It’s not stalking, it’s Interpersonal Electronic Surveillance.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of an Internet connection and a heart that beats, will at some point or another, indulge in a little online stalking. Social research, digital detecting, extreme liking, call it what you want, stalking by any other name would be as creepy. But the Internet is a cruel mistress, and she just makes it all so easy.

Facebook, Twitter and pretty much any other social networking site around can now be used to make casual – but crucially anonymous – enquiries into what exactly your love interest/ second cousin/ work colleague is up to. The most dangerous target by far, however, is undoubtedly your ex.Image

Gone are the days when a break up meant just that and the trickiest thing you’d have to maneuver was an unexpected sighting of them in Tesco. In this situation, you could chose to loiter in the bread aisle, feigning interest in the nutritional claims of Hovis Best of Both until the coast cleared, or throw back your shoulders, suck in your stomach, and sidle sexily up to them at the checkout, depending, of course, on who broke up with whom.

But nowadays, even if you’re not usually that way inclined, every time you log on, these sites sling a barrage of ‘ex updates’ at you in the manner of a malevolent 2 year old with a bowl of mashed potato. And unless you have the steely determination of an Olympic athlete, sooner or later you’ll find yourself clicking on their profile/ feed/ blog/ photo album/ whatever, and probing your lovelorn proboscis into their infinitely intriguing Life After You.

You don’t have to be Einstein to realise that nosing of this kind is unlikely bring you much joy, although this didn’t stop Tara Marshall of Brunel University conducting the desperately sad sounding Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with Post-Breakup Recovery and Personal Growth study. Her research revealed that roughly a third of newly single people engaged in some kind of stalking – or to use the scientific term, Interpersonal Electronic Surveillance – of their exes. The lengthy enquiry concluded that, ‘continued online exposure to an ex-romantic partner may inhibit post-breakup recovery and growth.’ No fucking shit, Sherlock. 375157-killswitch

But worry not, help is (nearly) at hand in the form of Killswitch. This soon-to-be-released app. designed to help heal 2.0 hearts, claims to discreetly hoover up all virtual residue of your ex – statuses, posts, tagged photos etc. – from your Facebook. All you have to do is type in their stupid name.

Or, to take a more proactive approach to the healing process, download Bang with Friends. This app., again, designed specifically for Facebook, allows you to select people from your list of friends who, as the name suggests, you’d quite like to bang. All selections are kept anonymous, until a ‘match’ is created, i.e. you find someone else using the app. that would like to bang you too. Tidy.

Not all covert monitoring however, has to end in sordid sexual encounters or heart wrenching notifications that your ex is eating Nando’s with someone else. If used with caution, it does have the potential to work in your favour. Once I was breezily browsing the ‘Book, and clocked* a club night event that a guy I adored (but knew only in the vaguest sense) was attending. That evening the event cropped in conversation and it was suggested we all go… ‘Oh, I love drum ‘n’ bass,* let’s just bloody go there, right now’ I enthused, casual, like.

And whaddya know? There he was at the bar. And to my genuine surprise, didn’t seem averse to spending the rest of the night with me. Coincidence is great and all, but if you can give her a helping hand, then so much the better I say.

So, what can we learn from all this? Only stalk those you have a hopeful future with, instead of a hopeless past? Well yes, but not that. Commission an intricate but probably quite expensive shutdown system to be installed on your phone and computer, that’s activated every time you spend longer than a few minutes on someone’s profile without actually typing anything? Could work. Learn to control your voyeuristic urges? Yeah right, the whole success of the film industry is a result of the pleasure humans derive from looking without being seen, after all.

No, what we must do is embrace the technology. Stalk hard and stalk long my friends, stalk deep and stalk wide. Just don’t, under any circumstances, let them know you’re doing it.

*Ok, unearthed.

*I don’t, I hate it. With a passion.