The ethics of social media cyber-peeking

peek-a-boo cat

“Peek-a-boo! I see you!” Cat image courtesy of Jann, Pixabay.

It’s funny how the advent of social media created new ethical dilemmas we’ve never faced before in our society. On LinkedIn, for example, I receive occasional invitations from people around the world that I’ve never met or am likely to meet. So then I have to consider: Do I accept this person and take the risk that he or she will be okay? LinkedIn advises that you only connect with people you know. Do I turn down the invitation to connect and hurt their feelings with my rejection?

It’s a similar situation with Twitter. Do I allow someone to follow me without reservations or do I check their profile to gain a sense of their beliefs?

In regard to LinkedIn, I prefer to have had some prior communication with that person, whether it’s been a networking event, a Twitter conversation, a phone call or email. I’d rather have some sense of that person’s character before accepting the invite. It mystifies me sometimes when people want to connect with me when their profile clearly shows that we don’t have anything in common and they have made no attempt to personalize their connection request to me.

Certain sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are designed for the world to see, unless you’ve deliberately put restraints on them for whatever reason you have. Facebook, however, feels more personal (unless it’s a business site or a mix of that person’s professional/personal life).

So here’s my current dilemma and I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter. I recently looked at the Facebook profile of someone who is not a direct connection with me on Facebook. That person (I’ll use the name “Person 2”) is a friend of my Facebook friend. P2 and I both commented on my friend’s post. I saw that P2 had a picture with a background that looked familiar and clicked on P2’s profile to see if it was a place I recognized.

P2 is someone I know and have talked with quite a bit, but it still felt somewhat strange looking at the profile. With LinkedIn, you can tell when someone’s looked at your profile. Facebook doesn’t have that courtesy, to my knowledge. I’m not sure if P2 knows that the Facebook profile can be set to a private setting (P2 probably knows this) or has chosen to keep the Facebook profile at a public setting (much more likely). And after seeing the profile, do I mention any news I read from that profile in conversation in the event I see P2 at any time in the future?

I know, I know. (*rueful smile*) I’m probably over-thinking this situation. But I’m curious to know if anyone else feels the same and what they’ve done about it. It’s not cyberstalking — to my mind, that’s done with the intent to be malicious and to hassle someone. Absolutely none of that here.

Like I said, I know P2 personally. I don’t believe P2’s going to care much, one way or the other. But I’m trying to puzzle out why it still feels weird. Readers, your thoughts?

Side note to my American readers: I hope everyone had a fun Labor Day!



Filed under Social Media

15 responses to “The ethics of social media cyber-peeking

  1. Yes you are over thinking this one. If people don’t want you to see their profile, they would (or should) make it private. I get more uncertain when people I don’t know or have any connection with send me a friend request. At the beginning I would accept (if their profile was sane). However, I found that the things they post (family, activities) have no interest to me and clutter my feed. I’ve stopped accepting requests unless I know people or have a clue why they want to be friends. LinkedIn I am giving up on. People from other countries and career tracks want to connect. I have no idea who they are. Perhaps they are just building up their numbers. Back to P2 — I don’t think she would care. If you are at least quasi-friends with some commonality, I’m surprised neither of you sent a friend request.

  2. Servetus

    Examining publicly available information is not cyberstalking (whether or not the person who owns the page is aware that their information is available or not). (The only exception I’d made is if the person who owns the page is a minor and in that case I might tell their parent what was up; I think there is also a federal law against linking to information that could be classified, but that is not what you are talking about here.) I got a lot of hassle about something like this a few years ago, when I posted a link to a blog post that discussed and analyzed information that is a matter of public record. If the information is public by intention or inadvertently, looking for it and reading it is hardly a crime. In fact, it’s good research.

    Whether it’s potentially uncomfortable to discover that a relative stranger has been reading information you made public is a separate question. If you’re concerned, you could ask leading questions when you meet them as opposed to saying “I saw on your FB page that …”

  3. Actually, there’s a place in LinkedIn—I saw it once; don’t ask me where—that allows you to view without being seen. That might solve your dilemma!

  4. I try to see what the “new follower” is into before I follow back. A lot of these “invitations” are just businesses looking to drum up more business. Which is fine, but I’m not really interested. Also, I like to be sure they aren’t a porn site or something. You can’t tell if you don’t look. You can’t stop someone from following you. You can prevent them from commenting, but following? No controls. I think there should be a way to dump followers you don’t want.

  5. I don’t think that people on LinkedIn necessarily know *who* looked at their profile, just that somebody did, unless they pay for the Pro option (whatever it’s called). In my case, I don’t care; I am somewhat public in my professional life (I co-authored a book and speak at conferences and meetups sometimes), so I expect people to look me up. I will take LinkedIn requests from people I don’t know if their profile appears relevant. Same with Twitter, because my personal Twitter is for my blog — again, public. I don’t tend to post personal things to either of those sites.

    Facebook is for friends and family (and some acquaintances), so I am more guarded. But I do post some things with a Public setting, if I don’t mind if other people see them. I think if you can see it on P2’s profile, it’s okay to mention it. It seems acceptable to say to someone, “I saw you comment on so-and-so’s post, and I peeked at your FB page to verify it was you….”

  6. Lots of great advice in comments.
    Linked in has a bad habit of snagging email adresses in your computer addresses and then, without you knowing, sending out invites to all of them repeatedly. I’ve had people I haven’t seen in business worlds for years call/email frantic apologies.
    FB was more friends, family, and specific controlled group oriented but now is heavily business oriented (Blog arenas seem to be getting a lot of that too now. Wish we could “approve” followers) Younger users are leaving. Pays to be careful there as it’s an open market for stalkers, identity theft, and scammers.

  7. I think it depends on what type of person you are. Personally, I believe you might be over-thinking this situation just a little bit. I know for me when I made my social media accounts I knew that people that I have never met or wanted to meet would view my profiles. I have accepted this fact about social media. As long as, like you said, someone isn’t doing something malicious or spamming my wall or sending me private junk messages, I’m okay with friending you. But we need to have something in common. Otherwise, I question your invitation to connect. This is a great post though.


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