Written by: Vanessa Formato
We’ve all done it: one minute, we’re looking at an acquaintance’s Facebook status, the next we’ve perused 500 photographs of said acquaintance dating back to the early 2000s. “Facebook stalking”—secretly viewing large amounts of a person’s online profile—is relatively common in this age of connectivity, but that isn’t to say it’s exactly desirable. With some major changes coming to Facebook in the form of Timeline, the biggest question on users’ minds may be how the new layout will effect stalking—and with good reason.
Facebook Timeline is a new kind of profile that not only displays personal information and mementos, but displays nearly all types of updates—from status to photographs to “likes”— chronologically on users’ main profiles. The idea is to create a profile that will allow you to “tell your life story” according to Timeline’s Facebook page.
As Sarah Love wrote for March Communications, Timeline is “complete repositioning of the purpose of Facebook,” which may be the most significant aspect of the change that could manage to fly under the radar at first. Love, like many users, starting using Facebook as a method to connect with her peers, but with Timeline the focus is shifted away from connection to observation: it turns profiles into “scrapbook[s],” more suited to online stalking than ever before.
The traditional Facebook set-up required potential stalkers to work for their information: photos and certain updates were hidden in separate tabs, but Timeline sets everything out in the open. One can click to view updates from certain time periods (even one labeled “born”) as well as access important “life events” and personal information with unprecedented ease, and this is what has some users concerned.
All things considered, Timeline so far seems almost less invasive than some of the other features Facebook rolled out late in 2011. The live news ticker that now appears on the homepage shows activity between one’s friends and non-mutual friends with surprising thoroughness. Couple the ability to see complete strangers’ activities at any time with the new profile set-up and you have a stage set perfectly for invading others’ privacy.
Thankfully, Timeline does include potential solutions to the Facebook stalking problem, the most important of which may be that it allows users to sift through their profiles before they go live. Currently, users are given seven days to edit their Timeline—more than enough time to delete drunken status updates or unflattering duck-faced photos from high school. Plus, privacy settings can always be altered to keep strangers and co-workers from knowing too much.
Timeline is a lesson in managing one’s online presence: will users be willing to take the time and suffer the potential embarrassment of engaging in enough navel-gazing to make their Timelines secure? Only time will tell.