How Far Is Too Far When It Comes To Online Stalking?

It has become standard practice to run a thorough “background investigation” after matching with someone online. Thanks to the wonders of technology, online footprints have become largely visible for the world to see. Ranging from high school sports highlights to Twitter handles and the occasional mugshot, it’s not hard to gather a sense of someone’s online presence before you meet with them in person. 

However, a simple Google search can reveal much more than what’s written in a dating app bio—for better, and sometimes for worse. Whether as due diligence, or when embarking down the background searching rabbit hole, daters can come up with a little too much information. (As it turns out, first impressions aren’t all that organic when you’ve already identified someone’s family ancestry dating back to the 1700s.)

What goes online often stays online forever, including some of the not-so-favorable information. And the extent to which that information should be taken into account is debatable. It might be helpful to know if, for instance, the guy you’re about to go on a date with is married. But ten years after someone’s college DUI, should they still be viewed unfavorably by someone they’ve never met? Should you hold someone’s cringey high school blog posts against them? In other words, how far is too far when it comes to social media stalking?

I have admittedly stalked and re-stalked guys I matched with on the internet. As a journalist, I feel I reserve the right to learn everything I can about a particular subject, even when my subjects are online randos. Once, this led me to running a trusty Google search on a guy I went to college with. He found me online, we messaged, and I quickly found his mugshot for an assault charge. Immediately, I thought the worst, like a domestic violence incident, a bar fight, something like that.

Eventually I decided I had to address this matter before the conversation led to the “we should meet up” line. Casually (but not really) I begged the question, “So why exactly were you arrested on an assault charge?” As it turns out, he had been really drunk at a college football game, fell over the sideline of the bleachers and landed on a cheerleader. Apparently this warrants an assault charge.

Although I ended up feeling much better for my own safety, I also felt kind of bad for bringing up the (probably) dark time in this guy’s life. After all, I’m sure his little slip came with a slew of legal and social consequences. Plus, bringing up someone’s criminal past didn’t exactly prompt him to want to meet up—if anything, it solidified the end of our online conversations. I thought that initially, my online stalking had helped me dodge a bullet, but in reality, the only thing I dodged was a date with a potential match. Although I felt guilty for jumping to conclusions, did this reality check stop me from online “researching” subsequent internet matches? Nope.

Another time I witnessed online stalking backfire came from an experience of my friend. She met a guy online and the experience went from zero to “it turns out his dad’s an actual mob boss” real quick. While most people would probably have the common sense to go running for the hills, as a fellow journalist, the prospect of meeting a mob boss’s son in real life was an opportunity that absolutely could not be missed. After they met up and she inquired about his father’s “business proceedings,” her date expressed extreme displeasure in the first date topic. What was especially disappointing was that, dating credentials-wise, he was the total package: smart, cute, well-traveled, and employed. Yet, after copping to researching his family’s illegal activity, it’s safe to say they didn’t meet up again.

On the other hand, my friend Amy recently announced that she has completely stopped looking up the guys she meets online. She says since doing this, she feels like the quality of her in-person interactions have actually improved. Amy didn’t even know the last name of the guy she last met up with, and said it was refreshingly awesome. Going into the date with zero expectations, she was able to focus on the guy’s character and the quality of the date, rather than worrying about his past relationships and how they are going to influence his current interests. He was nice and funny, and at the time that was all that really mattered. To date, they’re still seeing each other.

To find out which method of online dating “preparation” is better from a professional standpoint, I asked clinical psychologist and author of How to be Single and Happy, Jennifer L. Taitz, PsyD, ABPP, to weigh in. As an author and an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, Taitz specializes in psychological advancements that help people sidestep habits that limit their joy.

“Let’s admit it, most of us research all the time! If you’re the type of person to check out a restaurant menu and reviews before trying a new spot, of course it makes sense to get details about someone you’re investing time in,” Taitz said. “Getting a bit of information can make you feel everything from safe to excited.”

However, Taitz explained that online stalking can present challenges, as information solely found online can be very misleading. As an alternative to become a research pro, she recommends you accept uncertainty and learn to see assumptions with perspective. This means understanding that online information can easily be misinterpreted through individual points of view. She added that online obsessing can lead daters to either idealizing their matches, or writing them off prematurely. 

“We forget when we’re browsing and hunting for details, we’re not necessarily dealing with actual facts and we can get our hopes up or miss out,” Taitz stressed. “Sure, to some degree doing your own background check can increase safety, though there are other ways to feel secure—meet somewhere that feels comfortable, ask questions, etc.”

For this reason, in Taitz’s opinion, a middle path between online research and organic first impressions is best. She explained that meeting someone in-person can yield a lot of information right away, whereas meeting someone on an app can expand a dater’s circle and allow them to potentially learn what their match may be looking for.

“Your time and mental space is precious, so it’s helpful to think about costs and benefits,” Taitz said. “If you spend a little time and feel better knowing more, go for it. If you’re looking at Instagram photos going way back and creating stories, you deserve to do something more relaxing!”

With this in mind, Taitz recommends moving off dating apps and meeting up in person as soon as possible. She says there’s little downside if you plan to meet somewhere convenient and in public, where either an in-person connection or quick escape can happen. To set your life up for happiness, Taitz recommends living in the moment and doing what you love, and I’m guessing that’s not drowning in social media or getting stuck in a long back-and-forth.

My personal advice? There’s no shame in a simple Google search, but learn to realize when you’ve passed “simple” and crossed over into “extensive.” Then, stop. Also, don’t accidently “like” any of their photos—that’s creepy.

Images: Mikayla Mallek / Unsplash; carissaxx3, kaysdam, jo_maybe, mrbestof2worlds / Twitter

This Girl Discovered Someone’s Been Copying Her Life On IG For Years

If you’ve ever felt irrationally pissed off by the phrase “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” then you’re a) probably an Aquarius and b) going to be absolutely obsessed with the story I am about to tell you. Like, not in a good way. In a “fall into an Internet black hole for three days” kind of way. This week, a UK betch named Chloe Cowan discovered that some stage five cyberstalker that doesn’t even follow her has been copying her life down to the last detail on Instagram for the past TWO YEARS. Insanity! I mean, I was once salty for a full week when someone copied my college graduation Instagram caption, so I truly cannot even imagine what Chloe is feeling right now. 

If you’re super into scams, stalkers, cults, and crimes, listen to the newest Betches podcast, Not Another True Crime Podcast, where we talk about all that sh*t and more!

Chloe’s sister, Linzi (horrible spelling, but ok), shared (and has since deleted) nearly 30 photos to Facebook that Instagram user @honeybasra18xo recreated from Chloe’s Instagram. But like, there apparently were way more than that. She literally copied outfits, poses and captions with crazy creepy accuracy within hours of Chloe’s original posts. The username @honeybasra18xo is also a copy of Chloe’s username, @chloecowan17xo. WHAT THE F*CK? 

It’s unclear how the sisters stumbled upon the photos, especially considering the fact that this was literally going on for two years without Chloe noticing. Twitter user @thisisheatherc shadily pointed out that some photos—like this one where Honey Basra is pretty accurately mimicking Chloe’s pose and outfit—raked in more likes than Chloe’s original photos. So like, this wasn’t even a dinky little finstagram with no followers. At a minimum, hundreds of people saw this account every time it posted, and it wasn’t even brought to Chloe’s attention until now. The women also both apparently attend Dundee University. Which like, yeah, the school has over 15,000 students, but you’d think this sh*t would have popped up in the Explore tab of someone who knows Chloe’s Instagram before this, no?

???? Chloe Cowan posted this snap, left, only to be copied by honeybasra18xo, who got more likes than Chloe for her photo ????

— Heather Corcoran (@thisisheatherc) November 19, 2018

As if recreating outfit pics and selfies wasn’t chilling enough, Linzi apparently wrote that Honey even copied videos of a photo album that Chloe shared when the sisters’ father passed away, which really just takes the whole cyberstalking thing to another level.

Scottish Twitter is basically another planet, so have fun trying to read this one, but it seems like Honey even details like this “good vibes only” sign.

naw wit happened to this girl obv isn’t funny but it’s the fact the girl copying her has actual photoshopped the good vibes only frame onto the frame a actually cannae

— dylan (@_dylanjohnstone) November 18, 2018

If this story wasn’t so deeply unsettling, you’d almost have to give Honey some credit here. Like, look at these selfie she recreated of Chloe’s. The girls look eerily alike, and she was able to recreate it with a really similar top and glasses. Obviously, this isn’t the most important question we need answers to in this case… but Honey, when you have time, can you please explain how you copied these outfits so quickly and closely? I literally have an entire folder of saved influencer photos on my Instagram filled with outfits I’m trying to cop. Thanks.

Horrified Chloe Cowan only recently discovered that fellow undergraduate, Honey Basra, has allegedly been mirroring her lifestyle to the tiniest detail for two years

— The Daily Record (@Daily_Record) November 19, 2018

Honey even ripped off Chloe’s Halloween costume. Also, can we talk about the fact that the backgrounds of the photos she recreates are also accurate? Like, she literally found a room with the same color carpet as the one Chloe took her photo in. Either that’s a ridiculous coincidence, or she puts a serious amount of effort into this weird passion project.

Dude, wtf?!? via @MailOnline

— ™ ???? ???? ???? Ü (@TJM_III) November 20, 2018

After discovering the account, the sisters claim they contacted the police. They also confronted @honeybasra18x0, but she immediately blocked Chloe. Dundee University is apparently launching an investigation into the ordeal, but it’s probably not technically illegal. Not that I’m an expert on the law in Scotland. Oh, but speaking of, Linzi also wrote that the copycat is studying law at Dundee, so unless she just totally DGAF about her future, she probably has a decent level of understanding regarding any potential legal ramifications. 

Even weirder, supposedly, this isn’t the first time Honey has taken things a step too far. Although there’s basically no information about who the hell this person is, a woman claiming to be her former college roommate, Emma Reid, took to Facebook to say that the “particularly dangerous law student” in question “tormented” her, which caused her to move out recently, according to Bristol Live. However, nobody has been able to locate any other social media profiles linked to her so far… but don’t worry, I’m on the case.

Pull up a chair troops honeybasra18xo @ West End, Dundee

— Emma Reid (@Emmareido) May 11, 2018

Honestly, if I wasn’t always so pressed for likes, this sh*t would make me turn my Instagram private. Also: I’m really f*cking excited for this to be a Lifetime movie in a year. 

If you’re super into scams, stalkers, cults, and crimes, listen to the newest Betches podcast, Not Another True Crime Podcast, where we talk about all that sh*t and more!

Images: Elijah O’Donnell / Unsplash; emmareido, tjm_iii, daily_record, _dylanjohnstone, thisisheatherc / Twitter