Nothing makes me feel more comparatively stable than hearing my friends talk about their social media habits. A conversation that begins quite Sex and the City
rapidly descend into Single White Female
in minutes, as they make terrifying admissions about "stalking" other people online. It's not a nice phrase – but it's one commonly used, and can include anything from creeping through your work crush's Twitter account, to locating people from Tinder over on Instagram, to my personal jackpot: Finding a minor celeb's personal Facebook page.
Everyone "stalks" their ex, obviously. It is quite normal to want to chart the every Instagram Like, Tagged Photo and "Interested In This Event" of someone you shared a bed with for two and a half years. But what strikes me as slightly more disconcerting, is when someone I regularly go to the pub with admits that they keep more tabs on actual strangers than the NSA. Sometimes the information is just there, in your face – I could tell you the name of a cat owned by a journalist I've never met, or what a girl I've never met wore to fashion week, for example – but sometimes we actively go looking for it.
It's tempting to believe that our social media habits are a symptom of our age; an age where two-thirds of adult Britons own a smartphone and, according to Ofcom
reports, spend roughly two hours on it a day; an age when we apparently
own an average of four social media accounts per person. But then, my 18-year-old sister and 16-year-old brother don't have any social media accounts, and my sister recently told me she'd never even looked at the Facebook page of the boy she's dating.
Conflicted about what is "normal" behaviour online, I decided to unofficially survey some people, anonymously, and ask about the true extent of their spying, as well as their surprisingly high-tech methods. Going forty weeks deep into someone's Instagram account only ever makes me a little bit creepy at best and like a cyber criminal at worst, so my other question for my interviewees was: Does social media 'stalking' ever
have a positive outcome?
The stories were mixed, revealing that people creep on social media for fairly predictable reasons: Jealousy, intrigue, a sense of belonging, self-affirmation and just plain boredom. Click through the slideshow to read some honest accounts about people following the lives of others online, and how – when they really thought about it – it taught them something about themselves.
*Some names in this article have been changed.