Have you ever found yourself getting so sucked into social media, that all the sudden you are looking at your mother’s, boyfriend’s, ex-girlfriend’s, sister’s social media from three years ago? Well, you are not the only one. Social media surveillance, otherwise known in the less technical vernacular as creeping, has become very popular in recent years. Social media surveillance usually involves information-seeking about individuals and their relationships (Tokunaga, 2011). Just like ghosting and just talking have become trends in romantic relationships, creeping on an individual’s social media pages is becoming a norm. As a research team we believe that creeping impacting the process romantic relationship formation. It is so easy to go years back into someone’s profiles and posts on Facebook and Instagram. This accessibility social media provides leads to it being very easy to creep on potential romantic partners. Tong (2013) explains that Facebook stalking is something almost everybody does, but nobody wants to admit they do it.
Creeping on social media has become an especially prominent among the emerging adult crowd as they navigate the romantic relationship landscape. Although, 18-29 year olds are certainly not the ones engaging in this behavior. Researchers have noted that there has been an increased number of long term relationships initiated on social networking sites (Fox & Anderegg, 2014). It seems like a lot of emerging adults are using social media to identify certain characteristics about potential romantic partners. Perhaps emerging adults believe creeping on social media will provide them with enough information about their potential partner before committing to a relationship. “This flow of information allows users to accomplish significant information seeking and uncertainty reduction about potential or current partners, often without their knowledge” (Fox & Anderegg, 2014).
Although creeping may seem harmless in the beginning stages of a relationship, it can get very messy upon the dissolution of a romantic relationship. One of the potential downfalls of social networking sites are that they facilitate sustained connections between ex-partners after a breakup (Fox & Tokunaga, 2015). The lack of direct face-to-face communication can cause individuals to make hasty decisions and move onto the next most attractive partner they meet online very quickly. When someone picks the next most attractive partner they meet on social media, it is possible that they are missing out on their best option. In an outstanding blog post entitled Waiting for the Train: Searching for a Mate in the Modern World, Scott Stanley makes provides powerful imagery of a woman named Sam (Samantha) waiting ever so patiently for her soul-mate to come along. As Stanley (2016) explained:
“Suppose Sam is going to have 10 trains to consider in her life. By this rule, she should check out the first four but not choose any of them. Those poor guys don’t even know that they have no chance. Sam is tough and she’s working the rule. But starting with number five, Sam is ready to pick the first one that is better than any of the four she’s seen so far. If the best option of all was in that first four, that’s pretty sad. This may be, by the way, why people intuitively favor monitoring past partners through social media; it’s become easy to do, and some people clearly believe that it increases their odds of recalling a train (if it’s available) back to the station.”
Perhaps some people believe that if you stay connected on social media, you are more likely to keep the door open with a past partner.
Recent studies report that people use social networking sites to both actively seek out and actively avoid ex-partners during the termination process (Tong, 2013). When couples break up it is very popular to change your status on Facebook from in a relationship to no longer in a relationship. This public announcement often makes couples feel jealous and causes a lot of problems. It can even become a competition about who is moving on quicker. Fox and Tokunaga (2015) note that individuals most traumatized by a breakup are most likely to monitor their ex partners online. This is very similar to asymmetrical commitment because whoever is the most invested in the relationship is often the one who gets hurt the most.
Although there are many benefits to our technology and being able to connect through social media, personally, I have seen social media have a very negative impact on romantic relationships. Creeping on social media often leads to insecurity and comparisons. Constantly comparing your life or your appearance to others on social media can be extremely detrimental and cause a lot of unnecessary self-doubt. This also might make it more challenging to commit to and invest in the relationship a relationship that you may be in.
- Fox, J., Anderegg, C. (2014). Romantic relationship stages and social networking sites uncertainty reduction strategies and perceived relational norms on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17(11), 1-7.
- Fox, J., Tokunaga, R. (2015). Romantic partner monitoring after breakups: attachment, dependence, distress, and post-dissolution online surveillance via social networking sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 18(9), 491-498.
- Tokunaga, R. (2011). Social networking site or social surveillance site? Understanding the use of interpersonal electronic surveillance in romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 705-713.
- Tong, S. (2013). Facebook use during relationship termination: uncertainty reduction and surveillance. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16, 1-6.
Hi! My name is Hillary Schraufnagel. I am a first year graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Northern Illinois University. I love to spend time with family and friends and hope to use my degree to pursue a career in the helping profession. I am very interested in research and am looking forward to having an opportunity to write more on the blog in the future!