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Stalkers? Fans? Same difference…

A little over a month ago, an application called Stalker Check emerged.  It claimed to identify each individual’s “top Facebook stalkers”.  It, was, hot.  People were curious, and then shocked, even insulted, to discover that they were “stalking” their closest friends.  People went into denial.  Controversy ensued.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the application has renamed itself “Fan Check”.  It, is, hot.  People are curious, and then stoked to discover that they’ve earned the status of “fan”.  It now has the added feature of putting together an image, with photos of stalkers—I mean, fans, on it.  Life is good.

It’s the same application, of course.  It followed the release of Facebook’s Open Stream API, which allows app developers to access users’ streams—the information that you see on your News Feed and Wall.  Stalker Check, now Fan Check, simply scans the streams for interactions between you and every friend, counts them and ranks them.

There’s no change in functionality, though the name might imply it.  Facebook has made it impossible for anyone to know, let alone count, when you just look at another’s profile.  The astute realised early on that Stalker Check just produced a list of friends.  That’s because profile views had nothing to do with it—only comments, wall posts, likes and the like.  To paraphrase, only everything you already knew.  You could’ve made exactly the same list by scanning your notifications.

Fan Check does exactly the same thing.  It’s just that the name “Stalker Check” didn’t sit well with Facebook’s policy team.  (To be fair, it didn’t exactly reflect what it actually did, either.)

For a simple cosmetic fine-tuning, the changes in attitudes have been astounding.  It wasn’t the exactly the greatest honour to be number one on someone’s list of stalkers.  Questions flew everywhere.  More were raised than answered.  Contrastingly, number one on a list of fans is a friend’s most coveted title.

I’ve fully exaggerated the seriousness of it all, of course.  But I still think it shows how powerful connotations can be.  In real life, “stalker” and “fan” aren’t all that different.  Think about it:  Fans are people who think someone is admirable, so they seek to learn more about them.  Stalkers are people who want to learn more about someone, typically because they think they’re admirable.  Being stalked could be flattering, in a certain light.

But despite the similarities, we hold the two labels in vastly different ways.  One’s to be proud of, the other you’d never admit.  The story of this application is broadly representative of this.  Nothing changed except its label, but unless you were told (or were really really perceptive, or checked the application page), you’d never know from comments and posts that it’s actually been the same all along.

So next time you get caught stalking someone, just say that you’re a “fan” of them.  Maybe, put like that, it won’t be so bad!

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