I file several to dozens of stories a week, so I rarely have time to get emotionally attached to first drafts. I throw them out into the ether — well, really into the hands of my trusty editors. I'm usually if not always quite pleased with the final result. This week, one of my lovely (and I mean absolutely delightful) clients Teen Vogue ran a condensed version of my piece on the psychological ramifications of social media hate-stalking in teens. What I'd like to do is share my original draft since I had a blast writing it. Like, writing about social media etiquette is my favourite thing to do after doing Pilates to pop punk music. Really specific, I know. Without further ado:
Here's Why You Should Seriously Consider Cutting Yourself Off from Hate-Stalking
By Marissa Miller
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, we’re all guilty of Facebook stalking. It starts innocently: first, you log on with the intention of posting a cute meme on your BFF’s wall, and then hours later you find yourself clicking through profiles and links you had no plan on visiting. You then find yourself 10 degrees of separation deep into some serious lurking – of strangers or not – and having to feign ignorance next time you see them in person (“Oh, you went to Jamaica this summer? Had no idea!” “Seriously loving your top – where’d you get it?”) Girl, we all know you saw that very detailed OOTD.
But for teenage girls, social media lurking can have serious ramifications on your psyche that extend well beyond accidentally liking a post from 73 weeks ago.
“You’re only seeing part of the story so you’re getting a skewed perspective,” says Corrie Sirota, a clinical social worker. “We do know that it’s a fantasy image. Your perspective is what you believe is the truth, so you think it’s what’s really happening, but the image we portray is not real.”
The stakes are especially high since adolescence is a period of identity development and discovering who you are. “Popularity is hugely important in high school. After high school, who cares if you’re popular? You don’t want your kid to be popular in high school because if you peak too soon, that’s dangerous. Think about Mean Girls; it still stands true. [Social media] is just faster, bigger and wider spread. It’s that same dynamic of being mean and what one has to do to maintain that status.”
Over half of adolescents log onto social media sites every day, a testament to the amount emotional development they experience online. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called on pediatricians to speak to their patients about their Facebook habits to gain some insight into what could possibly be the culprit of depression. Experts say prolonged exposure to the sites could lead to feelings of isolation and poor self(ie)-esteem.
The old adage goes: for every good selfie, there’s 47 failed ones. This further proves that we display these perfectly curated online versions of ourselves. And who could blame us? Our digital audiences span far and wide, and now given the lenient and wonky privacy settings inherent in many social media platforms, we have less control over who sees our stuff, putting even more pressure on us to be some variation of perfect. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh Business School found that those with more friends on Facebook tend to feel more stressed in an effort to constantly please and entertain a varied social group. In this same vein, the account you’re fawning over – or likely at this point stalking – did not, in fact, wake up like ‘dis. It’s important to remember that we’re all putting our best feet, faces and social lives forward. Take it all with a grain of salt (pink Himalayan salt if you plan on Instagramming it, that is).
So, what exactly are we trying to get out of stalking? Is there a high associated with being stalked? If we know it’s only making us feel worse about ourselves, can it be characterized as something of an addiction?
Sirota confirms that it is, indeed, a drug. “It’s our lifeline. People feel connected that way. It’s a bit of voyeurism. ‘Look at me, look at how wonderful my life is even though my life is a disaster’. It’s getting that validation. People who aren’t popular in real life can be popular online,” she says.
Taking a trip down the digital lane of someone else’s life may feel as natural as accepting a Facebook event invitation, but in no way is it healthy. It begs the question: why are we more interested in someone else’s life than cultivating our own relationships? “When fantasy becomes stronger than reality, you can’t live up to that,” Sirota says. Sure, but somehow, many of us find ourselves trying to live up to the standards of people with fabricated lives.
Of course, stalking is a lazy way of forging a connection with someone. Instead of enduring a face-to-face conversation (oh, the horror!), we try to extract as much intel about them as we can so we’re mentally prepared for or IRL interaction. Think about all the times you discovered a wealth of information about someone’s background, their hobbies and their personality – all through absentmindedly scrolling years down their feed. Did it feel like an organic way of getting to know them? Did their true, in-person selves measure up to their digital selves?
We invite you to rise to the challenge of stepping away from the urge to stalk. Let us know in the comments about your experiences!