Stalking Statistics: Will Facebook make them better or worse?
[P]rofessors, like celebrities, have a larger “audience” than the average person. And by the nature of their job, they are often more important in the lives of their individual students than their students are in theirs (since a student has only a few professors per term, but a professor can have hundreds of students). As a result, it seems plausible that they would be vulnerable to people who imagine their relationship is closer than it really is.
I guess that means journalists should be careful too. Yesterday, I posted a photo to Facebook of a new restaurant opening next door to my apartment building, and one of my “Facebook friends” — a reader of Above The Law, the legal blog where I am an editor — cautioned:
So, earlier today you post a warning about stalkers, and now you help your stalkers zero in on your address? Oops.
My hope is that my Facebook friends are not the types who will stalk me, but I’ve accepted the friendship of many strangers who know me through my journalistic work alone. So I really don’t know that they’re the non-stalking types.
The New York Times had a piece on stalking earlier this year. The number of people who report being stalked is really high. Maybe I need to be more cautious…
[A Justice Department study released in January] was the first in-depth federal look at the prevalence of stalking, which is a crime in all 50 states. While many people tend to associate stalking with the pursuit of stars like Uma Thurman and David Letterman, researchers found that 3.4 million people were subjected to stalking, defined as a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Women were more often the victims than men. And 11 percent, about 374,000 people, had been stalked for five or more years.
The U.S. population has just over 300 million people; 3.4 million is a little more than 1% of the population. Still, that’s a disturbingly high number.
More often than not, the stalker is not a random stranger:
Three-quarters of victims know their stalker, whether it is a current or former friend, roommate or neighbor, this study and others have found.
Facebook is one big experiment in stalking. My hope is that the social networking site serves the same function as video games. Video games let players get out their violent impulses, according to some studies, preventing actual violent behavior. Maybe Facebook will do the same for stalking impulses.
Of course, there are those who believe that video games actually make us more violent. If that’s the case, I hope the parallelism does not apply.