The social media loophole people are using to catch their cheating partners.

Last seen; 02:40am… wait, what?

Why? When he said he would be home? When he wasn’t going out? When you know he didn’t have plans?

Ah, maybe it’s a one-off. He probably couldn’t sleep. But you can’t escape it. You’re now checking his WhatsApp on every occasion…

Why is he spending so much time online?

Why is he always online in the middle of the night?

Why has he ‘read’ your message but not replied (and you know he’s ample time to reply, because he’s spending so much time online)?

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Before online messaging, we had very little choice but to believe our partners when they would tell us their plans, or their intentions. Now, we have things like ‘read’ receipts, time stamps, Facebook check-ins, photo tagging (the list goes on) to monitor their whereabouts and networking habits.

In fact today, it’s more incredible if we don’t know what our significant other is doing from moment to moment – between instant messaging, post updates from work to home, Spotify channels, Tweets, Grams, Snap Chats, etc. That’s why an unexplained 2am time-stamp is so suspicious. If they were out, you’d know about it. If they were with friends, you’d know about it. If they had any legitimate reason for checking their phone in the middle of the night (insomnia aside), you’d likely know about it.

WhatsApp in particular has a lot to answer for.

In 2014, Gian Ettore Gassani, the president of the Italian Association of Matrimonial Lawyers, said 40% of divorce cases involving adultery in Italy relied on the WhatsApp messages sent between unfaithful spouses and their lovers as evidence of infidelity.

Those timestamps are giving the game away.

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Of course, it’s not WhatsApp in itself that’s ruining the relationships – it’s obviously the partner who’s getting their rocks off with someone else.

As well as this, a healthy relationship (ideally) should be based on trust that cannot be shaken by a time-stamp or read receipt.

For this reason, there is a case for curbing our own paranoia. I’ve seen friends become utterly obsessed with watching the WhatsApp of boyfriends or lovers, as if, by watching their activity from a far, it will somehow reveal the truth, or bring them closer, or make them understand the gap that has come between them. In some cases the ‘time-stamp hunch’ has been correct, and the partner in question has been cheating. Other times, a whole waterfall of energy is lost into digital watching, waiting, questioning, doubting.

In a word world where nothing (really) is private, and where we can watch and question and answer everything, we should be protecting ourselves, not monitoring others. It is so easy to get carried away in the ‘what ifs’, ‘let’s see if they’re online’, ‘why, ‘how, ‘what time’? question marks. It’s tempting because it’s possible – we can find out, but what then? Won’t it just lead to more questions, doubts, what ifs?

It’s time to draw the line and protect ourselves from falling into the rabbit warren that is online stalking. Have the conversation, instead of watching for time-stamps. Decide whether you trust that person for their behaviour towards you, instead of the photos they’re tagged in. Maybe even give them a call? Instead of waiting for read receipts?

Watch next: Is there anything worse than a text from your ex?

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