9 reasons social media stalking feels SO rightlmwsadmin
Turns out, observing other people’s lives is actually a biological instinct. And in the age of social media, where lives are presented on a platter and require only the slip of a thumb, it’s easy to indulge in those instincts. In fact, sometimes, we let our impulses run wild in the most unproductive ways.
But why the fascination? Whether we social media stalk out of adoration, fascination, hatred, or something else, it just so happens that the reasons are almost all based on science.
When you flip through the Instagram feed of a former lover or a new friend or a just-hired coworker, you are offering yourself insight into their lives without giving anything in return. Now, that ‘life’ presented on social media might only be a fraction of the truth, and nothing stops your victim from doing the same to you (save some privacy settings) but power dynamics are important in every relationship. And, hey, information is power.
Anything in a vacuum is useless. In order to ‘know thyself’, one must first have someone to compare it to. When we question our own character traits — am I funny? am I successful? am I attractive? — our brains instinctively want to categorize and rank our own traits compared against the traits of others. My mother always said not to compare myself to anyone else, but damn! Social media makes that a pretty tall order.
Humans are special. Unlike most mammals, our brains are ‘forever young’, so to speak, and are constantly changing to meet the changing world around us. This breeds an insane level of curiosity. We want to know MORE, and no amount of information will ever quite feel satisfying. Social media stalking provides an outlet for that curiosity, as we binge-view the lives of others to learn about… well, anything.
Decoding Social Norms
As a part of our inquisitive hunger, we are also thirsty for connection with others. In fact, one study said that lack of human connection is more detrimental to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. But critical to finding that connection is understand the way that we interact with each other, from general behavior like kindness and empathy to finer details like sarcasm. Social media stalking is a sort of lightweight practice for social interaction, akin to watching professionals play sports instead of playing yourself.
We’ve all felt that ping of dopamine when a ‘like’ comes through on our social media posts. That small kick of happy feelings is addictive, and it draws us to spend more and more time on social media. Part of that, obviously, is consuming other people’s content. Then, that curiosity we discussed before comes into play, and those same power dynamics, and on and on we go.
This is psychology speak for a combination of jealousy and insecurity. Social media stalking, especially between romantic partners, is usually a sign that one partner feels a bit insecure in the relationship, leading to paranoia (or sometimes justified jealousy), which can lead to a whole lot of internet stalking (and even violation of privacy).
Remember that whole ‘human connection’ thing? Turns out, gossip is a big part of that. And what better fodder for a little gab between friends than a common victim of social media stalking? In fact, one study explains that “the very public forms of self-display within peer groups connected through Facebook can create ‘storyable’ incidents that friends discuss and assess … Facebook offers its users myriad ways of expressing views, conveying affinities, and establishing connections.” In fact, Facebook is built to not only connect and share with friends, but to connect and share about friends, and the content they happen to be sharing.
Though some stalking is seemingly random (like that friend-of-a-friend that you love to hate and don’t even follow but is your third-most searched person on Instagram), other social media stalking is a matter of practicality. Just as insecure romantic partners will check in on their honeys more frequently, parents and employers also have a habit of carefully observing the social media activity of their children and employees respectively. It’s just common sense.
Normally, each post you put on social media is a positive reflection of your own life. These posts represent happy memories, times spent with great friends, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and a time in life when you actually had a beach bod (maybe I’m projecting, but whatever). So it only follows that folks will look back at their own timelines as a sort of pick-me-up. Research shows that looking back on past photos and wall posts could have a positive impact on wellbeing, especially for those who have mental health problems.