You're Not a Cyberstalker -- Here's How to Be

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I have read all this stuff about stalkers regarding Facebook. If someone makes you a Facebook friend they are offering you an invitation to view their activity on this social network. I'm not really a big Facebook person but I got an account so friends from the past can find me. I usually go to Facebook when someone contacts me, and because I'm there, I generally look up the people who interest me most. Could be several times a week or once every two weeks. Does that put me in the "Stalker Category?" I see people with 150 to 400 friends and I ask myself "How could each of these people really be a 'friend?'"

Bottom line, I know what the dictionary meaning of stalker is. So what is a stalker on Facebook when you have been invited to view a profile? They can filter you. They can unfriend you. You can't view someone unless they make you a friend. So how does the word "Stalker" apply here? Should I not check in on some people as much?

I don't mean to sound condescending, or to make light of a potentially serious matter, but this is maybe the cutest stalking question ever. Here's yer obligatory stalker PSA warning:

"In an average year, 3.4 million Americans over the age of 18 are stalked, and one in four victims reported some sort of cyberstalking such as e-mail (83 percent) or instant-messaging (35 percent), according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)."

Real stalking is action(s) that make someone uncomfortable and fear for their safety. This includes following, harassing, intimidating, sending repeated, unwanted messages (via e-mail, text, and so on), making threats, or engaging in other behaviors that cause someone distress.

That said, the kind of "stalking" you're engaging in on Facebook -- looking at your friends' information/status updates/photos that they have shared publicly -- is totally innocuous. Indeed, the word "stalker" has morphed into a kind of social media joke. I think we make light of it because we feel creepy learning information about people (in some cases, people we barely know) in a non-organic way. This is especially true if someone is very active on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and so on. It can feel like you are intruding on someone's privacy simply by having eyes and the wherewithal to click on things.

OkCupid, popular online dating site, and my part-time job, used to refer to anyone who looked at your profile as a "stalker" until they thought better of it and changed it to "visitor." #Zzzzzzz

Along with our new discomfort over all this social media gawking comes a series of alternate definitions for stalking. I'm partial to Urban Dictionary's, which defines it simply as: "Edward Cullen."

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This Twilight shower curtain has the added bonus of ensuring that you'll never get laid again.

If that's not helpful, another entry also provides this line of dialogue for clarification, from, I'm guessing, the new 90210?

Bob (the stalker): Hi Kelly

Kelly: Who is this person?

Before I could dig deeper, I got distracted by the sidebar, which promised definitions for "stalkerella," "stalkenator," and my favorite, "stalkerdoodle," which is, apparently, "a person that is so infatuated with someone that they make up fake MySpace profiles just to stalk them. They may even try to impersonate someone else just to break up a relationship."

If you're really worried, which you have no reason to be, a group called AWARE (Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment) has some useful information and stats on stalking with which to arm yourself or impress people at parties. They even have a quiz you can take!

You can also read my previous post on cyberstalking, and how not to be a creeper.

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at AskAnnaSF@gmail.com. 

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook


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