Stripping in Public: A Social Networking Double Standard

In 2004, when I was fifteen years old, I founded the NMSC—the No Myspace Club. This might not seem like such a momentous decision now that Myspace has all but faded from popular culture, but at the time this was a radical choice. Only my best friend Jeff joined the club. In retrospect, I probably did this for the same reasons I did anything as a teenager: laziness, and as an attempt to stand out.

Founded on the principle of not doing something, specifically signing up for a Myspace account, the NMSC didn’t actually do anything. There were no meetings or activities; we didn’t even have club t-shirts. I do recall writing the club initials in my AIM profile in bolded caps.

It wasn’t long, though, before I regretted creating the club. All of my friends—even Jeff—eventually joined Myspace. Every conversation in the school cafeteria seemed to be about which girls had the hottest Myspace pictures, or who had the most Myspace friends. I felt left out. Too proud and foolish to abandon the club, I stuck to my guns and avoided the website.

Perhaps I would have caved in with time, had it not been for the advent of a new, exciting social network – one exclusively for college students! In 2007, Myspace was on its way to the backseat and Facebook was riding shotgun. Finally I could join a social network with all my friends and remain true to the NMSC.

For a while, all was well in the universe. By my junior year in college, I no longer associated with most of my Facebook friends from home, and my profile amounted to a bunch of cute messages from my fiancé and pictures of me with a red plastic cup. I spent more time on Facebook playing Speed Racer than socially interacting with my friends. Also, the site’s demographic was changing: adults were joining. My mother joined.

I abandoned Facebook.

Most of my friends still use the site, and it is through their interactions that I have noticed an incredible double-standard that accompanies today’s social networking; it is perfectly acceptable for people to post intimate details about their lives—through photos, videos, and text—but it is unacceptable for people to consume all of this posted material. A guy who looks at every photo in a young woman’s Facebook album is deemed a “creeper,” or worse, a “Facebook stalker.”

My fiancé told me one night that our landlords, who lived next door, had bought a new house. I asked her how she knew, and she said she “creeped” on the wife’s Facebook page. Isn’t our adapted terminology a bit misleading? I don’t think “creeper,” or “stalker” properly defines a person who uses Facebook to gather some information about a friend or neighbor. After all, even digging into the deepest pockets of a Facebook profile is still just observing what the user made available to the public. It’s not like the “Facebook stalker” is rifling through someone’s underwear drawer.

Picture this: a woman stands inside a glass box in the middle of a crowded shopping mall. She begins to strip. She starts with innocent articles like her scarf and her earrings. Then she takes off her pants. A few people stop to watch. The mall security guards show up, round up all the people watching the woman in the glass box, and admonish them for being perverts. Meanwhile, the woman continues to strip unpunished.

I am not saying that it is okay for people to spend hours examining photos and status updates of people they have never met in reality (or ex-girlfriends who have filed restraining orders); just that our current social networking model is an odd one. Nor am I claiming immunity from the whole social networking phenomenon. Twitter is my current social media addiction, which, in continuing with my metaphor, is also like stripping in public, just one thread at a time. I will end up just as naked as the lady in the glass box—it will just take a little longer.

Maybe the NMSC was just a silly adolescent idea; a faux rebellion against the norm. But perhaps, subconsciously, the NMSC was my fifteen year old self’s desperate attempt to keep his clothes on. TC mark

image – Dani_vr


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  • Javier Pickle

    Good shit. I've decided to drop some of this pretense with my closer friends–if they tell me something and I already know about it from FB I let them know. Less wasted time, more depth. Part of the point of Facebook is to make catching up easier in my mind.

  • Bema

    Finally, someone has come up with the perfect metaphor with the “let me post all my information, even my penis size, on Facebook, but don't you dare acknowledge it exists” phenomenon.

    • Bema

      This always results in awkwardity when I see someone in real life and ask “How's Mr. Footlong?”

  • Perfect Circles

    Yeah, there was some TC article a while back that differentiated between “stalking” and “lurking.”  Stalking is a crime – lurking is when you some hot guy, friend of a friend,posts beach pictures and you look at them for hours doing you know what.

    • Bema

      I believe that is called lurving, as in:

      “I lurved all over your Facebook profile last night.”

  • Guest

    In Downtown Vancouver, at the flagship store of a major retailer (I won't say which one – there are only a handful to choose from), some one got the brilliant idea for a window display of having women dressed in robes, nightgowns and négligé strip down to their bras and panties. Supposedly it was a marketing ploy to sell more lingerie. At first, they drew a huge crowd. But after a while, the crowd dispersed, because there was a grandpa holding a 6 year old's hand, just standing there, staring at the models. I don't think the grandpa was doing anything really wrong – I mean the models are standing in the most highly trafficked area in Vancouver – tens of thousands of people pass by that window display, and it was totally appalling to me that the marketeers didn't think about that fact.

    The models were really embarassed, because they had a bunch of moves choreographed, and were basically trying to seduce an octogenarian and his grandkid.

    They left the window display and didn't come back. (I know this because I wanted to see more of them!!)

  • Von Von Lamunu

    I totally agree! People should not complain about people stalking them on facebook at all, you joined so suck it up. People who don't know me personally, do not need to know if I'm sitting on the toilet, drunk at a houseparty, doing my boyfriend or eating a cheeseburger because you can change the settings. People who complain about being stalked whilst updating statuses like 'Suzanne is at bar Valmont with Lucy and Jackson' are ridiculous lol

  • Alex Nikolov

    “Meanwhile, the woman continues to strip unpunished.”…err, implying that she should be 'punished', as if it were a crime? Slightly dodgy metaphor there, but I see what you're doing nonetheless.

    • To

      I think it kinda is a crime. If someone started to strip in a…strip mall… they would be arrested.

  • JEAmaty

    Facebook “stalking” should be a form of flattery in the 21st century.

    • Alex Keen

      It might be that already, but I don't think 'stalking' is the word. Stalking implies the activity is non-consensual, that  it doesn't fulfil the mutual goals of the parties involved. The researcher might be snooping through year-old photo albums to check for ex-partners, or trying to find some common taste in music that they can bring up in conversation with that cool guy they wanna get to know better. But to release that information is to offer it up for validation from the world.

      With the internet connecting billions of people across the world, holding unimaginable quantities of data, images, content, it is a natural desire to establish one's place in the world, define one's identity. To have one's life examined is to be judged important, to be judged worthy of the commodities of time and attention from the one examining.

      A person researching another's online identity might do so with the intent of stalking them. But when we upload ourselves for judgement, we do not think of them. We think of our peers, optimistically and naively branded by Facebook as our 'Friends'. Every expression becomes part of a larger body of efforts to demonstrate the self. We judge what we offer up to be acceptable, we want to be accepted, and so we desire the 'Likes' and the comments and the 'Friends'. Every human must overcome the existential question: what meaning does my life have? Having a sense of being part of a valued community is an incredibly powerful force used to answer that question; to bolster our defences against the reality of a vast, chaotic and uncaring universe. And nowhere is that question posed more forcefully today than by the anarchic, collectively-driven morass of culture and content that is the internet.

      • JEAmaty

        Exactly. “Stalking” is in irony quotes.

        I detect a sociology major behind this comment?

      • Alex Keen

        English & Philosophy actually :D

  • MichaelR

    While I think you make a very interesting point, when you think about it, “stalker” actually is a pretty apt description for the Facebook activities you describe. You could make the same argument about actual, in-person stalking: the person is in public, and therefore is “agreeing” to let you watch what they have made public, and you should be allowed to follow them around all day. 

    The same could be said for tracking down detailed information about an acquaintance online. All, however, feel creepy to us. Just because something has been technically speaking revealed, it doesn't make it appropriate to track. However, I think your post definitely leads to some very interesting discussions about appropriate behavior on social networks.

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