It was never anything serious or illegal. “Stalking” is perhaps too strong a word; it was more like “extreme nosiness”. At the height of my Facebook sleuthing, this is what I’d do:
1. Think of someone who I hadn’t seen in years.
2. Search for their profile on Facebook.
3. Try to figure out what they were doing in life, based on a handful of photos and status updates.
4. Not friend them, after all of that effort.
Here’s the thing about social media stalking: I never looked up anyone that I actually liked, or had a current relationship with. I’m already in touch with the people I love, so why would I stalk them?
The clandestine nature of my Facebook investigations should have hinted to me that I was doing something slightly dodgy. It was something I always did alone and in the middle of the night.
Eventually, curiosity killed the cat. Or rather, my curiosity to find out more about people from my past became… boring.
Watch: Radio host Ben Fordham discusses social media on Mamamia TV. (Post continues after video.)
There was the time I looked up “Elise”, the girl in high school who always seemed fascinating and glamorous to me. I think we all have an ‘Elise’ in our lives – that girl who was into music from the ’60s and could buy an ugly dress from an op shop and make it look incredible.
I’d always imagined she’d make it big in Hollywood somehow, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered she was just… ordinary. She hadn’t moved from her childhood suburb, she wasn’t doing anything crazy, and she just looked like a normal woman I’d walk past at the shops.
I’d gotten what I wanted, but the answer didn’t satisfy me. I would have preferred to forever wonder about her, rather than know she’d just turned out average.
Facebook stalking definitely extinguished the romance of my past. An all-too-real example is when I searched for “Isaac”.
At 15 years of age, I was convinced Isaac was completely in love with me and always felt guilty for not returning his ardour. To me, he was just my goofy friend — and when he described my side-parted hair as “the seductive look”, I'd decided I had to distance myself. It was clear his romantic feelings had begun to overwhelm him and I didn’t want to lead his heart astray.
Over a decade later, I wondered what Isaac was doing. Had he ever found love after I’d left his life? Facebook would have the answer.
Isaac’s profile photo featured him in tight hot pink Speedos, standing next to a man who was almost as tanned and muscly as he was. “Maybe that’s a friend of his, from water polo?” I mused, as I continued to click through his photos. (Post continues after gallery.)
No, it was Isaac’s boyfriend. I realised this when I saw a photo of the two of them pashing on a Mardi Gras float, their bare chests covered in gold glitter.
So it turns out that the one boy who I thought had a crush on Awkward Teen Carla was, in fact, obviously gay, and I had just been too self-involved to pick up the clues. Back then, he was being a kind friend to me, and I’d ditched him when he probably needed a friend most. He wasn't "out" at that point, and no doubt he would've appreciated a friend around as he figured out his sexuality, rather than a girl who ran off because she thought he was harbouring a giant crush.
The truth is, I’ve always shaped my life based on a narrative of fantasy. Imagining things about my life, and about others, has always helped get me through the dullness of daily life. It adds a hint of romance and magic to the ordinary.
Do I like standing in the queue at the bank? Not on your nelly. Do I like imagining what life would have been like in Marie Antoinette’s Versailles? Pass the pink macarons, s’il vous plait.
For me, Facebook stalking is the equivalent of standing in a bank queue. You’ll get what you want when you reach the end, but the result is always boring. There is absolutely no mystery or romance involved. It's more fun for me, and more fulfilling, to imagine what happened to those faces of the past.
Probably the worst thing about my Facebook stalking was that it brought out my jealous and judgemental nature. If I looked someone up and saw they were more successful and happy than me, I’d immediately look at what I was lacking in my own life and start feeling bitter. Or, I’d laugh at what ex-boyfriends were doing and wearing and judge them on their poor life choices (because of course, a life without moi is always a poor choice).
I didn’t like this sniggering, resentful version of myself, and realised that I could turn most of those feelings “off” if I stopped using social media to creep on people.
Call me a Luddite, but when it comes to people of my past, I’ve decided to pretend that I live in a pre-social media time. "Goodbye" really was goodbye back then; there were no tenuous digital links between us and we could always wonder and hope for the best for that person.
And really, the truly interesting people aren’t on Facebook under their real names. Or they’re not there at all.
There's also the argument that whatever we present on Facebook might not be “real” anyway – we always post the best (“Thanks for the chocolate and roses! #perfecthusband”) and worst (“F*** OFF TO THE ASSHOLE WHO HIT MY CAR”) anyway, right?
I can confidently say I no longer want to know what the people of my past are doing. I'm focussing on my present instead.
Do you indulge in Facebook stalking? Is it harmless, or dangerous?