersonal relationships actually feel much stronger than they probably would otherwise. Although you may not see someone for two years, the fact that they’ve been popping up on your newsfeed and sharing their life with you (whether they realize you’re “watching” or not,) makes you feel more connected with them immediately. While it may feel “creepy” to know so much about someone’s life who you haven’t spoken to in so long, it is in reality just a part of the digital age and its not going to disappear anytime soon. I think in the next ten years or so when younger generations who have had SNS in their lives probably since they first started using the Internet grow up, the concept of “stalking” will somewhat fade away as it becomes such a normal occurrence. Unfortunately, I think this has a lot of negative implications when it comes to growing up. It seems you’re no longer allowed to experience “awkward stages” without everyone watching and lets face it, kids are mean. They often say things without understanding the consequences, and giving them a computer to hide behind can lead to catastrophe. The number of suicides committed by young adults who were bullied online is astounding. While society does seem to be working on changing that, I don’t know if its something we will ever fully be able to. Bullying has existed probably as long as man has, and as we know, the anonymity of the online world has seemed to breathe a new light into it. This worries me when I think about how much words hurt, and how much worse they hurt when they are permanent, as most things online are.

    I seemed to have somewhat rambled into a whole (doubt that surprises any of you…) but overall, I wonder what the effects of the online world and the ability to experience interpersonal communication in so many different ways might affect us mentally. As a college student with a pretty level head on my shoulders, I feel comfortable experiencing SNS. However, thinking of younger SNS users scares me for them. Growing up and learning to deal with different kinds of people is tough enough.. throw the Internet into the equation and it can become seemingly impossible. When the ability to “stalk” starts so young, it brings in many different avenues of finding something negative to discuss both in person and online.

    As you and I both know, I think its safe to say that the Internet isn’t going anywhere. Thus, I think now more than ever it is vital that we teach children and young adults the importance of the good old golden rule, to treat others as you would wish to be treated. While interpersonal relationships have certainly changed, at the end of the day, we must realize that they’ve changed in a way we can’t change back, and thus we must embrace the good and continue to fight against the bad.

    (Please note I did not intend on discussing Internet bullying when I began this and I don’t quite know how I got there. I seem to have taken my outburst in class on Wednesday to heart.)

    Reply
  1. Facebook Stalking, Status Changing and Other Things That Drive Us Crazy! | College Life- Sex and Relationships
  2. Facebook Stalking, Status Changing and Other Things That Drive Us Crazy! - Living the College Life

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