Facebook’s “stalker” application.

“Stalking” seems to have become the stand-in word for checking someone out on Facebook. I have been thinking a lot about how it says so much about how we feel about viewing other people’s information on Facebook. Information on Facebook is volunteered information and Facebook has several privacy settings (albeit hard to use sometimes), but when someone looks at someone else’s Facebook profile we call it “stalking.” But stalking is a serious offense where you follow, intimidate and harass someone, something that can happen online or in the real world. The constant use of the word “stalking” for things that don’t constitute as stalking is problematic because it downplays how serious stalking actually is.

Since I am in the camp that tries not to use the term “stalking,” for Facebook activity and works hard to ensure that creepy Facebook activity is locked down, blocked or deleted, I had a few alarm bells go off when Mashable announced Facebook’s “stalker” application.

Facebook is apparently testing a new subscription feature that would allow users to receive alerts any time a specific friend takes certain actions on the social network.

AllFacebook reports that it has noticed the new feature popping up on friends’ profiles. Facebook (Facebook) told the blog, “This feature is being tested with a small percent of users. It lets people subscribe to friends and pages to receive notifications whenever the person they’ve subscribed to updates their status or posts new content (photos, videos, links or notes).”

In other words, when you click to subscribe to a user, you’ll get a new Facebook notification in your notifications bar at the top of the site or on the mobile device of your choosing any time that other user posts content. We’re not sure yet if you can subscribe to someone who’s not a friend, which is much more stalker-like, or if notifications include likes and comments (right now, it sounds like they won’t).

So, clearly, Mashable used the word “stalker” for a salacious headline (cuz nothing sez salacious like “stalker”), but this to me seems the same as following someone on twitter or subscribing to any other RSS feed. Yes, if someone you don’t want to follow your updates on Facebook subscribes that can be frustrating, but there are privacy settings so that you can block that person or you can moderate what updates they see.

The bigger issue here is the conflation of following someone online being equated as “stalking,” even if the person is your friend, boss or someone who has a crush on you. I think it shows a certain level of discomfort we have with sharing our information online, even if we are giving it voluntarily. Sharing personal information on Facebook is still in the new and foreign category and many people either don’t know how to use the privacy functions or are not sure how to control the flow of information and something feels out of control about it.

But to be clear, looking at someone’s Facebook profile a lot is not stalking; stalking is stalking. If someone is using your Facebook profile to stalk you, intimidate you or harass you, you should delete the user, ban them, tell your friends or call the police. Do what you need to do and take it seriously. And let’s try and shift away from using the term “stalking” for following people on Facebook. Anna uses the word “creeping,” which I think is a delightful alternative.

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