In the age of social media, we are invited to indulge our voyeuristic tendencies. Friends, acquaintances, and celebrities share titbits (and upwards) of their lives in various public and semi-public online domains, allowing us access to personal details that were very recently considered intimate. You can now know what your old classmate, with whom you haven’t spoken for years, had for lunch today, or what Rhianna was smoking backstage at Coachella.
This new culture of information sharing has changed our behaviours and interactions in many ways. One of the most frequently condemned side effects is the increased rate at which people now report on the trivialities of their lives — a predictable result considering how much the average person enjoys talking about him-/herself. Less often mentioned is our obsession with exploring these trivialities. Sure, there are people in your newsfeed who you wish would stop talking — perhaps you’ve even unsubscribed from their posts? — but there are no doubt others whose words, pictures, and updates you pore over and anticipate with excitement.
“Creeping” is a commonly-used term for this sort of behaviour. The connotations are explicitly negative. I believe they capture the sense of shame and anxiety we feel as we look into the lives of others on the internet for too frequent or too long of a time. Maybe we justify our actions by claiming that these people put their information out for others to see in the first place, but the guilt is always there.
I’ve worried more than once that a person would somehow be able to tell if I’d been looking at their Facebook profile excessively. I know that Facebook has some sort of promise about keeping this activity private, but I would still feel the dread, and I would wonder what if we could know who has looked at our profile.
In some ways, Linkedin has answered this question for me with its “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature. For a user with the most basic account, Linkedin will tell you 5 of the x number of users who have looked at your profile in the past week (something like this — I haven’t figured out their algorithm exactly yet). There is an option to remain anonymous as you look at the profiles of others, but it comes at the cost of not being able to see who has looked at you. I would rather know than not.
How does this feature impact activity within Linkedin? I have noticed a few things:
1) I generally restrict myself from viewing another person’s account more than once.
2) I feel as though it is “safe” or “socially acceptable” to look at a person’s account for a second time if I see that they have looked at mine for a second time.
3) A new power dynamic of “looking back” seems to be at play: who looks at you after you have looked at them, and what does this say about your relationship? If someone doesn’t return your “view,” does it mean to say that they are less interested in you than you are in them? Withholding your view can be an exertion of power or a statement of superiority.
4) People are choosing to disable their profile statistics in the name of remaining anonymous viewers.