Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Students had the option in the survey to add their own reasons of why they use Facebook. Multiple students added that they use the Scrabulous application, which allows them to play Scrabble with their online friends. In addition, a surprising number of students anonymously entered that they use the social networking site for “stalking.”
Elisa Lopez ’11, who reports spending two hours on the site a day, describes common stalker-like behavior as she says “I like to keep track of my friends without them knowing.” However, Lopez does say that she will contact her friends if she notices something interesting.
While other students may not be as forthcoming as Lopez, many do spend their time on Facebook looking at the profiles of their friends. Many students report spending their time looking at their friends’ pictures or their “walls” to see what others have written to them.
Dean Larimore states he is surprised that people use the site to “stalk” each other but he is aware that people communicate more informally and that humor is hard to communicate in a virtual format. He also cautions that there is always the potential for abuse, which makes it important for students to stay in contact with family and friends offline.
Psychology professor Andrew Ward explains this phenomenon by citing several theories. According to the social comparison theory, “we like to compare ourselves relative to other people.” Ward states that people will observe their friends online to “see what the norm is in a particular environment.”
A male student, “John,” allowed us to witness his typical Facebook activity which could be classified as “stalking.’ When, “John,” signs on to the site, he generally uses the “home” feature to see what is new in the online lives’ of his friends. After the “Home” feature, he then proceeds to the “Friends” section to see which friends recently updated their profiles. If he sees something that catches his eye he will open his friend’s profile to discover the new updates.
Then once he is in the profile of a friend, he notices a picture of a “mutual friend” or an attractive person who is in their friend’s “Swarthmore Friends” category. He then clicks to this new profile and proceeds to look at this person’s pictures. Then, he notices another student, which leads to another profile and then more clicks and another profile. In the end, “John” has visited countless number of pages and viewed information and pictures about friends, acquaintances and strangers. “John” says he does not consider this fun, but rather a distraction from work.
While “John’s” web surfing or “stalking” may be more sporadic, others stalk with a specific goal in mind. One student divulged that one of their main reasons for using the site was “to look up people my friends have crushes on.”
Another student, Shaun Kelly ’10, says he specifically searches though his girlfriend’s Facebook account. He says he checks the new friends his girlfriend made but explains that that he and his girlfriend have a mutual understanding that “we will both Facebook stalk each other.”
In addition to stalking friends, one student stated that he/she uses the site to stalk old friends and admitted “I don’t keep in touch, but I observe them.” Ward explains that this could be a result of the self-evaluation maintenance theory. He states that people may be interested in tracking the progress of distant acquaintances in order “to assure themselves that they are not falling behind” (in that the old friend has not accomplished something or achieved something new in an unrelated domain).
The lesson to be learned is to be careful what you put on your profile as there is a good chance your friends, acquaintances or strangers may be Facebook stalking you.