The modern teenage girl is a patriarchy-smashing, caramel-oat-milk-latte-swilling, pyramid-scheme-avoiding baddie with a skill set unlike any other. In recent years, our technological expertise has advanced far beyond curating the perfect half-face side-glance Snapchat. We’ve developed a newfound ability to obtain knowledge about anything from our crush’s dad’s first pet’s name to his ex-girlfriend’s shoe size—a phenomenon commonly referred to as cyberstalking.
It’s my belief that there are two types of crushes: the type that turns you into a delicate, doe-eyed ingenue, and the type that turns you into a totally crazed, moderately batshit, straight-up stalker. Expert cyberstalkers have been known to find a crush’s ex on Depop, scroll to the bottom of his roommate’s Instagram account, or even fervently scan his school’s website for the playbill from his middle school’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But how far is too far?
Over the years, cyberstalking has evolved from a simple Instagram scroll to finding a boy’s dad’s YouTube channel and a video of his bar mitzvah entrance, the book his mom wrote, and the exact time and place of his dog’s funeral. It starts with an innocent crush, and soon enough you’re looking at his 2011 trip to the Cayman Islands wondering where Aunt Cheryl got her earrings. Now, it’s a completely common activity among Gen Z, as seen on many a TikTok “For You” Page and 4 AM FaceTime call. While I’d like to say that I’m totally above sleuthing the web, I’m totally not—I’ve been driven to absolute insanity by the age-old failed situationship, rendering cyberstalking the only power I had left.
When considering the ethics of all this digital sleuthing, I have to wonder—is it really “stalking” if social media accounts and the internet are public domain? A guy friend whom I lovingly refer to as The Ultimate Fratboy quipped, “mild stalking isn’t bad, as long as you’re not hurting them or being weird. You have every right to scroll through social media… Just don’t be obsessive about it.” From a moral standpoint, the term “stalking” has a negative, even creepy connotation—but there’s nothing immoral about an innocent Google search, right? Ergo, there’s nothing immoral about looking up your favorite random hookup from that bar on 23rd Street from three years ago. Is it such a bad thing to want to know how he’s doing?
While studying the modern cyberstalker for this piece, I found that the notorious rabbit-hole deep-stalk is more common among women than it is among men. I grilled some guy friends, secretly hoping that they’d looked at their crushes’ parents’ Facebook posts from 2009, but was disappointed to hear that they barely went beyond checking out recent Instagram posts. My female friends, on the other hand, were quick to explain away temporary bouts of insanity. A guy friend mentioned that “girls do this all the time. My girlfriend found my track records from high school somehow—girls immediately find everything about a guy…Twitter, Facebook, everything. I just feel like girls do it more.”
A personal demonstration of women’s cyberstalking capabilities would be the time a cute boy held the door for my friend and I in our school’s late-night dining hall. Shortly after, we found his Instagram, his entire friend group and their Instagrams, and, of course, his girlfriend’s VSCO—all within a matter of seconds. To some, this may border on insanity, but for two girls facing male interaction for the first time in months, it felt natural to want to know exactly who this allusive gentleman was.
There’s a guilty satisfaction in this incredible amount of knowledge that comes from someone’s entire life story being at your fingertips. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. What some might consider stalking, I would merely consider research; it’s better to know straight away that the person in question was once involved in the all-male a capella circuit than to find out four dates in. Cyberstalking alleviates any fear or potential mystery surrounding someone new; active Hinge user Grace muses, “I literally do it for safety…but do I also do it because it makes me feel in control.”
While cyberstalking is an extremely valid safety precaution for someone you met on an app, is finding his house on Zillow too much for a long-standing schoolgirl crush? “It’s entertaining,” a friend said. “It’s almost more fun to know everything about a guy so when you see him you can be like, ‘Oh yeah, your brother just moved to Murray Hill and I went to camp with your cousin.’” While it certainly makes conversation easier and leaves little to the imagination, the fairytale narrative of meeting someone, getting to know them for real, and falling in love is becoming less and less of a reality as we slowly gain access to more and more media platforms.
I’m by no means endorsing incessant stalking—if you have the strength to leave it up to fate and actually get to know someone, I sincerely applaud you. That being said, we’re living in a time when cyberstalking is the norm: the second you send a guy’s name to a friend, you can trust they’ll look him up immediately. It’s beyond our control at this point. There’s definitely a level of dedication and commitment that goes into hours of scrolling, searching, and clicking through LinkedIn job updates. And really, would you be so invested in finding out so much information about someone if you didn’t care about them? My point is, if you find that person who drives you to incessant internet stalking, hold on and never let go.
By Chloe Hechter
Illustration by Elise Miguel