It’s become a given: we are all stalkers now. Thanks to Google, Twitter, Facebook and the fact that absolutely nobody seems to have the faintest idea about privacy settings, it is easier to keep track of people on the other side of the world than ever it was to snoop on a village neighbour from behind the safety of a lace curtain. But a strange and sinister new phenomenon has begun to emerge. Call it secondary stalking. Even the stalkers are being stalked now.
This was brought home to me the other night when I was having dinner with one of my closest friends, who I will call Andrew (gay, as it happens, so no romantic implications in what follows). I’d been aware for some time that Andrew is one of my stalkers, totally unnecessarily as I tell him everything anyway, when the subject of an ex came up. ‘He’s propositioning every woman he knows under 30,’ sneered Andrew somewhat maliciously, which is all very well except for one thing. Andrew has never met this ex. So he’s not only stalking me, but my wider acquaintance as well. How far is this going to go? Will he start stalking my ex’s exes as well?
Just what is going on here? Since when has life turned into one giant snoop?
The incidence of secondary stalking is particularly alarming given that those of us who like to maintain a little mystery about our lives are now finding it increasingly difficult to do. It’s also depriving us of the opportunity to spread some seriously good goss. I have another friend who was recently involved in a very nasty divorce, but instead of getting to be the first to break the bad news about what her arse of an ex has done now, everyone I wish to share this with already knows because she’s put it on Facebook. Swiz!
Worse still, friends of friends are starting to have opinions about each other. In the past, I could drop vague hints about a new chum living in Docklands and doing something in the City, thus implying that I only mingle with the movers and shakers, baby, but these days it takes just the click of a mouse to find out that, actually, said acquaintance works in accounts for a fast food business based on Commercial Road. And whereas it used to be me and me alone who got to adjudicate about the behaviour and appearance of my wider set, now one friend who has never met another friend has started to make comments about the latter friend’s weight gain. It’s like family: I’m allowed to criticise them, but I don’t like it coming from anyone else.
It’s getting dangerous. Rows are breaking out amongst my stalkers. There was a vicious spat between two people on my Facebook page who have not only never met one another, but who live on different continents as well. Tact was called for on my part and the dismantling of a few written-in-the-heat-of-the-moment posts. A couple of years ago I had no idea what a moderator was: now I’m the moderator at the centre of my own life, removing unsuitable comments and trying to prevent my stalkers fighting. Life was never like this before.
But even that’s not the worst of it. The most embarrassing admission of all is that I am now a secondary stalker too. It’s almost impossible not to be: even when we have come to hate past loves and, indeed, friends, the residual curiosity to find out what’s happened in their lives is irresistible.
And you know what you end up finding out? That your first great love not only unaccountably managed to get over you, but is now married to someone who is richer, prettier and more successful than you could ever be. It is the work of a moment to click on to her Facebook profile and within days you’re obsessively checking her status updates and reading her Twitter feed. Meanwhile, all your secondary stalking friends are doing exactly the same, so they know your ex found someone better too. And they know that you know that they know that you know.
Still, look on the bright side: at least you and your tragic life are interesting enough to have stalkers: just imagine how awful it would be if no one thought you were worth stalking at all. The only thing worse than being stalked is not being stalked, as the chap almost put it. Amen to that. I know some people who haven’t had problems with virtual snoopers and frankly, one really doesn’t know what to say to them. Leave Facebook, I advise them, as compassionately as possible. Stop tweeting. Give up Googling yourself. Get a life.
Virginia Blackburn is a journalist and writer living in London.