Most will agree that social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn, has matured into a part of daily living for many. I remember when social media platforms first began popping up in the early 2000’s, only a fraction of the population (usually young adults and teenagers) invested any time into them. I was one of those people who used it on a daily basis, mostly because that’s what my friends were using to communicate outside of normal school hours. I mean, I had a MySpace page before I had a cell phone. I’m not bragging, but my point is that I’ve been privy to social media’s entire development from its inception until now. Quite frankly, it’s grown from something one might look at for 30 minutes a week to something people spend hours a day with.
Over the last two to three years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that’s grown out of social media’s integration into the daily lives of the masses. This trend, or should I say behavior, is what some call it creeping and others call it cyber-stalking. I’m not talking about the stuff we joke with our best friends about doing after we saw photos from their vacation to Florida on Facebook. I’m talking about full-fledged psychological obsession of or fixation on person A by person B that is dependent on and enabled by social media content published by person A and is manifested in how person B interprets and responds to it.
Let me give some examples of these obsessive online behaviors that I’m talking about. Keep in mind that the key element is that Person B’s advances or interactions are largely unwanted by Person A.
- Person A regularly posts personal musings on Twitter that are rhetorical in nature. Person B sends replies to Person A’s tweets on a regular basis, despite the fact that Person A is not soliciting responses.
- Person A “checks into” a public place (church, gym, campus building) on a regular basis using Facebook or Foursquare. Person B, begins going to those places in with the intent of “running into” Person A.
- Person B gives public “shout outs” to Person A for simple things such as having a conversation with them or doing business together despite not having a close relationship with Person A
- Person B requests to spend one-on-one time with Person A or requests their phone number or email address despite not having a close relationship.
There are some people that would be quick to blame Person A for the interactions because they are the ones who are originally doing the posting saying things like, “if they don’t want it, they shouldn’t post it.” Honestly, I feel like this is very similar to blaming a rape victim for being raped. What someone wears or where they choose to go, never has and never will make them the cause of such an atrocious act. No one asks to be raped. I don’t mean to put cyber-stalking on the level of a violent act, but the point is that blaming the victim is completely unjustifiable and ridiculous.
Unfortunately, this obsessive behavior is largely perpetrated by males, many of whom are single. This would leave one to speculate that loneliness could be a major cause for obsessive behavior online. Although I understand that loneliness is a difficult reality for many, it’s no excuse to act in such a way that is hurtful to other people. Essentially, it’s not up to Person A to help (against their will) Person B find a solution to his or her loneliness. I’m not a doctor but I feel safe in saying that a challenge like loneliness can sometimes fall into the realm of a psychological issue that needs to be address with a qualified professional therapist or psychologist.
Obsessive behavior on social media can be extremely hurtful and disruptive to victim’s peace of mind. I’ve spoken with dozens of friends and acquaintances over the years who’ve expressed times when they’ve felt angst over someone else’s obsessive behavior towards them online. It’s pretty common they’ll say things like “it really makes me uncomfortable” or “I just have a bad feeling about him.” Personally, I don’t think anyone should ever have to feel nervous about someone they don’t really know online. That’s not to say I don’t recognize that it’s partly a product of the world we live in, but even though that is true, it doesn’t excuse bad behavior.
So what’s the solution for ending obsessions that manifest themselves through social media activity? What can be done to better protect people (particularly women and children) who just want to use social media without questioning the motives of people who provide them with unsolicited feedback? I’m afraid that the ultimate solution is very complex, but obsessive behavior must end. It’s far too destructive and will only get worse unless people change. For single guys in particular that may be reading this, you have to be aware of how your may be received online. Social media is great for staying in touch, but it’s horrible for building a relationship from scratch because being online makes it easy to pretend and falsify who you really are. So if you’re looking for new friends, look to make them offline.
I’ll conclude with one final thought. The Internet and social media doesn’t discriminate. Anyone and everyone can use freely. However, each and every Internet user has a great deal of responsibility in keeping this relatively fragile ecosystem as good as it can be. Let’s take online obsessions seriously so that tomorrow’s Internet can be better than today’s.
For more information about cyber-stalking, visit The National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center.
If you’re being stalked online here are some helpful tips for dealing with a stalker.