You opened up Instagram hours ago, you got carried away tapping on people tagged in images, and somehow you ended up on your cousin’s friend’s girlfriend’s page and suddenly it feels like you’ve known Sasha for 5 years. You know who her closest friends are, where she went to college, and that she just got back from a vacation in the Cayman Islands.
You aren’t the only one who knows her though. As you’re busy scrolling through her profile you notice that you have some mutual friends in common. Your friend Jordan’s Instagram handle has showed up below many of her posts: Liked by jordanb526 and others.
It’s all fun and games though, right? We all do it…
Well, let’s think about it. Instagram lets us see which of our friends have liked other friend’s pictures, and if Jordan left a comment on Harry Styles’s post, you’re seeing her comment first because the algorithm knows she’s one of your better friends. There’s also a page on everyone’s profile dedicated to tagged posts, so even if our friends post a picture we didn’t approve of, it’s going to show up on our profiles.
Insta isn’t the only app we can stalk people on, either. Snapchat lets us see our friends’ locations live and even tells us if they’re riding in a car. Remember the frustration you felt when your crush’s snap score would go up, but they weren’t answering you? Same. High school me had yet to learn about keeping a roster (thank you Alex Cooper)…
Moving on: Twitter shows us our friend’s liked posts, which might tell us a little more about their deepest emotions than we would like to know. LinkedIn alerts us when someone’s been creeping on our profile, and TikTok keeps trying to get us to sync our contacts (no thanks, wouldn’t want anyone from my college group projects finding that). I guess my point here is, yes, we all stalk on social media—but that means that we are being stalked too.
Social media stalking has become so normalized. Because of how accessible information is in the digital world and how open we are on the internet, we tend to forget that anyone can stalk us. Here are some things to consider if you tend to be the person doing the stalking, and some ways you can protect yourself and your information online.
Do we know each other?
Lesson 1: It’s easy to spend more time watching other people’s lives rather than fulfilling my own.
Ever see a post and think to yourself, “Who is this person?” I can’t be the only one who follows people simply because we share mutual friends or because we were in the same organization. I’m sure a lot of the people I’m confused about are actually girls I met in bar bathrooms. I had a realization a few years ago that I didn’t care much for a lot of people I was following—nor did I really like some of them—and seeing their content didn’t make me feel good. Sometimes my own friends post things that upset me (my toxic trait is fueling my FOMO. Anyone else?).
Next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through someone’s profile, take a step back and ask: 1) Are you enjoying their content? 2) Do you like them? and 3) Do you even know them? If you’re liking the content, then have at it. Personally, I love seeing people’s travel posts. However, if you’re not having a good time, chances are you don’t like the person or you don’t know them. I’m sure your 15 minute bathroom convo was great, but maybe it’s time to hit that unfollow button.
Falling down the rabbit hole
Lesson 2: I ignored my hobbies because I was too busy playing detective.
I swear social media is like a black hole of content. Once I open an app, I get sucked in and it sometimes feels painful to even think about closing it, even when the little voice in my head is screaming at me to just drop it. Clicking on one person’s profile leads to another person’s profile, and another, and another, and suddenly I’m lost in a spider web of connections. This has gotten even worse with the rise of TikTok.
Before I started using time limits, I could easily spend 2-3 hours scrolling. It can be easy to lose track of how far you’ve dove into the depths of the internet, but don’t forget that time is valuable, so don’t let yourself waste it. We can have our fun on social media, but it’s good to check ourselves to make sure we’re doing the things we need to get done and also give ourselves precious free time.
But it feels so right!
Lesson 3: Everyone does it, and it’s OK!
I’ve already mentioned that social media stalking is common practice, but why? Well, humans are curious by nature, and that’s why social media stalking has become so normalized. We’re fulfilling an instinct: the need to know. Have a first date coming up? You look at their social media. Just met someone new? You probably exchanged social media follows. And what comes after that? You guessed it… looking through their page. It’s become part of society. It’s the way we evaluate each other and the way we gossip—a modern day ballroom, if you will (can we please go back to socializing like the Bridgertons?).
Anyway, while most of us who are “stalking” others on social media are harmless to the other party, we often forget that someone could be seriously stalking us.
Protecting yourself on social media
Lesson 4: I had to deep dive into the settings so I felt safe on social.
I’ve always felt like social media settings are confusing and overwhelming to navigate. I get a bit of an eerie feeling knowing that social platforms usually default to being as open to the world as possible, but the good news is we do have more control over our privacy than we might think. Obviously, we all use social media in different ways and likely use each app differently, so the amount of privacy we want can vary from platform to platform. Going through the privacy settings on every app you use will ensure that you’re comfortable with the amount of privacy you have.
- The easiest step you can take to protect your Instagram account from strangers is to make your account private. With a private profile, if someone wants to see your posts they have to request permission, which means that they can only see your posts and stories if you accept them as a follower.
- The second step you can take to control how much someone can snoop around your Instagram is to choose which of your tagged photos appear on your profile. You can do this by manually removing individual photos from your profile, or by adjusting your settings to notify you when you’ve been tagged in a post and choosing whether or not it appears on your profile.
- Snapchat is pretty secure in the sense that by default, two people have to mutually accept each other to become friends. Once you are friends, however, you automatically have access to each other’s locations on Snap Maps. If you don’t want your friends seeing where you are going at all times you’ll want to turn on Ghost Mode. Looking back, it’s kind of creepy that I ever thought this was cool to begin with. Now, if I want my friends to have my location for safety reasons, I simply share it through my iPhone.
- If you’re an Android person, you also have this feature, and the best part is iPhone and Android users can share locations with each other too. Safety FTW!
- If you use LinkedIn, you know the strangest and probably most exposing feature is the one that tells you who’s seen your profile. This can be fun and all when on the receiving side, but do you really want people to know that you’ve clicked on their profile (and likely did some perusing)? Luckily, there is a way to hide your viewing activity using LinkedIn Private Mode. You can find this under “Profile Viewing Options” in your settings.
- Facebook can seem like a difficult monster to tame, but there are ways to control who can and cannot see your posts and account. Luckily the settings have gotten easier to navigate. You’ll want to do a “Privacy Checkup” which can be found in the settings. Here you can restrict who sees what you post, your data settings, how people can find your account, your ad preferences (yes, you can actually stop your phone from tracking your searches), and other ways to keep your account secure. Now you don’t have to worry about your family vacation photos showing up on your friend’s aunt’s timeline—phew!
These are just some basics to help you start privatizing your accounts, but luckily a quick Google search can help you find more ways to stay safe on the internet. Most of this information is also found on each platform’s FAQ page.
Here’s the plain truth: We’re never going to stop stalking each other on social media. However, let’s try not to get too invested in people we don’t know, keep an eye out for how much time we spend doing it, and most importantly, let’s make sure we know how to protect ourselves and our information, whatever that comfort level is for you. Stay safe, and please bring all the tea next time we chat.