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There is a guy at the gym about whom you can’t stop thinking. He’s charming, handsome and has all the physical qualities that grab your attention. Yet, before you introduce yourself, you need to know more about your target. It’s time to do some social media stalking.

The internet is a useful tool for doing research on various newsworthy or academic topics. However, we can also scour the web to find details about our friends, families and potential partners.

I’ve been guilty of this since the era of Myspace and Hi5. In fact, as websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, developed more sophisticated search options, I devised clever ways of tracking people online.

For example, if I saw attractive people at the gym, I would search for the location tag on Instagram. If I couldn’t find any uploads from their accounts using that marker, I would use Facebook to see if they or their workout partners were on my friend list.

Private profiles could not stop me. Indeed, I would use whatever available images I could find to do simple Google Images searches. Moreover, I would expand my quest by looking them up on LinkedIn and even Tumblr by using hashtags.

Within a few days, I would know their names, professions, hometowns and closest friends. If the information was online, I found it.

Social media stalking on Modern Family
ABC: ‘Modern Family’

Regardless of what I found online, nothing compared to the genuine insight I got when I finally introduced myself. In reality, I often discovered the person in front of me had more depth than all the search results combined.

Social media give glimpses of a person’s life.

No matter how transparent people are online, it is impossible for them to share every aspect of themselves, even if they livestream every moment. Frankly, we are far more complicated than a 140-character tweet or a filter on Snapchat can capture. 

For instance, if we only see pictures of a guy at parties with his tattoos on display and his hair gelled to perfection, it will be easy to assume he is just shallow party boy. On the contrary, what we don’t see is that he only goes clubbing once a month, and spends most of his time with family.

What we get from our social media stalking are bits of data; fragmented pieces of who people are that do not tell us a complete story. Furthermore, without actually talking to them, we can never fully understand how those segments fit to form the whole.

Virtual reality differs from actual reality.

In an early episode of the Trini Trent Radio podcast, “Your Instagram is a Liar,” Terry Torro and I spoke about how people chase attention on social media. However, understanding that behaviour involves understanding the psychology of the users.

It’s rare for me to see people on my Facebook newsfeed sharing anything troublesome about their lives. Actually, they mostly do that when they want to humblebrag about conquering adversity or when they want emotional coddling.

What is more common is for people to share only the best happenings in their worlds – new jobs or updates their relationships. That’s because they use social media to showcase their best or ideal selves.

Therefore, when your search results of your crush reveal pictures living what seems to be his best life, beware. What you are seeing is the version of his life he wants the world to see without the hardships.

The Guardian has an interesting take on this behaviour. Rather than classifying it as a type of deception, the aspects of people’s lives showcased online are termed as a parts of a greater whole.

The quotes a man shares on Instagram and the racy tweets he posts to Twitter are different yet connected reflections of his true self. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points out, they can all be tied to a single core personality.

Still, as I said in “Swipe Right for Your Happily Ever After,” it is easy those of us on the outside to fall in love with the ideals people present online. We cling to those fantasies without knowing what lies behind the filters of social media.

Online “friends” mean nothing.

I have over 3,800 friends on my personal Facebook page yet I only know about 200 of them. Imagine if someone was interested in me and was using my contacts to determine my character. There are probably several suspicious individuals on my list repulsing a potential suitor at this very moment.

Social media stalking reactions
ABC: ‘Family Matters’

Again, social media stalking does not provide information in context. Determining people’s characters based on a virtual friends without an explanation can block you from truly getting to know them.

In defense of social media stalking.

All snooping isn’t bad snooping, especially if you do so with the awareness that taking everything you see at face value can be misleading. Honestly, there are benefits to a well-meaning, properly executed stalk.

Firstly, you can get a general sense of people by checking their online activity. Gauge how much time per day they spend online and pay attention to how they interact with other people.

For example, if you’re attracted to a peaceful man, then a guy who use Twitter to attack celebrities may not be for you. Additionally, if you want a man who is secure with himself, be wary of one who lightens his skin in selfies.

A second benefit of social media stalking is available to members of the LGBTQ community but be careful. Using Facebook, for instance, to determine a man’s sexuality would mean you’re relying on stereotypical cues, and I don’t suggest that.

On the other hand, you can see if he tolerates flirtations from guys who comment on his updates. From that, you can gain more clarity regarding whether you want to approach him face to face.

The bottom line.

Social media stalking has its pros and cons but it all comes down to your intention. As yourself why you want to search for people online instead of getting to know them through conversation.

If you are afraid of making advances in person, look inward to address your own confidence or self-esteem issues. Also, take a moment to consider you might be trying to sabotage your own happiness.

Are you trying to see if you are compatible with someone or are you looking for reasons not to make a move?

Ponder that question as well as this wonderful quote that helped me!

“Your path is not to seek love but do seek all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi