Sunday, April 06, 2008

LA Times (again): Why Googling is more than just creepy.

What is it with the LA Times and the internet? Just a month ago I wrote a post about their strange fear that the internet might lead to people who dislike each other saying bad things about each other. (Behavior which ought to be BANNED, of course.)

Yesterday, the Op-Ed columnist Meghan Daum wrote an article Are you a stalker too? : How Facebook, MySpace and Google have changed and spread its practice. (That's the subtitle. I didn't write that second bit myself.)

So, looking at people's Facebook profiles is equated with stalking? Is she mad or something? No, it isn't the same. People put their Facebook profiles on-line so you can look them up, Meghan. It's no more stalking than reading an ad about a new car is the equivalent of industrial espionage. One is a creepy crime, the other is an everyday act of normal people. Get a grip, LA Times!

I am, of course, talking about the kind of stalking that involves not restraining orders but Internet search engines. It is often referred to as cyber-stalking, Web-stalking or Google-stalking. It usually means just typing someone's name in a search box and uncovering such juicy bits as his finish time in a 10K charity run or an article about strategic brand management that he wrote for a company newsletter in 2005.

Well, if that's all it means then … then I should panic?

This is how we've come to live in a world where average citizens have random and often inappropriate information about [other people].

Yes, it's shameful how far we've sunk, knowing other people's 10K times. I weep for my country. By the way, if I read my co-worker's 10K time in the local newspaper (which happens to the be the LA Times) is that stalking as well, or is that all right? I gotta ask.

Having her cake and eating it too, she then mumbles a bit about "cyber stalking" not actually being violent enough to deserve the name. Then in a rousing finish, she takes that back and hits us with the big one. Reading Google hits is at least as bad as throwing rocks:

After all, Googling John Cusack turns up close to 3 million search results. We know that reading every one of them is less potentially dangerous than loitering outside someone's gate, but who's more obsessed -- the person who spends countless hours wading through Web entries or the person who tosses a bag of letters, rocks and screwdrivers over the fence and calls it a day?

Um, nobody reads three million of them, of only for the reason that there aren't three million unique ones. Clearly she's never even thought about how this all works. I'm sure she has a researcher who looks up all the facts she needs to know for her purposes. (Though I think she gave him the day off yesterday.) But even if I did read every web comment about a celebrity – and I think I have, with at least one group and at least one actor – I would call that "fandom". Whereas, if I went to the group's, or actor's, house and threw a bag of implements over the wall, I'd call that very, very strange, probably criminal, behavior.

Is she really suggesting differently? What is it with the LA Times and the internet?

Edit to add: See also part II.

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