How To Handle An Internet Stalker IRL

Because sometimes, your internet stalker is a real person, made out of meat. And you have to talk to them.

What do you do when you have to meet an Internet stalker IRL? Like somebody who likes all your Instagram photos, but you’re not friends.

You know that someone displaying appreciation for the works you put into public places doesn’t constitute stalking, right? Like, if I started running a stand in the town farmer’s market, and everyday someone came to my stand and bought a squash, I could not reasonably be like, “Well THAT guy is clearly obsessed with me, what a lunatic.” He would just be a person who likes my squashes, which makes sense, because they’re theoretically the best goddamn squashes money can buy.

Of course, someone’s “liking” every last thing you ever post on the Internet MIGHT mean that that person is your über-fan, and meeting people who feel that they know you but don’t can be awkward. The good news is that if you’re gracious and kind and polite (in other words, treating the person like any other person you’re meeting for the first time), things will probably go smoothly. They MIGHT be just slightly weird, and then you can just excuse yourself after a minute or so. Just don’t lead with, “Hey, you’re the psycho who likes all my pictures, right? Are you some kind of psycho or something?” and you’ll be fine. If, however, the other person leads with, “Hey, you’re the person I love on Instagram, want to talk about the pictures you took in Florida last weekend? My favorites were: _________,” and then that person lists his/her favorite pictures, you have my permission to flee the scene.

Is it okay to ignore Facebook friend requests from older relatives and/or coworkers? Or should I accept them and limit my profile? OR should I just suck it up and accept them?

Let me take this opportunity to clear the air a little bit. Esteemed aunts and uncles, what you’ve come to fear these last weeks is true: I’ve been hiding your Facebook friend requests. I’m pretending they aren’t there. I wouldn’t decline you, because you are my family, but neither will I be your virtual friend. It’s not personal, apart from the fact that I’m ignoring you on the basis of who you are as a person in relation to me.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of your older relatives and coworkers probably don’t exactly realize what they’re asking for when they friend you on Facebook. They probably don’t realize they are asking for free reign to look at things you would never want them to see. (Or maybe they do, AUNT CAROL??) They probably wouldn’t even WANT to be your friend if they knew how frequently you’d be providing status commentary on the new Real Housewives of New York cast members (seriously: WTF is up with Heather?). They probably go on Facebook once every week or two, and won’t notice or care if you DO want to ignore them. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

You might want to consider limited profiles for colleagues or other people with whom that kind of connection might be beneficial, but in theory, it IS okay to ignore the friend request of anyone you want. (The power — it’s both exhilarating and excruciating.) It’s your Facebook. Just know that certain people aren’t going to take an ignored friend request lying down. You’re going to have to come up with an excuse to pull out at holiday parties. “Oh, I just never go on Facebook these days,” is the trusty standby, but “Oh, my Facebook has been locked down for the frequent dispersal of both graphic and anarchic images” will be more fun.

What do you do if you share a Netflix account with somebody and you have something in there that you’re embarrassed about? (Since you can’t delete your history.)

Well, your first mistake was watching something that you’d be embarrassed about other people seeing, and then giving out your login information. That was pretty much the only misstep you could have made, in terms of not wanting people to see the things you’ve been watching. What’s worse is that I don’t even know how embarrassed you should feel, because you didn’t respond to my several, increasingly panicky email follow-ups about what it was that you watched.

The actual answer is this: just don’t even be embarrassed! Unless it was porn (and I’m just going to go ahead and assume that there is no possible way that you were dumb enough to watch porn on your NETFLIX and then give away the password), there just can’t be anything on there worth being ashamed about. Guess what everyone watches on Netflix: TERRIBLE MOVIES AND SHOWS. Movie and TV snobbery is the worst, so don’t direct it toward yourself. Let’s just all be open and honest about our viewing preferences — it’s going to be really healing. Here are three movies I’ve deliberately had mailed to my house recently: Step Up (for the infinitieth time), She’s The Man (because the former gave me a Channing-Tatum-shaped hole to fill), and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (no explanation necessary). Best films I ever saw.

If you insist on being embarrassed, you could just watch two minutes of a few dozen other programs to at least push the offending movie to the second page of your history. But just don’t be self-conscious about it, because nobody in his or her right mind would challenge you on something you watched. The number one rule about Netflix history should be that you don’t talk about Netflix history. Can we agree on that?

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Katie Heaney is a writer and volunteer text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey

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