Are We All Facebook Stalkers?

Posted July 9th, 2012 at 3:51 pm (UTC-4)

A Different Perspective On A Common Phrase

Over the years, we’ve run stories warning of the dangers of social networks; of “over-sharing” and eroding personal privacy. One aspect previously addressed is the phenomena often called “cyber-stalking.” We stand second to no one in warning of the genuine threat stalkers pose, regardless of whether they track their targets in the real or virtual worlds. That said, a challenge arises when defining what, exactly, constitutes stalking. Our summer intern, Ross Slutsky, has been thinking about a phrase he’s hearing a lot from his peers – “Facebook stalking” – and offers these thoughts. While this is his opinion, we’re very interested in your response and perspectives on this topic. – DF

Ross Slutsky | Washington DC 

Web image.  social networking netiquette

Netiquette is often less simple than it seems.

Facebook seems to tap into a common desire for people to feed their curiosity about others. However, has Facebook really turned all of us into stalkers? And, if everyone is a stalker, does the term stalker still have any meaning?

As a 21-year-old college student, I often hear my friends refer to their online behavior as “Facebook stalking.” When they use this term, they mean a wide array of social networking activities such as looking at other people’s likes, statuses, comments, and, photos. One of my friends defined Facebook stalking as “the use of Facebook for acquiring information that is not obvious, and, if publicly revealed, would make the holder of said information look creepy.” In other words, if you would not be comfortable revealing information about someone, you should not acquire that information in the first place.

While that could be an effective rule of thumb for personal conduct, it’s not one that many people seem to abide by.  All of my friends admit to being “Facebook stalkers.” They admit that they have looked at the information of people they don’t know very well (or in some cases don’t know at all) on many occasions. But is anyone to wag a finger at them for this?

While it would usually be creepy to look at the Facebook profile of a complete stranger, what if they have tons of mutual friends and shared interests?

Even when you are “friends” with someone on Facebook, what rights does that afford you in terms of access to their information? There are no right answers, and different people have reached different conclusions on this subject. Yet most people are still nonetheless referring to themselves self-deprecatingly as “Facebook stalkers.”One student's definition of Facebook Stalking

Are they truly stalkers? If so, this planet contains hundreds of millions of stalkers. Social information technologies have blurred and complicated many of the cultural norms about how people learn about each other.

Think about the connotation of stalking prior to the existence of Facebook.

Stalking once unambiguously referred to a gross violation of individual privacy in which an individual physically tracked a victim in order to collect information and/or impose on the victim the sense that his or her security was in jeopardy. Being a stalker meant expending a considerable amount of time and energy into surveilling and/or harassing someone.

On the other hand, “Facebook stalking” consists of an individual simply sitting in front of a computer screen, clicking a mouse a few times, and effortlessly examining information that a Facebook user has physically placed on the website where other people can see it. While Facebook’s privacy settings are far from perfect, all users basically have the ability to control the level of access other people have to their profiles.

However, one of my roommates pointed out that many Facebook users post to Facebook with the expectation that what they post will only be viewed by their friends. Hence, he believes that when people look at the information of people they do not know well they are breaking from proper Facebook etiquette.

Discuss.  What does Facebook stalking mean to you?

What do you think “Facebook stalking” means? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @dfrontiers

Others (including this author) have argued that given that people have privacy options on Facebook, it can be acceptable to look at the information of others so long as the information is used in a non-maleficent way. For example, if you get a girl’s number at a party but did not get to know her very well, I would argue that it is ok to check her “likes” to get a sense of whether or not the two of you have anything in common.

If we have similar tastes in music, film, and literature, that could be an indicator that the two of us will be compatible. On the other hand, if she is a fan of the Westboro Baptist Church or of the group that infamously prayed for the death of President Obama, I can erase her number and never think about her again.

Admittedly, by doing what I’ve just described, I would be breaking the Facebook stalking rule described above. I wouldn’t be comfortable telling a girl that I checked out her “likes” and that we like the same bands. However, I see nothing wrong with using Facebook as a vetting process in the manner I’ve just described. I can steer my conversations with her toward film without any reservations and I like to think that that just makes me an effective Facebook user rather than a Facebook stalker.




12 responses to “Are We All Facebook Stalkers?”

  1. […] Are We All Facebook Stalkers?Voice of America (blog)A Different Perspective On A Common Phrase Over the years, we've run stories warning of the dangers of social networks and “over-sharing” in eroding personal privacy. One aspect previously addressed is the phenomena often called “cyber-stalking.and more » […]

  2. halfbrain says:

    I think our definition or expectation of privacy needs adjusting – at least in regards to social media . If you post something on FB, you cannot have any realistic expectation of privacy. A FB user may have the their security settings at the highest levels, but once you put something out there for your FB friends to see, it is unrealistic to believe that the photo, information, or video will not be shared or viewed by someone else.

    So, I suggest that FB stalking isn’t really “stalking” at all. If you want to keep something private, don’t post it.

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Halfbrain – thanks for the thoughts. I agree that social networks have moved fast, and that our non-digital expectations have yet to catch up and adjust. And yes, for heaven’s sake, if you don’t want someone to see something, don’t post it! Still, more than once someone has posted a picture or something else about me without telling me, which still feels a little…well, creepy. Perhaps I’m just old. -db

  3. […] as much as Monsanto and ExxonMobil, but FB advertising still reigns even with its dubious results.Are We All Facebook Stalkers?Voice of America (blog)Is it time to get off Facebook? – Technology NewsSan Francisco Luxury […]

  4. Qudratullah says:

    If you are so secret why you go to the net. We go just to expose. And facebook is doing it great. Ironically the west clames liberty openess freedom glosnost parestroika miniskirt shorts still they also do the to me all opposite privacy.

  5. James says:

    I suppose my wife and I are the last people in North America that are still private: we are not on social networks.

    On the other hand, my ex-wife did try to stalk me by harassing my supervisor through LinkedIn (on which he is a member but I am not). She found he was there and started harassing -him- to give up information about -me-.

    There is reading published information to the Web (including Facebook), which is not stalking. Then there is really using the Internet for stalking.

    • Doug Bernard says:

      James – well put. It seems there is a real difference between viewing what others have intentionally posted to the web, and using these Internet tools to harass and punish an individual. I wonder, however, if people are always thinking through the implications before they post something online.

  6. Ashwin says:

    Great work ross!

  7. Yoshi says:

    Please tell me what you mean by ross.

  8. Matt says:

    I don’t know, life just seems a bit too short for spending it stalking people, or whatever you want to call it. It adds up, next thing you know you’ve spent years doing nothing but stalking people or playing games. Very repetitive and boring if you ask me. Much more fun with a bit more of the unknown, don quixote style experiences, :).

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