Before the days of mainstream social media, if you wanted to show a photo of your crush to your best friend, you had to dig deep into the annals of Yahoo and hope the object of your affection had a Shutterfly web album that was public. Or if you were lucky, maybe they even had a blog.
This is what the innocent version of online stalking looked like 20 years ago. But with the inception of social media, this landscape has drastically changed from harmless to harmful. With sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, you are made aware of someone’s every move – whether they intend for you to know or not.
One of the biggest problems with social media today is the amount of passive information that is available. For example, if I post a photo to my Instagram account, even with privacy settings intact, I am at the mercy of how my followers interact with my post. Someone of the opposite sex may continuously ‘like’ my photos or comment on them, but to someone who is stalking or paying extra attention to my account, they’ve already created their own narrative of the situation.
Perhaps you are guilty of this behavior yourself. Let’s say you’re crushing hard on someone. You crave them; you want more. Most web savvy millennials know that it’s par for the course to start ‘liking’ your crushes photos and interacting more with them online once you’ve gotten into that hookup end-zone.
But wait, who is this girl that keeps liking his photos? And wait – why is he liking all of hers? Is that an ex? He must be hooking up with her, too. Before you know it, you’re three years deep on a stranger’s Facebook page looking through their sister’s wedding photos.
Enter: Unhealthy social media stalking.
Whether your online stalking behavior is prompted by curiosity, excitement, or suspicion, the bottom line is the same: You want information. Moreover, when there is a gap between the information you have and the information you want, uncertainty is born.
The feeling of uncertainty can be perceived as negative if you’re approaching your search efforts from the perspective of suspicion. Uncertainty itself isn’t a bad thing, however, it is the conditions that it creates which make it uncomfortable. If you feel like the person you are crushing on is up to no good, or if you are “mate guarding”, then you will draw conclusions to validate or echo this feeling of discomfort.
But the real problem with social media stalking is this: how do we know the information we’re extracting is even correct or reliable?
More often than not, usually one of two things will happen when you social media stalk: you will put the pieces of the puzzle together incorrectly or you will encounter information that isn’t emotionally useful.
So what’s the solution?
The first step in helping you to create healthy new habits around social media usage is to ask yourself why you want more information in the first place. If you’re able to identify the feeling at hand, you can then determine why you have this overwhelming need to know more. Never discount your feelings – they are always trying to tell you something.
Next, since you can’t control what someone else posts, why not control what you can see? Instead of creating boundaries with others, it is best to create boundaries with yourself. For some, this might require hiding someone’s feed or deleting them all together. In cases where you don’t know the person you are stalking, get to the root of what triggered your interest in the first place.
It is important to recognize that social media stalking not only affects your mood and your decisions, but it can also manifest itself in other areas of your life. There is a saying I love which is: Lead the mind and the body will follow. Lead the body and the mind will follow. That said, by engaging in healthy thoughts you will engage in healthy behaviors and vice versa.
So next time you have the urge to stalk someone on social media, ask yourself this: do I need more information or do I just want more? At the end of the day, it takes the same amount of effort to feel good as it does to feel bad, so choose your behaviors wisely!