I am thinking about the term ‘stalking’. It’s a word that was once used only to describe when a person physically hid in the bushes of their target stalkee, literally followed them home, went through their rubbish etc. Recently however, it has managed to nudge its way into everyday usage. Along with ‘perving’, ‘stalking’ is commonly portrayed as a standard activity for the casual internet user. But is it really ok?
There was a time (and try to keep an open mind here) when getting to know someone largely involved asking them about themselves and only getting the information that they wanted you to know. This would perhaps be added to by a small amount of secondary sources in what other people said about them. However that time is over. With the arrival of Facebook, Youtube and even Linked In, it has become increasingly easy to attain information about others without any interpersonal effort.
I’m not here to judge. Let’s not deny we’ve all done it. We meet someone of intrigue and decide we need to know more about them. Stat. So we head to the same place that the majority of 21st century western peoples go to for information, the internet.
Sometimes it’s as easy as a quick Facebook search. (Oh for that glorious moment when you realise that they have not privatised their profile fully. 537 photos? Don’t mind if I do!). Depending on the person, everything from musical taste, political views, and last year’s swimsuit shots can be there for the world to see. Soon enough though their page has been exhausted. Why not start perving their friends? Or perhaps family? (It’s only as hard as to search for their second name in their friend list don’t you know, that’s if they don’t have ‘family’ conveniently listed in the side bar for you already) Or maybe find their blog, see what they are into.
Before things get too heavy, let’s stop for a moment to weigh this up. Do you not find it wrong at all to know more about a person than they have told you? Think about how thoroughly you can research a person on the internet. Once again, you have all done it, or at least witnessed it occurring, so I want you to be honest with yourself. How happy would you be to think of someone trawling through your available online information? You might want to take a moment to search your name and find out what pops up. Some secondary school website stuff, a local newspaper report, your old Bebo account, basically anything online that mentions you by name. Is it really ok that any eejit with internet access can build up an image of your life, of you, so easily?
This brings me seriously to the ‘stalking’ problem of my musings. What I wonder is, when does all this internet ‘perving’ become more serious? Where once stalkers had to go to the trouble of actually leaving the house, it is now ludicrously easy to follow a person’s life via the internet. And with no immediate way of the victim knowing, (‘following’ on Twitter is decidedly more discreet than literally ‘following’ someone down the street) what is the effect? Well basically, where once if you were stalking them they could merely stop feeding you information about themselves, these various internet sources can be tapped by anyone, at any time.
You’re exaggerating, I hear you say. Nobody goes that far, I hear you cry. Well I’m not and they do! I’ve known many people to contemplate deleting overly eager Facebook friends due to general creepiness. In more serious cases I have seen internet creeping spill into real life. For example, recently a girl I know received a text saying “when you at the gym give Jane a hug for me please” at the very moment she was about to meet up with Jane, at the gym. The person who text her knew about the meeting, the place and the time, solely by reading a Facebook comment. This person was an ex of Jane’s. Creepy? Definitely. Still, even after the incident, Jane was reluctant to delete the Facebook connection because it would be ‘rude’.
If you are unsure whether you are stalking someone’s page or simply being friendly and sociable (whatever the term means in relation to 21st century internet norms) then I think asking yourself whether you would admit your behaviour to the person is a good place to start.
We need to ask ourselves what the rules of our social meeting place are. You all need to go to your Facebook and look at how much others could gauge about your life with the information you share. Internet stalking, though trivialised, can be quite a serious matter. It could happen to you. It could be happening.