‘Facebook stalking’ has become a phrase that most of us use pretty often and with some familiarity. Maybe you’ve ‘Facebook stalked’ an old boyfriend or girlfriend or that friend you haven’t seen since high school. But what does the word, stalking, really mean? Am I really stalking someone by viewing a profile that I was invited to via friend request, a profile that displays information that the person is choosing to share with their collective group of Facebook friends? The answer is no. There is a big difference between viewing a friend’s Facebook profile and actual stalking behaviors, and aligning the two as having the same meaning is harmful for actual victims of stalking. Stalking is a very real, dangerous and often life threatening experience. Conflating actual stalking with this false idea of ‘Facebook stalking’ minimizes the terrifying existence of the 6.6 million Americans who are stalked annually.
It’s not to say that Facebook and stalking have no relation to each other. As with most anything in this world, it has the potential and capability to be dangerously misused. A stalker may dishonestly use Facebook as a tool to gain access to their victim that they haven’t otherwise been admitted to. An abusive partner may use Facebook, and other various devices, to keep constant tabs on their victim. But the impact of these experiences is incredibly different than that of which we so offhandedly refer to as, ‘Facebook stalking’. This might not seem like a big deal, but improperly and reductively using the term creates a mask for those who are actually stalking someone.
The only people at fault in stalking situations are the perpetrators, but there are a few technology practices that can help reduce people’s access to us. We can be cautious of who we accept into our internet social lives, do our best to have secure Facebook privacy settings and be informative about how to keep our exposed selves protected from the possible dangerous outcomes of technology use.We can also be more thoughtful about our choice of language when talking about how we view our Facebook friend’s profiles and take actual accounts of stalking seriously. If you or someone you know is being stalked you can reach out to WISE for support, 24 hours a day.