Picture this: it’s 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. You should be sleeping, but all of a sudden you find yourself in a Facebook trance. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You logged on just to take your mind off insomnia yet, here you are again in this familiar place – a rabbit hole of past friends and friends of friends and their friends of friends. Classic.
Or maybe this: you meet somebody at a bar, they tell you to add them on Facebook. You do so and then spend the next hour scrutinizing their pictures, status updates, and favorite movies. You check to see if you have any friends in common. How do they know your cousin Maggie? And then it hits you – what have you been doing for the past hour? Another Facebook trance.
Facebook. Love it or hate it; nearly everyone has a strong opinion about it. Depending on the day, it’s my best friend or my worst enemy. Facebook and I have been together for nearly 10 years now; we’ve learned so much from each other. And there is one specific change that I have implemented to make my relationship even healthier with this social networking site: I stopped using the phrase “Facebook stalking.”
You see, people use the phrase “Facebook stalking” to describe any of those two examples above. For all the good things Facebook allows us to keep in touch with each other, it also allows us immense amounts of information we don’t necessarily need about our ‘friends’ (or ‘crushes’ or ‘worst enemies’). Yet, for some reason, nearly every user I know, at some point or another, gets drawn into these spaces – these lost hours of our lives, where we scrutinize the profiles of past friends or new friends or family members or co-workers…and in our everyday language we coin the word “stalking” to not only describe it, but to make fun of ourselves in the process.
However, it’s not fun or funny. Stalking really affects people in real ways. Stalkers intimidate their victims, and seek to threaten and hurt them. Stalking is deliberate, intrusive, manipulative, and ov destructive. Stalking incites fear and specifically targeted violence. Victims of stalking are often not believed by police or community members. Cyber stalking (or bullying) has caused tragic ramifications such as suicide. Stalking is terrifying, calculated, and most all – unfunny.
Now, I know. That’s not what anybody means when they say they are “Facebooking stalking” but I can’t help but wonder why we don’t use another phrase to describe the actions above. Why do we still throw the term “Facebook stalking” around when using the word ‘stalking’ associates us with a kind of person that seeks to threaten and hurt someone. I can’t help but notice the disconnect here: why would we refuse to use the phrase “that test raped me” but wouldn’t think twice about calling ourselves (or our friends ) “Facebook stalkers.”
Words have power and meaning. And no, I’m not calling for an end to free speech in this piece, but I am calling for an end for the phrase “Facebook stalking.” It belittles the actual horrific crime when we use it so casually. Is this the sort of free speech we’re willing to fight for? Language that makes it easier for perpetrators but harder for victims to get help? Imagine a college student who has been genuinely stalked and threatened, but most of the times she heard the word stalked, it’s been in a joke about wasting time on Facebook. This kind of language makes it harder for victims to come forward when we’re all joking about it all the time. It makes victims second guess themselves. We’ve talked about this at length with the casual use of the word “rape.” It’s time we extend it to stalking as well.
If we are committed to being anti-violence activists, we have made a personal commitment to analyzing and critiquing oppressive systems throughout all facets of our lives. This commitment enables us to learn and grow, and change our own behaviors in light of new knowledge. This is a reminder that we, as those committed to creating a world without violence, are constantly evolving and that our language and frameworks should be too.
One thing we can do to make the world a better place to eliminate the phrase “Facebook stalker” from our vocabulary to describe those late nights and hours lost in the Facebook vortex. At best, it doesn’t accurately describe what we are doing, and at worst, it doesn’t do anything to create a world that is safer for victims of stalking. We might continue to waste hours on that trusty ole social media site (no judging! I checked it at least twice when writing this piece), but we can watch our language and know that a small step like that is important and meaningful for creating a safer world.