CNN recently publicised a list of the Most Annoying Facebook Users. I read through them and find myself guilty of one or two traits. I am definitely a “Lurker”. A hybrid, internet lurker is someone who observes more than contributes. Most Annoying Facebook Users describe Lurkers as overly cautious and perhaps too lazy to post; they prefer to remain in the background and observe. In my case this is not true. I’ll take a good snoop at someone’s Bebo/Facebook profile. I’ll even let the owner know.
A social creature like me regularly meets people at weddings, nights out, house parties etc. I or the newly established acquirer of acquaintance-status might link up on Facebook. Do you think the person – who doesn’t really know me all that well – would be creeped to know I’m likely to look at their photos? I will investigate who they are friends with and have a general snoop around. Generally, there’s nothing interesting, but now and again I come across the occasional gem.
When I reveal this to friends they seldom believe it. They probably doubt I concern myself with anyone but me. Despite the fact the world revolves around me, I do pay attention to other people. Some evenings I sit at home with the laptop in the living room. Boyfriend watches TV and donates a minimal fraction of his concentration span to me. I make a point of interrupting. I turn the laptop screen to face him.
“Wow. Doesn’t Jason look really well?” I ask in surprise.
“Who is Jason?” he asks, momentarily turning from some non-descript documentary.
“He is Sarah’s Boyfriend’s friend’s brother that went to college with her. Hasn’t he lost so much weight?”
“Where did you meet him?”
“I met him in passing about five years ago.”
“Why are you snooping around his Facebook profile?”
“Why not? Does it matter? He looks very happy.”
Boyfriend turns back to the television. He sighs dismissively. I turn the laptop screen back to face me.
“Look who Brian is going out with!”
Boyfriend closes his eyes, calling to God for patience. He knows what follows.
“You know many Brians. What Brian?”
“Sean’s friend Bryan with a Y. We met him at that birthday party a few years ago.”
“OK. Who is Bryan-with-a-Y dating?”
“He is going out with Declan. Look!” I clicked the mouse to show him some more photos.
“Who is Declan?”
“I met Declan in a takeaway at about 3.30AM after a night in the Dragon sometime last year. He works for a magazine and writes a male-beauty column. I would never have put the two of them together. They look good.”
“Do you realise how creepy it is that you know about these people you’ve only met once?”
“Excuse me for taking an interest!”
With that I did not share any more of the information I gleaned from Facebook that evening, but for one or two funny remarks some of his colleagues had posted over the course of the week.
My Lurker-behaviour was not recently acquired. I’ve been doing it for a while. Friends and I have used it to investigate exes and snoop on friends with whom we had issues. Eons ago, when I was on Bebo, we called this “Bebo Stalking”. I recall one day when a particular friend wanted to show me her Boyfriend’s ex.
“It will take a minute or two to get to her profile page. Bear with me!” she said over the phone one slow afternoon in work.
I responded to her orders. She took a deep breath.
“Go to Jane’s profile” my friend directed me. “Click on her friend Sarah’s profile picture. Do you see the most recent comment on her page? Click on the poster of that comment. Now go to number two friend on the list. That’s her there. Take a look at her in her wedding photos. The state of her! Can you believe she of all people spoke to me like that at the party?”
Do Boyfriend and the rest of the world not realise there are individuals worse than I that Lurk beneath the surface. Lurkers scroll the internet for hours absorbing every piece of text on the public domain. Chances are I will forget an internet titbit unless it is a meaty one, but there are other people that store everything up there. You probably even personally know a Lurker. Next time you post a status update or comment on an unfortunate photo you’ve been tagged in, take a moment to note that I and many others are probably watching too.