Saturday, June 2, 2012

Journalist's right to creeping

I feel like I'm always starting this thing off with qualifiers now. Today I have a lot of work to do, it's really late at night, nothing interesting happened today or any of the other lame meaningless excuses one could dream up about the typical college student's life. I'm so unoriginal.

But today is my real excuse. I'm feeling quite ill with a sore throat and a neck and back ache to complement it. At this moment I'm crouching over my laptop and watching the words come out wishing they'd go faster so I could go to bed now instead of later. But that's not going to happen, and I'm not going to let myself break my blog streak because of whatever this is.

Because today my phlegmy sore throat and my decrepit joints were no reason to stop doing anything, including being a creep with my best friend.

So for just a few moments of your time today - literally, just a few moments, I'm dying - I will try to explain the rules and processes of creeping as told by a modern day journalist.

Without technology and without a dumb-version of Sherlock Holmes' mind, this may all sound absolutely ridiculous. In fact, it might still sound ridiculous, but I digress.

As a basis for my decision to write about this, my friend and I were walking around tonight on campus. It is my last night hanging out at school, so we were taking advantage of the prettier section of our walk back from the northern area of the school. Then we saw something.

No campus fox here. We saw a person we haven't seen for practically the whole quarter. Maybe we should've gone up and said 'hi.' But we don't know this person.

I've had no problem with finding out the basic information of any person I choose over the last few years via a little thing we like to call Facebook. Call me a creep (and I'll take on the term myself), but this is the most efficient way of finding out someone's identity and what they're like outside of the environment from which you know them.

You may find out that the quietest bookworms are actually frat partiers on the weekends. Or that the Engineering major you just met is actually quite the literary scholar.

There's something absolutely weird and wonderful about this technique. Perhaps it's the fact that it's open to virtually the whole planet and if you don't alter your privacy settings to keep your page utterly undetectable, someone is bound to look through it eventually.

Holes in the system lead to almost-journalistic inquiries into the minds of our peers. We use Facebook as a research tool almost like a journalist might run extensive record searches or perform FOIA requests. Except unlike with those two things, everyone on the planet has made their information disturbingly accessible.

So I guess at this point my tone has shifted. No longer am I giving you insights, perhaps because everyone really already knows how to go about Facebook creeping. This isn't a foreign concept to anyone. The website was virtually made for locating people. There's nothing wrong with that, right?

From a journalist's point of view, I think not.

I purposely alter the settings on my profile to allow people who I can sort of trust - from within my networks and mutual friends - to access my information. Or at least my profile pictures. Some people consider this a violation of privacy, but the inherently voyeuristic concept behind Facebook must counter that opinion to some extent. We've chosen this fate.

As a journalist, I find research and investigation one of the most exciting parts of the job. Whereas I'm a weak idiot when it comes to finding out information from in-person sources, the power of the internet has given me the opportunity to uncover information that is otherwise only knowable through extensive interviewing.

I'm no stranger to the struggle over the question of privacy versus unabashed creeping. In the case of the person my friend and I encountered tonight, I could only wish that the creeping would be enough. This being one of the few times I've gone without answers, it reminds me of what a luxury it is to be able to find out what a person's like before you form a relationship or friendship with them. Or to find out what others are interested in so if you're placed in an awkward situation with them you can deal with it easily. Or just to identify people when you feel like labeling yourself an investigative journalist.

We use the word 'creeping' as if it's some negative, stigmatized terminology for something that is so very human. Perhaps it's the word itself that's the problem, but I like to think that the act isn't all bad.

Without creeping, I might not have forged as many acquaintances and friendships as I have in my dorm. The ability to know or know of people outside of the normal social atmosphere is such a helpful aid for wallflowers like me.

So take heed when you're ready to complain about the 'art,' - the right - of creeping. We're all guilty, after all.

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