I just finished discussing the Alice Mathias essay, “The Fakebook Generation” with my Composition 1 students. Our conversation moved from discussing how the use of Facebook has also increased the likelihood to “look up someone online.”
“For what?” I asked them. Their responses ranged from finding the rating of a professor before taking his/her class to “seeing what a love interest was really like.” I understand this tendency. I don’t choose a physician or a restaurant without looking at reviews so why would a professor be any different. In my college days, the reputation of professors travelled by word of mouth. Today, a few key searches on most social networking sites opens a world of information.
We are a society of people who seek out information. We want to be informed. There are things that we should be informed about. Then there are things that perhaps should remain none of our business.
This takes a dark and ugly turn into a world of inappropriate information as people use online searches in the effort to track the whereabouts and ideas of others in an attempt to use it against them.
I’m talking about stalking. It’s not just a matter of “Peeping Toms” anymore. Today, people will spend hours on the hunt for information about someone they may like or dislike.
Stalking can begin by looking up information about a love interest until it turns into an obsession. Stalking can also be looking up information about the whereabouts of an ex-husband to see how he spends time with his new wife. There are a million possibilities in between. All are inappropriate and blurr the lines of what is safe and acceptable.
The first time I realized I was being stalked online came after an acquaintance read a blog post and commented on it in a most attacking manner, taking everything I said out of context and making it about themselves–because that’s what they wanted it to be about (that’s what people who are hunting for you do)–regardless of what the topic really was.
I was shocked because, this person had never, in all the many times we were face to face, mentioned that they read my blog. Here is someone who is friends with me on Facebook, has my phone number, my email and yet, watched and waited for that moment to “get me.” They were searching for something. In my rookie blogging, I guess I gave them that one thread. Of course, in their rookie sleuthing, wouldn’t it have been more savvy to leave a gentle comment acknowledging my blog and their readership?
The experience left me knowing one thing, they went looking for me. They set out to Google me. They embarked on a search to find something to justify their personal dislike of me. That’s creepy.
Recently, when someone revealed that they knew exactly where my family and I were on a given day–in an effort to intimidate us–I turned to my blog analytics and Google analytics for answers. I found an array of searches for me, my blog, and even my daughter. It’s scary but it’s also evidence. I know exactly who is searching for me and where. I know the terms they use and when. I know that there are legal orders in place to protect my family. There are laws. There are boundaries whether or not those who “lurk online” choose to believe or not. These boundaries are legally protected.
In class, my students acknowledge that a search for a special someone has clear boundaries between appropriate and grounds for a restraining order. I truly have to wonder about the generations before them who spend hours “sleuthing” online for information. It’s the equivalent of driving past someone’s house. We see you. Whether you are at the window or online, your presence is visible. At the end of the day the only thing you have proven is that you are a stalker with very little impulse control.
So I offer this. If you are one to spend any time searching online to “uncover something” about a person, know that you should control those desires. Step away from the computer; find a hobby.
Re-direct your anger and your activity.
If you fear that you are being stalked online. Document everything. Print out everything. Control the settings on all of your social networking, (Like Facebook!) Do not hesitate to contact Google, your internet provider, the internet provider of the stalker (usually a stalker is someone you know). Get a restraining order. Should you already have a restraining order, remind your stalker that it is still in place.
Finally, tell your stalker to stop. And from there do not entertain anymore engagement. Use the legal resources available to you to protect yourself and your family. The bottom line is that people are dangerous. Be careful, if you have a stalking story, please share it. Afterall, there is safety in numbers.