In my interpersonal violence class we recently talked about stalking in and out of intimate partner relationships which made me want to write about it for today. We are all guilty of using the term “Facebook stalking” in reference to sitting on Facebook and browsing through your friends’ posts, pictures and statuses but when does this cross the line? The fact that we use the term stalking to describe this innocent behavior legitimizes what could actually be considered cyberstalking. So I decided to see where the line was drawn in legal terms and all the definitions described cyberharassment and cyberstalking as having patterns of threatening or malicious intent while cyberstalking poses credible threat of harm. Here’s a video interviewing psychotherapist, Dr. Az and Social Media Expert, Laurel Papworth on the topic.
Obsessive and threatening or violating sound about right but when we causally throw the word around to describe harmless use of social media outlets it desensitizes us to the severity of actual cyberstalking and stalking. “Facebook stalking” is similar to saying “I’m going to rape this test” or “she just raped me with her eyes,” using any terminology lightly is detrimental to the way society views the severity of the meaning of the original act. Stalking is not something to be taken lightly especially with the growing amount of social media forums, from blogs not so different than this one or Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, even Pinterest where you are following people’s dreams and desires.
Thus far, I have been operating under the impression that everyone treats these forms of social media like I do, which is obviously ignorant because personally there’s only a limited amount of people that I truly care about their doings, thoughts and lives (not to sound completely heartless…but it’s true). I definitely understand that there are people out there that log onto Facebook 30 times a day, browsing through the news feed until it reloads at least 10 times and search or add people they don’t even know. Realistically there are measures you can personally take to prevent random people from obtaining your information. You have the ability to adjust your privacy settings, who can find you, what on your profile they can see, who you add as a friend and you even have the ability to block people but the internet is still a public forum.
Speaking as an active female in the cyber world, Facebook especially, I have learned to appreciate and highly utilize my privacy settings. I don’t have any extreme personal stories of cyberbullying, cyberharassment or cyberstalking and for that I am very grateful but maybe it was the minor experiences that have taught me to distance myself from public forms of social media. It was definitely this next interaction that really introduced me to the dangers and violations of the cyber realm. It was the summer before I came to JMU that this guy, who apparently went here or was coming, asked to be my friend and I, eager to make friends at my future school, accepted. In my defense, as stupid as this was, I thought I may have met him at some orientation or choices session. One day he messaged me and I had no motivation to make small talk but he kept messaging me in which I refused to respond because it was becoming excessive and creepy. Finally, he said something very vulgar which I will not scar my readers by quoting such a disgusting misogynist comment…I felt violated, to say the least, and immediately removed him as a friend.
I would definitely consider this a minor form of cyberharassment but because he had made a sexual comment and the fact that he was a male and I was a female, heightened the presence of a threat. In my class we discussed how these acts of stalking, whether cyber or in person, are much more threatening within a patriarchal context because when men are the perpetrators the act has an impending sexual threat. There may be no mention of anything sexual but because we live in a rape culture women are conditioned to constantly fear sexual assault. We even discussed how male victims of stalking generally see female perpetrators as crazy or psychotic rather than a physical or sexual threat. Stalking, like rape, is usually perpetrated by an acquaintance if not by a previous or current intimate partner in which it is used as a form of control in an abusive relationship. So moral of the story? Stalking, no matter what shape or form, should not be taken lightly. Keep in mind that stalking is against the law when carried out in a obsessive or threatening manner and by normalizing the term “Facebook stalking” downplays the criminality of legitimate stalking. Its your prerogative to check your news feed, retweet hilarious tweets or repin awesome outfits but know that stalking carries a whole other meaning than just good ol’ curiosity. And now I’m coining a new term, “Facebook inquisitive,” let’s make it go viral.