For many shy or socially awkward people, Facebook has been nothing short of a godsend. You have access to virtually infinite conversation starters, plenty of time to mull over your responses, and no need to worry about amount of eye contact, stuttering or otherwise looking or sounding physically silly. While I’ve long since smoothed over most of my awkward mannerisms and updated my wardrobe, I still enjoy the fact that I can socialize hair-uncombed and in my pajamas with a profile picture of me on a good day as my stand-in.
These lovely benefits aside, Facebook has also opened up an entire new world of creepage. As in another arenas where you might find creepy people, there’s often some confusion over where the line is between creepy stalkery Facebooking and normal Facebook user behavior. To show the difference, I’ll begin with one of the hallmarks of Facebook creeping that’s as ubiquitous as memes and annoying game requests. I call it…
The Creeper Drumroll
You all know it as a sudden flood of likes and comments on a person’s page particularly from someone they don’t know very well who seems to be trying to signal romantic interest. This isn’t to say that flirting on Facebook is always creepy or ill-advised. What the creepy folks tend to ignore however is that the difference between exchanges over Facebook with someone you really like and sending a person you really like an uninterrupted deluge of likes, comments and messages is reciprocity.If the person hasn’t been liking or commenting on your page as much as you’ve been all over theirs or if they haven’t even at the very least responded to your comments, that’s a pretty good sign that they are not as interested in you as you are in them and you should probably dial it back.
Reciprocity seems to be the first thing to break down online. In real life, you check for reciprocity and move on if you don’t get it. On Facebook, many people feel they’re owed reciprocity by virtue of typing words and hitting ‘send’. When there’s a message sitting in an inbox, some people stare at it, see if it’s been read, and then find it reasonable to hold the other person responsible for their freakouts and tantrums if the response they want hasn’t promptly arrived.
Think of Facebook as a bunch of open conversations in slow motion. Even in posts with hours long delays between responses, there is still a discernible back and forth. People work, they have class, they shower, they sleep. Thus nobody is able to be on Facebook 24 hours a day non-stop (though technology will probably take us there very soon I imagine). These gaps in the conversation are therefore to be expected and if people want to fill them, they generally get around to filling them. What creepers do when this doesn’t happen is combine the knowledge of these gaps being normal with some plausible deniability and wishful thinking.
“Sure, she didn’t like or respond to a single one of my last 6 comments, but maybe she’s just been really really busy! Maybe if I post 6 more she’ll respond to one of those!”
Occam’s razor however says she’s not interested in talking to you that much.
“But she accepted my friend request! That counts for something doesn’t it?”
Very little. Chances are there are lots of people on Facebook who you interact with very rarely if at all. Thus accepting a friend request is cheap and low stakes. There’s no pressing obligation. You can interact with them on your own time when you choose to get around to it and that’s if you feel like it in the first place. And this is generally accepted as fine because most people have loads of friends to talk to on Facebook and couldn’t possibly get around to all of them in one sitting. From there, people generally expect any further connection to develop naturally at its own pace should any common ground be found along the way in their respective normal online comings and goings. So in theory you wouldn’t be missing out on much if that person were to fade into the Facebook background for a little while… That is unless you are desperate or have some kind of agenda.
You see, when all of these unreciprocated likes and comments start building up begging to be responded to RIGHT NOW, it can begin to seem like a desperate plea to be noticed or an aggressive insistence on inserting your presence into every inch of their online activity. Worse yet, all of those likes in rapid succession can appear disingenuous and indiscriminate. This can seem as if the entire production was geared more toward drawing attention to yourself and your attraction to them rather than pointing out any genuine shared interests or common ground. Either that or you’ve genuinely become frighteningly obsessed with every single thing they like.
Now for the reason why I called this the creeper drum roll and the reason why an unexpected like-splosion is unsettling just by itself. By this point, the creeper already rejects the possibility of disinterest and will take nothing short of a scathing PM or being blocked forever as a cue to cut it out. When someone consistently fails to take the hint and accept the soft-no of silence, this almost invariably foreshadows escalation. This build-up of awkward must come to a head at some point. Quite often, this comes in the form of…
The Paragraphs-Long Private Message Confession of Love
First of all, I’m guessing that most of the people who have employed one of these, are the same kind of people who when courting someone in-person, tend to pull the person aside to a quiet corner, sit them down and proceed to break the news of their romantic interest in the same tone they would use if they were informing them that they had terminal cancer. However, even some people who know better than to do that in person somehow still manage to do it over Facebook.
Why it’s wicked creepy to declare undying love to an acquaintance over Facebook deserves a post of its own but for now I’ll share with you my rule of thumb for the situation: If you wouldn’t say it in person with witnesses around, don’t say it over Facebook. (For some of you, this might rule out everything, but hear me out!) Do you barely if ever speak to this person in real life? Then don’t immediately jump right into talking like you’re best friends on Facebook. The getting-to-know-you process still applies. Asking someone out via private message after you’ve already had a conversation going for a while? That’s totally okay and if it were done in person, it wouldn’t require total privacy to be socially acceptable. Even if you were to get turned down, anyone in the vicinity (in the unlikely event that they were even paying attention) would understand that a perfectly normal thing just happened. Lengthy flowery praises of their beauty and love poetry out of nowhere? That shit would draw some seriously strange looks in real life and it’s not going to go over well on Facebook either. Besides, the idea of privacy is an illusion in this case because once you’ve sent the overdressed contents of your heart via private message, the object of your affection is free to share your embarrassing overshare with their friends or if you really gone over the line, with the entire internet.
The moral of the story is, if you want to not be awkward on Facebook you need to learn at least a little bit about how to not be awkward in person. When you have that knowledge base, Facebook can provide you with the added boost to help overcome any of the remaining awkwardness. If a crutch is what you need for the time being until you’ve gotten comfortable with your skills, Facebook can serve that purpose. Just don’t make a crutch into your permanent legs.