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This happens all the time on Facebook, but because Instagram is image-based, it creates a purer reality-distortion field. Instagram boosts your chances of violating “the gray line of stalkerism.”
“If you don’t know someone, and Facebook is telling you that you have interests in common,” said Nicole Ellison of the University of Michigan School of Information, “you can see their profile as a list of icebreakers.”
But that same profile is also a potential list of icemakers. If you meet a vague acquaintance at a party and strike up a conversation about a science article he posted to his Facebook wall, that probably seems normal. If you meet a vague acquaintance at a party and strike up a conversation about the eco-lodge he chose for his honeymoon in the Maldives, he will likely back away from you slowly. “And then,” Ellison says, “you’ve violated the gray line of stalkerism.”
Instagram’s image-driven format gives you the eco-lodge but not the science article.
And arguably, you’ve violated the gray line of stalkerism simply by looking at those photos in the first place, even if you don’t reveal yourself in public as the sad lurker that you are. Each time you swipe through more images of people’s meals and renovation projects and holiday sunsets, you are potentially blurring the boundary between stranger-you-haven’t-met and sleazy voyeur skulking around the cabana with an iPhone.
To be sure, daily acts of stalkerism are all but part of the social contract at this point. But stalkerism heavily diluted with links to articles, one-on-one messaging, Dr. Oz ads and second cousins who still play FarmVille will always seem more palatable than the uncut version.