Why do we Facebook stalk?

facebook presses pause on privacy updates stalk header

It starts the same way every time. A status update indicating someone broke off an engagement; a selfie showing off a 30 pound weight fluctuation; 80 tagged pictures of a raucous Cabo trip. These tantalizing, tempting tidbits of information are just begging to be clicked. “Just this album,” we say. “Just a peek at the wall to see what’s going on,” we claim. These cries fall on deaf ears, because everyone knows they are dirty, dirty lies.

Two hours later, there we are, staring at a photo that was taken in 2006 and obsessively trying to remember the lewd quotes that used to show up in this person’s About Me section.

The art and joy of the Facebook Stalk is unavoidable, even for the most of the “light” Facebook users out there. Just dipping your toe into the shallow end – the News Feed – can result in a bout of creeping so thorough that you feel adequately prepared to give a PowerPoint presentation about the last few years of your victim’s life.

Why do we do it? Why is the draw of Facebook stalking so powerful? A new study suggests that romantic partners (or hopefuls) Facebook stalk because of “relational uncertainty,” noting that checking up on someone’s Facebook activity is a way we monitor and gather information about our significant others because we’re insecure.

But what about the rest of us? And what about all the other reasons? The motivations for Facebook stalking can’t be pigeon-holed; they are many and they are vast. Like Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I’m sure this was what he was talking about.

The paranoid partner

girlfriend fb stalkingWhile this was previously mentioned, there are a few similar studies aside from the recently publicized one that offer some interesting insights about this trend. According to a study from the University of Toronto and University of Guelph, there are some differences between how men and women Facebook creep on their partners.

“In response to feelings of jealousy, women are more likely than men to monitor their partner’s activities on Facebook. Jealousy predicted more time searching for women, but less for men … on days where women (but not men) reported greater jealousy they spent more time monitoring their partner on Facebook, and anxious attachment was one mechanism that explained this associated.”

The report sums it up, saying: “Women monitor their partners in response to jealousy whereas men do not.” Women, of course, also spend more time and have more friends on Facebook.

It isn’t all fearful, jealous, insecure coupled-up types scanning their partners’ walls for signs of infidelity (who are, according to the study, majorly women). Oh no – that would be much, much too easy.

The joys of co-creeping

Part of the Facebook Stalk is the joint attack. The friends who creep together, keep together. It’s an almost research-like activity where friends, co-workers, or even acquaintances do communal run-downs of a Facebook profile.

no whoAccording to one study, this multi-user Facebook stalking is, simply put, a conversation starter. “This provides them with grist for conversation, often centering on evaluating and assessing people’s online self-presentations.” We used to comment on the weather, now we comment on new profile pictures.

In fact, this research argues that the way Facebook is set up is begging for this type of discourse and analysis. “Facebook is not a medium of communication in which knowledge is simply presented or mis-presented; like many new media, it allows knowledge to be presented from many sources, and then ignored and/or negotiated.”

The practical investigations

constant fearA phone number and a mutual acquaintance’s thumbs up was all you used to have when you went out on a blind date. Now, you have Facebook. A Match.com survey says that 48 percent of women surveyed pre-screen Facebook before a date (for the record, a healthy number of men do as well, though the survey also noted nearly half were opposed to it). 

For similar (yet also very different…) reasons, parents Facebook stalk their children. They’re looking for inappropriate comments, bad language, evidence of drinking, or lewd photos (among other horrible, horrible things the youth shouldn’t be doing).

Employees do the same thing. There have been countless stories about how your Facebook profile can make or break your hiring potential, and while some managers’ Facebook snooping might be off the mark, they’re still doing it.

The picker-upper

fb likeThese Facebook creeping causes, though different, share similarities in that they’re all helping people snoop, for whatever reason. But there’s also the case of the Facebook picker-upper. While much ado has been made about the depression spiral Facebook reminiscing can send us into, there’s also evidence that pouring through our digital pasts can actually do us good. One study calls it a “self-soothing” activity, explaining that:

“The results from the study appear to indicate that in comparison to other Facebook activities, looking back upon photos and wall posts in particular, could have a positive impact upon wellbeing.”

The study goes on to say that those who have mental health issues might actually experience even more positive side effects than those without when reliving the Facebook days of yore. It’s sort of an anti-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind theory, if you will.

The sad little Internet trolls that we are do indulge in what is likely far too much social media investigations – but at least we get to ends things on this positive note. And please, whatever you do,  do not like that photo from 2006 and also remember to delete your Graph Search activity. The last thing you want to do is be outed. 

Keep on creepin’ on, everybody. 

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