Are We All Guilty of Social Media Stalking?

Jackie Kollar
January 23, 2019

It’s January, the notorious “longest month of the year” that hits us right after the two-month holiday sprint. In the Northeast, we’re left with little amounts of sun and Arctic temperatures, leaving me with a need to hibernate and binge watch Netflix.

After hearing that one my favorite Gossip Girl actors, Penn Badgley, was back on the screen, it was an easy choice to start the series “You” as my binge of choice. See below for reasoning—gotta get the #10yearchallenge in here somehow:

At the core, the 10-part series is a (twisted) love story between Joe and Beck, one a writer and the other your average stalker/serial killer. In this pseudo-love story, Joe does everything he can to ensure that he “gets” the girl, ranging from social media stalking to killing off a character or two. (There’s clearly a lot going on in between, but I won’t spoil the details.) Joe’s use of social media stalking is nothing we haven’t heard before, but coupling that with a few killings finally got everyone’s attention on just how easy it is to stalk from afar.

During each episode, Joe uses social media as his main source of information. With a few scrolls through Beck’s Instagram and Facebook feeds, he finds out where she works and plays, who she hangs out with both before and after the bar closes, and most eerily, exactly where she lives. He uses this information to locate Beck and manipulate conversations, knowing exactly the right thing to say to make her feel safe.

In response to the Netflix series, more and more conversations spiked around “social media stalking” and whether or not this is something of which one could seriously be found guilty. Where does the line of what’s appropriate start and end? Users took to Twitter seriously questioning whether or not to shut down their own accounts and began asking themselves a key question: “Am I a stalker?”

The concept of social media stalking is pretty common in our everyday lives. Think of the Tinder date you wanted to check out ahead of the first date, or the girl in the bachelorette party you never met but heard all about. There are plenty of harmless ways we use social media to do a light investigation on someone we’ve never met.

According to a study of 2,000 Americans by JPD, 88 percent of respondents look up a person on Facebook before heading out on a first date, and a staggering 16 percent spend 45 minutes or longer scrolling through social feeds.

Screenshot via JDP

Yes, social media is a breeding ground of personal information for those inside and outside of our social groups. Think about all of the information you share on a daily basis: you post a photo of your night out with the location tagged, you tweet about a favorite coffee shop on your block, or you upload your most recent travels to Facebook (because your favorite aunt needs those kind of  updates). We’ve given the internet permission to see everything we’re doing, thinking, and attending, often without realizing it.

Stalking is real, and it is very, very easy to do with social media at our fingertips. So are we all stalkers? Probably not—this is just how the modern world works.

Let’s just make sure we don’t cross the line from light investigation into heavy obsession.

Lead image: Netflix/ChatterBlast illustration