Makenzie Phillips, adjunct professor in the communication department, dedicates her professional career to research related to social media stalking. Since 2007, Phillips has studied the effects of social media stalking on the romantic relationships of emerging adults, individuals ranging in age from 18-26.
Phillips’ 2007-2009 research shows that 87 percent of college students have engaged in at least one, if not all three, of the surveillance factors, which she has titled Social Networks used for Prying Electronically (SNUPE).
“The newest edition of that (with data taken between 2011 and 2012) is saying it is closer now to 94 percent,” Phillips said. “What that means, essentially, is it is considered a normative behavior. We don’t worry about it because everyone else is doing it, so it doesn’t make me crazy because everybody does it.”
SNUPE, as coined by Phillips, discusses three main factors with regard to invasion of privacy through social networking: Covert surveillance, obsessive surveillance and problematic surveillance.
Covert surveillance is where a social media user lurks quietly on other people’s profiles or pages without leaving evidence of their lurking (no commenting or liking).
“You are aware of what the other person is engaging in without letting them know you’ve been on their site,” Phillips said.
Aaron Elfering, a senior majoring in computer science, admitted to participating in this practice.
“It’s not something we’re proud of, but it’s human nature,” Elfering said. “There’s no real societal rule for how things like Facebook, social media and texting should be handled. We’re still kind of hammering out rules for what’s acceptable and what’s not, what’s creepy and what’s not.”
People who partake in obsessive surveillance not only make frequent visits to specific profiles, but also leave their mark.
“These are the people who do sort of, I call it, marking their territory electronically,” Phillips said.
Problematic surveillance is, as its name suggests, the most problematic and is characterized by interactions within cyber-space affecting face-to-face interactions.
“This is where your online activities sort of bleed into your offline relationship,” Phillips said. “It causes real time or real space problems, conflict.”
Elfering said he isn’t worried about people invading his privacy.
“I’m smart enough to realize you shouldn’t put anything on Facebook or the Internet that I don’t want other people to see,” Elfering said.
Phillips went on to advise students to be aware of their own lurking tendencies, especially those that fall into any of the three categories of SNUPE.
“If you engage in specific lurking behavior, this is what sort of crosses the line between we’re friends and I’m annoying,” Phillips said. “If you’re gearing toward cyber stalking, if you’re doing a lot of activity on their Twitter, their Facebook, and they don’t know about it, that’s where it starts to cross the line from appropriate to inappropriate behavior.”