Confessions of an (unashamed) internet stalker

So I liked a photo on your new girlfriend’s Insta 56 weeks back, so what?

I’m 56 weeks back in, on my ex’s sister’s cousin’s girlfriend’s Instagram, crushing jealously over her flawless hair, outfit and all-round gorgeousness. I’m tensely scrolling, my thumb poised with precision, mindful not to slip an accidental like (a refined and skilled task, not for the fainthearted). One slip of the finger could result in overwhelming feelings of anxiety, humiliation and societal exclusion.

I’m so far removed from her that if I accidentally liked she (and my ex) would probably take out a restraining order. My nonchalant cover will be blown, and I’ll be forever known as that crazy stalker chick. My thumb is trembling, aching and rigamortis has set in. Sound familiar?

Surely, I’m not the only outspoken maniac who admits to lurking. According to most people I know, we’re all secretly digital detectives. I bet that most of us have, at some point (and by which I mean habitually), performed secret inspections of someone’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, hell even their LinkedIn.

So if the general consensus of my friends is anything to go by, it must be a fair reflection of the rest of my generation. One of my friends was once ‘researching’ a guy that she fancied and accidentally liked his dad’s picture. Imagine explaining that one away. So why are we so discreet about it? Scrolling through their hotdog legs, foodporn and selfies is a cathartic pastime. Voyeurism is a natural inclination and nothing to be ashamed of.

You make a new friend, you check out their pics and scroll down, to see the evolution of their social media lifespan. I for one, find this interesting. If they didn’t want this information to be public or viewed, the provisions are in place for them to privatise it. These days people choose their public profile to be part of themselves and their identities. People create and shape the image that they want to project. Part of getting to know someone these days, is getting to know their internet presence as well, even if it means spying on their past.

It’s not really stalking though is it? In fact, it shouldn’t be called stalking any longer, we should embrace looking at people’s pictures without shame or tags that have ominous connotations. Stalking is a very real and complex issue, with damaging effects. Liking someone’s Instagram 56 weeks back isn’t the same as following them home.

OK, so for creeping on guys you like it’s kind of different. But if someone has entrusted you with a friend-acceptance or a follow back, then they are consciously giving you permission to view these photos. Even if they’re not a friend, if their information is public – joining social media is becoming part of a mutual transaction of information-sharing. As long as you are not abusing this trust by harassing or intimidating them, then it’s fine.