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. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Dani_vr

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