Leah Johnson

Words Matter: Facebook Stalking and Everyday Conversation

Trigger warning for discussion of stalking and sexual assault

Written by Leah Larson, Matrix Intern, February 15th 2015

Last year, I went through a pretty bad break-up. I found out that the guy I had been on-off with for several months had cheated on me. Even worse, he had cheated on me with an underage girl. For months after this event, hearing his name caused me to become emotional and frequently excuse myself from rooms to collect myself.

That sort of reaction is common whenever anybody goes through a particularly emotional or traumatic experience. A bad break up. A death. Loss of a friend.

This is even more true when it comes to traumatic events like sexual assault or stalking.

Most people who are active in social justice circles are well-aware of the negative effects of mentioning sexual assault without giving warning to people. Even mainstream media does it through providing warnings prior to the beginnings of films or by ranking media by its maturity level and revealing why.

However, that isn’t true for stalking.

People use the phrase ‘stalking’ constantly in common conversation. If someone has a new crush, they talk about how they facebook stalked them all night long. They stalk people they admire on Instagram. They stalk restaurants on Yelp or other reviewing websites before actually going.

Here’s the catch though – they’re not stalking. Stalking someone involves unwanted obsessive attention from an individual and, more often than not, it is done in a way that is meant to make the subjects experience fear.

Going through your crush’s Instagram is not stalking. And by saying that casual, commonplace, or even cute behaviors like that are stalking you are actively harming victims of stalking. You are implying that stalking is less of a horrendous and traumatic crime than it is. Every time someone says that they Facebook stalked a classmate, they are making stalking sound like something that isn’t done to strike fear into others.

Not to mention that using the phrase stalk in commonplace conversation can force victims of stalking to experience painful flashbacks to the days where they were followed everywhere, to when they couldn’t go anywhere without being stared at, to when they were threatened and even assaulted by someone else.

And that is not okay.

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