Is Facebook Spying on an Ex-Flame The New Normal?

“Facebook stalking” behavior is increasing in frequency, and acceptance.

Posted Jan 16, 2018

Some have observed that Facebook friendship is stalking-made-easy. Of course, following the activities of someone on Facebook is not real stalking, it is more like spying. Yet despite the clandestine nature of such behavior, it has gained acceptance to the point where many people admit doing it. 

And most Facebook users know they are assuming the risk of unwanted prying eyes observing their posts. Why? Because Facebook is a great source of information. It provides a unique platform to socialize with a broad range of friends, acquaintances, and even business contacts.  

Yet unlike LinkedIn or Twitter, Facebook is a place people are more likely to post personal information—which makes it an irresistible source of intelligence about a potential new love interest.  But first of all, the two of you have to become Facebook friends.

So choose your friends carefully.  A Facebook friendship, like a marriage, is a long-term commitment. Unless you take the time to figure out how to unfriend someone, you will appear indefinitely in each other´s news feeds, birthday lists, and any other setting geared to keeping you up to date with what all of your friends are doing.  This includes ex-partners.

Failing to unfriend an ex-flame allows them to keep following you, if they are so inclined. Or maybe you are the one doing the following. Either way, according to research, you are in good company. 

Facebook Friends-Turned Followers

It is a well-known fact that couples continue to monitor each other´s online activity after relationships end. Covert surveillance of an ex-partner´s behavior capitalizes on the transparency of Facebook´s features.

Although we probably already know from personal experience, researchers have been investigating the motivations behind such monitoring behavior.  Stephanie Tong in “Facebook Use During Relationship Termination” (2013), explored the reasons people monitor the behavior of ex-partners.[i]  Results showed that people use Facebook to gain information about an ex-partner´s social activities, new love interests, or what they are saying to others. Her study also showed that not surprisingly, information seeking was higher among partners who did not initiate the romantic break up.

Facebook Stalking

Monitoring ex-flames online is often referred to as “Facebook Stalking.” This is actually a misnomer, because stalking is a crime defined under applicable penal codes to include a component of making a credible threat.

In some cases, however, post-relationship Facebook stalking is unfortunately closer to the real thing. Some disgruntled ex-partners engage in threatening online behavior designed to induce fear.

Borrajo et al. (2015) recognize that new technologies allow an abuser to control and intimidate a partner online instead of in person. They note that cyber dating abuse is a term that has been defined broadly to include monitoring and surveillance of a romantic partner or ex-partner, as well as posting humiliating photos, and making rude or threatening comments.[ii]

Borrajo et al. also note that online monitoring might become normalized when it is interpreted as an acceptable expression of love and concern, which could cause the behavior to continue. They explain that the contemporary technological environment of constant connectivity has decreased perceived individuality, and increased the expectation of knowing what other people are doing at all times.

Does Everyone Facebook Stalk?

Unfortunately, the stigma that might otherwise be attached to online boundary-violating behavior is diminished when there is a perception that “everyone is doing it.” Even more unfortunate is the fact that within certain peer groups, such behavior might be closer to the rule than the exception. 

Marcum et al. (2016) found that cyberstalking, examined in terms of someone specifically trying to access someone´s social media, is predicted by deviant peer association and low self-control.[iii] 

They note that cyberstalkers are likely influenced by peers who support such behavior. They recognize previous research demonstrating that many university students believe their peers engage in intrusive online behaviors with romantic partners, and that individuals with low self-control are drawn to deviant peer groups.

Breaking Up On and Offline

In contemporary times, and particularly after terminating an unhealthy relationship, breaking up offline should mean breaking up online as well. And that means unfriending past flames. Sure, ex-paramours with friends in common can strategize a complicated workaround if they really want to follow your activities on Facebook, but the time and effort involved might decrease the frequency of their covert surveillance. 

Considering the prevalence of online monitoring activity and the instant transparency available once a new love interest has become a Facebook friend, perhaps investigating prospective partners prospectively can increase the chances of making healthy relationship choices on the front end. 

References

[i] Stephanie Tom Tong, “Facebook Use During Relationship Termination: Uncertainty Reduction and Surveillance,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Volume 16, Number 11, 2013, 788-793.

[ii] Erika Borrajo, Manuel Gamez-Guadix, Noemi Pereda, and Esther Calvete, ”The development and validation of the cyber dating abuse questionnaire among young couples,” Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 48 (2015): 358-365 (359).

[iii] Catherine D. Marcum, George E. Higgins, and Jason Nicholson, ”I´m Watching You: Cyberstalking Behaviors of University Students in Romantic Relationships,” Am J Crim Just (2016); DOI 10.1007/s12103-016-9358-2.