A lot of people out there seem to be creeped out at the thought that they might have a stalker following their online activities. They want to know who is viewing their profiles, looking at their photos, reading their status updates and how often.
On Facebook, there have been many applications advertised to let you find this information and all of them are fakes. It’s a good thing, too. These applications may satisfy your curiosity, but they treat all of the friends that you added to your profile as potential stalkers. Even if it were possible to find a Facebook application that reveals your profile views, by using that application to find stalkers you would become the very thing that you were trying to avoid. You’d be stalking your friends’ online activities and snooping on actions that they believed were their own, private actions.
Recently, professional site LinkedIn have removed anonymity from profile views, based on a user setting. MySpace have a similar feature: if you want to see who views your profile, you must let them see your activity. If you consider how frequently Facebook is changed, it seems that there is every chance that Facebook will add the same feature in the future. Facebook also have a disturbing policy of enabling new settings by default. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is a reason to be vigilant. If you want to sacrifice your privacy in order to satisfy your curiosity it should be your choice and the choice of those who do not want to sacrifice their privacy should be respected as well.
So, do you have a stalker?
The first thing to get clear in a discussion about stalking is what stalking actually is. That way we can avoid persecuting and humiliating innocent people with the reputation-damaging label “stalker”.
A stalker is not someone who views your social profiles. It is not someone who views your page a lot. It is not someone who views your photos and it is not even someone who downloads them. None of these activities automatically make someone a stalker.
If you are really being stalked it is a serious matter. It is illegal in at least some countries, as a form of threat and harassment.
The US legal definition states that not only do you have to be followed, but it is “with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm” (I suggest you read the whole definition here).
Cyber stalking also involves high levels of harassment, distress and the intent to track down and meet a person in the physical world. To reduce the chance that someone can trace you in the physical world you can read our guides on using location-based Facebook and how to use Twitter safely.
I have to suggest that before you accuse someone of being a stalker you should think very carefully. Are you really under threat of death or injury just because someone views your photos online? Photos that you published yourself? Because when you put things online, your social profiles, your location, your pictures, your thoughts, your job description, you are publishing it.
If you are reading this and you do have a real stalker, if you are living in fear of physical harm, then contact local law enforcement.
Now that I have that warning out of the way, I can give you some practical tips in case you are curious about how much your profiles are getting viewed. I know that a lot of people have encountered this blog by searching for ways to discover so-called stalkers or to find out how to track people online better. I know because I can see how searchers came to this site. Yes, I can see that.
If you look around you can find there are several sites and services that give you viewing statistics. I already mentioned the features in MySpace and LinkedIn, which allow you to see the details of your viewers so long as you are willing to reveal your details to them. That’s a nice way to do it.
Blogging sites offer statistical views of how many views you have for each post and where the posts have been linked. This is still somewhat anonymous, but that should be fine. It is still a lot of information.
YouTube even have a little statistics area that can be opened up from underneath each video that tells you the age, gender and country of the video’s viewers and which link or search brought them to the video.
Facebook? The best advice I can give you is this: Why don’t you just ask?
Ask your friends and they might even tell you. You can also use common sense: Find out who comments most often and who ‘likes’ the most photos and status updates; the chances are that they view your profile the most often and that they are also very active Facebook users.
Of course, going through your Facebook Friends’ list and removing anyone you do not trust personally is always a good idea.
You should know that Facebook can play with your emotions. If you're reading this you're probably aware that your Facebook feed doesn't simply serve you the latest posts from the friends and pages you follow. Given that most of us follow hundred -- if not thousands -- of people, places and brands, a real-time feed would dramatically change the Facebook experience. And it would likely greatly reduce engagement, which is the site's life force. But if you do know this, you may be in the minority. A new study from a team of researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, California State University, Fresno and the University of Michigan found that most of a group of 40 Facebook users, 62.5 percent had no idea that their feed is filtered by the world's largest social network. And not knowing that actually seemed to have negative affects on users' psyches. “In the extreme case, it may be that whenever a software developer in Menlo Park adjusts a parameter, someone somewhere wrongly starts to believe themselves to be unloved,” the researchers wrote. The study used a tool to create an unfiltered feed that showed them what they'd been missing. While they weren't thrilled how Facebook decided which friends posts they'd see, "[m]ost came to think that the filtering and ranking software was actually doing a decent job," Fusion's Alex Madrigal writes. In 2014, Facebook partnered in an academic paper that revealed it had manipulated users feeds to adjust how many positive and negative posts they saw. It found that moods were contagious. Positive feeds led to positive posts and vice versa. Users agree to such manipulation in Facebook's terms and conditions -- which you clearly know by heart -- but the revelation still led to a huge backlash. In the recent study, participants found that being aware they were being fed stories by Facebook's algorithm "bolstered overall feelings of control on the site" and led to more active engagement. So if you didn't know a formula was guiding your interactions before you probably already feel better. But there's more you can do if you want to make sure Facebook is showing you the things you actually want to see. 1. Be proactive. Go directly to the pages of the people, companies and artists you want to see more of then engage. Like posts or comments. Comment yourself. Share posts. Facebook's motivation is to keep you on the site as long as humanly possible--and it's very good at it. If it's not showing something you'd enjoy seeing, it probably would like to. So let it know. 2. Choose "Most Recent" posts. In the left column of your home page, click on the arrow next to "News Feed". If you select "Most Recent", your experience will likely be less filtered. Though you still should not to expect to see every post that ends up on the site. 3. Go to News Feed Preferences. Click on the down arrow that's on every Facebook page and select News Feed Preferences. The goal here is to unfollow anything you're sick of seeing so you get more of what you do want. Or re-follow people or things you've missed. 4. Tell your feed what you like. Facebook wants you to take an active role in adjusting your algorithm. That's why every post in your feed has a dim down arrow that you can select. If something really bugs you, tell Facebook you don't want to see and Unfollow the person or page. If you really love it, you can "Turn on notifications" which guarantees that every future post ends up in your notifications -- that little globe on the top navigation. Your notifications can act as a secondary newsfeed to make sure you don't miss posts from your favorites. 5. Switch to Twitter and Tweetdeck. If you want complete control over your newsfeed, you're never going to get it on Facebook. Even Twitter is moving away from this method of feeding content for a pretty simple reason, it needs more engagement. Given that Facebook and Twitter employee dozens if not hundred of programmers and experts paid to make their sites captivate you, they figure they're better at it than you. If you want to prove them wrong, Twitter's Tweetdeck app, which works in your browser, still offers unmediated newsfeeds so you can feed your own brain. Twitter isn't quite as personal or ubiquitous as Facebook -- but it is the next best thing. Try it out and see if you feel more loved. Cheers, Jason [Photo by Geraint Rowland | Flickr]