‘I’m Really Good At Internet Stalking…’

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After realising how comfortable we are with online stalking, Grace considers the benefits and dangerous aspects of doing so.

Your thumb spasms and you like a photo… You play out scenarios of how you could disappear from the face of the earth. You unlike it, swearing out of shame you’ll never do it again.

Does this scenario sound familiar?

You’re an unreasonable number of weeks deep in [insert name of successful/cool/smart person]’s feed. Your thumb spasms and you like a photo. You know they got a notification. You play out scenarios of how you could disappear from the face of the earth. You unlike it, swearing out of shame you’ll never do it again.

We’ve all felt the embarrassment of stalking people and getting caught. What many of us don’t realise is that a situation like this could be construed as cyber stalking.

The phrase ‘cyber stalking’ sounds super creepy and like something we’d never do. Yet, ‘stalking’ is a part of our every day conversation. ‘I was stalking this girl on Instagram last night…’ Ring a bell? From finding out what we deem crucial information to digging out of misdirected boredom and pure curiosity, social media gives us all the evidence and entertainment we need. Before it, we would idolise someone we knew the old fashioned way: observe their coolness from afar. Today, we get to delve a little deeper because we can keep up with people’s lives without them knowing.

Nosing in on what people are up to isn’t new. The only thing that has changed is that our subjects used to be acquaintances from school, clubs, and down the road. Then, face-to-face conversation was within the realm of possibility even if fear got in the way. But keeping up-to-date with people you’ve never met from continents you’ve never visited isn’t weird to us. I’ve repeatedly found myself so entwined in the lives of unremarkable strangers that I feel the need to see how they’re doing (because actually following their account would be going ‘too far’).

I’ve repeatedly found myself so entwined in the lives of unremarkable strangers that I feel the need to see how they’re doing.

Weird? Maybe a little, but the old saying that it’s not what you know but whom you know has taken on new meaning. Because lurking has become a part of our daily life, it’s not unacceptable to use it to benefit you. Creeping is currency.

Marketing Manager Lizzie Benton found a job after stalking local companies. ‘[I was] taking a look at their social accounts to see what kind of work they did and what their culture was like. Then I spotted Datify, which looked like a cool place to work. I followed them, and then about a month later they tweeted that they were hiring, so I tweeted them and [they] replied’. In Lizzie’s case and others, their cunning use of social media has meant securing real-life opportunities.

This approach goes beyond the professional. As far as romance goes, Tinder is very much a thing and relationships are regularly formed on social media. Some of my friendships (real and in my head) were forged online. In regards to the latter, when my faves tweet hilarious anecdotes, I read them and genuinely think, ‘We’d totally be friends. We’re the same person.’ Sure, they want me to relate and even feel like I’m included, but no matter how much I’ve analysed every detail of their social media, I will never know, for example, that said person has a crying face that rival’s Kim Kardashian. What’s more, often we’re surprised and even disappointed when someone we’ve stalked on the Internet doesn’t act/look/sound the way we expect them to. We can find inspiration, hilarity and solidarity in stalking, but by doing so, we forget that it can go too far.

There’s a difference between just looking and cyber stalking, but what is it?

In conversation with Newsbeat, Psychologist Dr Emma Short from the National Centre for Cyber-stalking Research explains, ‘Once you are causing fear and distress through your communication and you know the communication is unwanted then you are engaged in harassment which is against the law.’ Real cyber-stalking occurs when an individual is aware of your gaining information about them and it’s used in a way that makes them uncomfortable of afraid. Cases of this nature can result in grave situations.

‘If you’re making no contact with them and they are unaware of it, it’s still quite predatory…’ That goes for general creeping and those apps that let you spy on people’s devices without them knowing.

While most of us feel in control of our behaviour, we’re not off the hook. Dr Short goes on to say that spying on people is still seen as ‘dangerous behaviour’. ‘If you’re making no contact with them and they are unaware of it, it’s still quite predatory…’ According to the second definition, most of us are guilty. That goes for general creeping and those apps that let you spy on people’s devices without them knowing. However, it’s become so ingrained in us that stopping altogether isn’t an option.

So what do you do? Next time you’re stalking someone’s profile think it through.

  • Do you need to know this piece of information?
  • Would you find it weird if someone was doing this on my profile?
  • Are capable of stopping myself?
  • If you think you may have a problem, be sure to talk to someone

If you’re the victim of cyberstalking, don’t hesitate to contact the police

What are your thoughts on Internet stalking? Have you ever been in a situation when you it went far? Tell us – @rifemag

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