Musa Faraha is an anthropology and geology and microbiology freshman. Grace Kitayama is a journalism sophomore. They are both Mustang News columnists. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News. 

A peeping Tom, a hooded figure in the bushes, a yelling lunatic, the stereotypical ideas that come to mind when someone says the word “stalker” are similar to that of the boogieman: an anonymous monster following you home. However, the reality is vastly different. Oftentimes, those who are stalked are done so by people they already know, and in addition to the stalking being done in person, stalking is also done online, according to Victims of Crime.

Cyberstalking is hard to face because it does not look like the common form of stalking we have learned to see. Physically following someone from location to location has become as easy as turning on post notifications on your phone. Face to face harassment has become harassment from behind the small screens of mobile devices. Gone are the days of repetitive actions or “unknowingly” showing up at the same place as someone who you have been watching. 

Cyberstalking is not something we all do. It is important to recognize the difference between looking at someone’s Instagram profile versus obsessing over someone online and using platforms to target or harass. 

For those of us who have watched Netflix’s “You,” we have witnessed this energy and obsession in the form of Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who has a penchant for manipulating everyone around him ⁠— including the audience ⁠— into feeling something akin to sympathy towards his stalking habit. I can’t lie. I’ve found myself rooting for Joe when he gets close to being held accountable for his actions and so have a large number of viewers. 

The troubling part of the story is how the stalker begins his obsession. Initially, his behavior is innocent enough that anyone could relate to it. Who hasn’t stalked their crush on social media? However, it is only when the protagonist continues on to more drastic measures, like stealing his victims underwear and hiding in her shower, that the seemingly innocent acts that people do everyday, such as looking at someone’s tweets, no longer feel so harmless.

With social media, the line between harmless internet stalking and aggressive behavior is blurred.

Though shows like Netflix’s “You” bring the discussion of stalking into the public narrative, some of the audience seems to draw the wrong message. The character Joe Goldberg is interesting because he, someone with no social media accounts, uses social media platforms to learn about the lives of his victims before beginning his routine of “randomly” showing up in the same places or sharing the same interests as his victims. Goldberg views his obsessive nature as a way of expressing his love. The memes that followed the release of the second season this past month all had the same message: obsessive behavior can be viewed as a form of love, especially if the perpetrator is good-looking enough. So many of the commenters on these memes viewed Joe’s behavior as sincere and romantic, when in reality his actions on the show are nothing short of dangerous. 

A sophomore who wishes to remain anonymous reports that after being stalked, she has mixed feelings about people’s reactions to “You.”

“There are people that are attracted to him or just romanticizing stalking which isn’t really something that I think we should be doing. Like, that’s not cute and it’s an issue when guys are following you and harassing you or not giving you your privacy or freedom.”

In reality, stalkers like Joe Goldberg are usually never caught. Their victims usually end up falling for them without prior knowledge of their stalking behavior. It only becomes dangerous if and when the victim realizes how controlling and possessive their partner truly is and wants to get out.

Because of social media, it is easier to stalk people without physically following them. However, simply because one is being harassed online rather than in person doesn’t make the act of stalking any less significant or harmful to the victim.

The youthfulness of this phenomenon makes it hard for law enforcement to regulate or punish cyberstalkers because it becomes difficult to differentiate normal stalking habits to those of someone who may have more sinister intentions. Making your account private limits the number of strangers admiring you from a distance, yet could mean that someone in your friend group might be equally as bad. At the end of the day, private accounts do not guarantee much. The best thing we can do as a society is to stop normalizing the stalker-like behavior of ourselves and those around us. Shows like “You” further normalize and glorify stalkers.  

Within the realm of gender-based violence, there is pressure on victims to brush off acts of stalking because it is hard to prove. It doesn’t have to happen in person and it is not discussed often in the media. With social media, the line between harmless internet stalking and aggressive behavior is blurred.

Though stalking is largely thought of as being done in person, a Cal Poly senior who wishes to be left anonymous was mainly harassed by her stalker online.

“At the time I didn’t consider it stalking. I was just like, ‘it’s just some dude messaging me,’” she said.

A large part of why another sophomore did not seek help for a long time while being stalked was because of manipulating things the stalker would say, despite all the harassment being over text.

“I would open my phone and I would have literally twenty or more texts or sometimes fifty at times,” she said. “Just going from him apologizing to him being really angry and like yelling – or it was all in text so just like caps lock – but to being really angry and then it got worse because then it became him saying all these things like ‘If you don’t forgive me I’m going to kill myself or I’m going to hurt myself or I’m going to hurt your friends.’”

Both sources reported being harassed on multiple social media accounts by their stalker, as well as receiving messages with threats of the stalker harming themselves or others.

Additionally, stalking can largely be avoided and prevented if society focused more on believing the survivors. A large part of why stalking is so emotionally taxing is because people often think that the survivor is overreacting and in turn do not believe them. 

The sophomore student recalls having trouble getting help from friends and family with her stalker because many people didn’t believe there was an issue.

“What was the worst part of it was I had some really close friends who felt like I was asking for attention,” she said.

Though stalking itself is an act of assault that is often overlooked and under-discussed, digital stalking seems to be almost normalized due to how easy it is to gain access to information on social media. However, digital stalking is still stalking and shows like “You” should only highlight what is wrong with digital stalking, not be used as a proxy to normalize it. Both sources felt like they could not talk to people about their stalkers because a large amount of the harassment started online, which kept them from reaching out for help for years. The senior who wishes to be kept anonymous recalls how she realized that the behavior she faced from her stalker wasn’t okay.

“I disregarded it at first because I was like it’s just some guy on the internet. But it’s a real person, you know? It’s not just my phone, it’s not just my screen,” she said.

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