12 People Admit To Their Social Media 'Stalking' Habits

Nothing makes me feel more comparatively stable than hearing my friends talk about their social media habits. A conversation that begins quite Sex and the City can rapidly descend into Single White Female in minutes, as they make terrifying admissions about "stalking" other people online. It's not a nice phrase – but it's one commonly used, and can include anything from creeping through your work crush's Twitter account, to locating people from Tinder over on Instagram, to my personal jackpot: Finding a minor celeb's personal Facebook page.

Everyone "stalks" their ex, obviously. It is quite normal to want to chart the every Instagram Like, Tagged Photo and "Interested In This Event" of someone you shared a bed with for two and a half years. But what strikes me as slightly more disconcerting, is when someone I regularly go to the pub with admits that they keep more tabs on actual strangers than the NSA. Sometimes the information is just there, in your face – I could tell you the name of a cat owned by a journalist I've never met, or what a girl I've never met wore to fashion week, for example – but sometimes we actively go looking for it.

It's tempting to believe that our social media habits are a symptom of our age; an age where two-thirds of adult Britons own a smartphone and, according to Ofcom reports, spend roughly two hours on it a day; an age when we apparently own an average of four social media accounts per person. But then, my 18-year-old sister and 16-year-old brother don't have any social media accounts, and my sister recently told me she'd never even looked at the Facebook page of the boy she's dating.

Conflicted about what is "normal" behaviour online, I decided to unofficially survey some people, anonymously, and ask about the true extent of their spying, as well as their surprisingly high-tech methods. Going forty weeks deep into someone's Instagram account only ever makes me a little bit creepy at best and like a cyber criminal at worst, so my other question for my interviewees was: Does social media 'stalking' ever have a positive outcome?

The stories were mixed, revealing that people creep on social media for fairly predictable reasons: Jealousy, intrigue, a sense of belonging, self-affirmation and just plain boredom. Click through the slideshow to read some honest accounts about people following the lives of others online, and how – when they really thought about it – it taught them something about themselves.

*Some names in this article have been changed.
1 of 12
Megan, 29

"My relationship with social media is a strange one: I go through phases of not using it much, or just using it for work. And spending my free time on productive things like reading. Then I'll have other phases where I lurk the shit out of people in bed at night for an hour before I go to sleep. The former is definitely more likely to be a period when I'm in a relationship and the latter when I'm single.

"I've done a lot of intense things on social media that I really wouldn't care to admit publicly. One time I was dating someone and they posted loads of stills from films and artwork on their Instagram, so I Google Reverse Image searched some of them to see what they were. I know – a new low.

"Another weird thing I quite often do is go back through people's Facebook photos and look at who they used to date, then stalk the person they used to date and sometimes even the person they used to date.

"Obviously I would be totally humiliated if anyone ever found out but if they don't, it's like it didn't happen right? Although I truly will never forget the first time someone told me that they can see every time I go on their LinkedIn profile. That was embarrassing..."
2 of 12
Robin, 28

"You know when people have no Facebook photos with their face in it? Yeah... that, with someone I'd been set up on a blind date with. So when I was round at dinner with a mutual friend of the date, I politely asked them whether I could use their Facebook account to have a look at the girl's tagged photos. I cancelled the date, which now I realise was kind of shallow – and like... maybe we'd have got on? I'll never know.

"I think social media 'stalking' is actually really unhealthy because it gives us the distance from which to really analyse and overthink things. When you're in the moment with someone, spending time with them, you're focussing on real, lived experience. When you're spying on them from afar you tend to read into things way too much. It's definitely warped and it hasn't improved any of my personal relationships, just swallowed up a whole load of time – time I'll never get back."
3 of 12
Melanie, 55

"It is a misconception that older people don't look at what our friends are doing on the internet. We have Facebook too! I sometimes do look at what my ex husband is doing, who he's married to now, what his kids look like. It's not personal or because I miss him or am jealous, it's just human curiosity.

"I don't really think it's unhealthy. I'm just being nosy. I wouldn't say it was a bad thing. Then again I'm not very good at Facebook so I probably run the risk of the people I'm looking at finding out by me clicking on the wrong thing!"
4 of 12
Michael, 20

"I wouldn't say I was very advanced with my social media stalking. I just do that standard thing of going on someone's Facebook tagged photos, clicking the left key and seeing their first ever tagged pictures. Especially people I'm getting with. It's generally quite a useful indicator of whether you actually fancy someone – because if you see them with really bad hair and really awful clothes in 2009 and you think it's sweet or funny rather than completely embarrassing then it probably means your feelings are more than just superficial. Or I don't know... maybe it just depends how superficial you are as a person.

"I do the same kind of thing on Instagram, or at least I have since I got it. Sometimes people tag users in a photo and that's a goldmine of info, just because then you know who the person you're looking at has been hanging out with. When you're into someone it's easy to assume the worst or read too much into it, but I still think it's quite handy and I wouldn't avoid doing it for that reason.

"I've never felt guilty about social media 'stalking' because I don't really do it that much. Also I think everyone assumes that everyone else does it a bit, don't they?"
5 of 12
Nial, 22

"I probably spend at least an hour a day 'stalking' people on social media. And there are two different types of 'stalking' – professional and personal.

"Professional stalking involves looking at people whose careers I'd like to emulate, or people who work in industries I'd like to crack, and trying to figure out their secrets – especially as I'm quite uncertain as to my career path and change my mind literally every day. That tends to be mainly on Twitter but I always cross over to Facebook to see if I have any mutual friends if I happen upon someone good. You can get a surprising amount of insight into the various networks of people that make up each industry. What's slightly worrying is that I'll often actually recognise people in real life that I've 'stalked' on social media.

"Personal is mainly hot guys and people I find annoying. The people I find annoying are mainly smug lifestyle and food bloggers."
6 of 12
Lucy, 27

"Maybe this is really self involved but I'm way more into the flip side of social media 'stalking'... Assuming that people are 'stalking' me and using it to my advantage. Devious, I know, but it's basically about encouraging people to stalk you with underhand methods; ensuring people they follow like your Instagrams, getting yourself tagged in photos where you clearly have a fabulous life but NEVER regramming them, commenting on other people's posts that will intrigue them – like someone you know that they respect in some way or who is very successful, ensuring you get loads of of likes on a selfie so they know they've got competition – the list goes on and on.

"I think everyone stalks to some degree and that kind of makes it okay. That's why there are so many memes about girls finding shit out via Instagram. That said, the extent of mine is totally shameful and I actually couldn't handle anyone seeing my top Instagram or Facebook searches. I only knew I was over my ex when he was no longer in there..."
7 of 12
Hani, 24

"I think, if I'm really honest, my relationship with social media is an unhealthy one. I either stalk hot girls in a fairly masochistic way, or – depending on what point I'm at in my love life – either the guy I'm into, or my ex-boyfriend.

"I spend a lot of time looking at other women with body types, faces, skin and hair that are unattainable to me. I already have insecurities about not being tall, skinny and pretty enough and Instagram is just an easily accessible way to further deepen those feelings. Having said that though, I spend time on a lot of really body positive fitness accounts that have encouraged me to eat better and exercise for my mental health. So it's kind of a strange one; Instagram has both exacerbated my body dysmorphia but also made me actually do something about it instead of sitting at home feeling rubbish.

"The 'stalking' guys thing is maybe a little out of control. I don't tend to care about their past because I'm a narcissist and it doesn't involve me. I don't even go backwards in Facebook photos because 1. I'll see their hot ex girlfriend and there's no need, and 2. I'll see how they dressed three years ago and it will be a turn off. Seeing what they're currently up to is a whole other ball game though, and it really affects my self esteem. If I see a guy I'm dating likes a hot girl's photo I will repeatedly go back to that girl's account, click on her photos and scroll through the likes to see if they keep doing it.

"It feels like a morbid fascination. In my everyday life I am a rational, sentient person and I know I shouldn't do this stuff but I do it all the time. I'd be interested to see who else does."
8 of 12
Jordan, 23

"Most of the people I 'stalk' are famous people. Or nearly-famous people, I guess you'd say. There's this whole network of models on Instagram who I'm really obsessed with. A lot of them are with an agency called 'Tomorrow Is Another Day' and they're all young and beautiful and lead fabulous lives. I'm kinda fascinated by them.

"It feels kinda weird and kinda perverse – especially as I'm taken in by these lives that just seem very artificial or a performance on social media but at the same time a lot of the people I look at are unashamedly gay and beautiful. I guess on some level, looking at gay people who are fabulous makes me feel more fabulous about being gay.

"I have trouble meeting boys and I don't really have any sense of a gay community personally, in that I only have a few disparate gay male friends and have never really been part of a gay scene so to speak. Not through lack of trying, but I've always felt in some way excluded or like a bit of an outsider in the LGBT community, so I kind of have this urge to live vicariously through these people who live a very idealised gay lifestyle – one that is unapologetic and populated with ridiculously beautiful young guys.

"So, for me, in some ways following people on Instagram is comforting, in other ways it's kind of depressing. It's a double edged sword. It's definitely inspiring but also sort of masochistic."
9 of 12
Laura, 28

"I'm obvs an avid 'stalker' but I wouldn't say there was much method to my madness. I used the geo-tagging Instagram tool long before it was publicised in order to see where people were posting from and where they live.

"I'm fuming that people's Insty 'following' list is no longer in chronological order. That was such a great 'stalking' tool especially for spying on my ex-boyfriend. I definitely found out who he was bonking based on his most recent follows. From there I used to go into girls' accounts to see what pics he'd been liking and who was liking back. That's normal right?

"I wouldn't say I've ever been caught or had any faux pas apart from the time I accidentally called someone I'd never met by their Instagram name rather than their actual name. It was really bad."
10 of 12
Sam, 19

"One time I was blocked by a guy I'd been talking to for around a year after a small argument. Still blocked, by the way, and pretty relieved. I'd found a way around this by searching his username on Twitter without going on his profile. I'd get live updates on what he was doing. He may have thought what he was doing was hidden – but Twitter is a public platform. Because the search filtered whenever his username was used, I'd be able to see every conversation he was having. Nothing was sacred. I knew when he was flirting, I knew when he was meeting someone and where. Luckily for him, he was 80 miles away... OK, now I just sound terrifying so I should probably make it clear that I never physically stalked him.

"I'd love to say I feel bad but I really don't – I do this kind of thing all the time and I work in social media so all of this feels quite normal to me!"
11 of 12
Jenny, 25

"I am an internet detective and online stalking fiend, not that I would admit it openly. But give me the first name of someone and some other vague information and I'll have found all of their social media accounts in under eight minutes, including their hidden Bebo.

"The worst thing I've done? Oh God... I've been known to create fake accounts in order to improve stalking possibilities but to be honest that was more Blackberry days when I would add boyfriends or friends' boyfriends on Blackberry Messenger and try to catch them out by flirting and pretending we'd met them at a club or out and about.

"Actually, talking about it now, in hindsight, that sounds incredibly f*cked up, so I'm not going to reveal any more."
12 of 12
Gemma, 30

"I'm afraid jealousy is the sole reason for my social media stalking. I always seem to go out with people who have much better looking ex-girlfriends than me, and it makes me feel bad. So I used to casually (twice a week) peruse their Instagrams – and I'd need a cigarette afterwards during which I'd give myself a "you have a great personality" pep talk.

"However! I recently went on a big holiday and did all this yoga and the teacher told us to 'get rid of negative energy because not only do we carry negative energy that we don't need, we actually go looking for it and attach it to ourselves' and I thought of my self-inflicted social media jealousy. And we did this move where you physically shake negative energy out of your body – and I felt genuinely relieved and light afterwards. Since then I haven't opened any ex files and I feel much better about myself."

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