x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Now we can all be stalkers

A new Facebook feature means members can all be stalkers now – and alter what's considered acceptable behaviour.

In the sticky quagmire of modern manners, is the following anecdote embarrassing or acceptable? I can't tell. You decide. Picture the scene: it's a warm September evening in Abu Dhabi. Music drifts through the doors of Sho Cho in Souk Qaryat Al Beri. Inside, people are enjoying sushi, politely laughing at each other's jokes and generally making merry. In one corner, a table of four people sit, sucking on edamame while waiting for one more individual, unknown to any of them. He is new to the city and this is a welcome dinner. He duly arrives and plonks himself down next to one of the party. We shall call her Sophia because that is her name.

Barely had she and he idled three minutes of small-talk away before he utters the following: "So I gather you know so-and-so? I see we're mutual friends on Facebook." Sophia (who, to be honest, can be slightly awkward in social situations) fluffs out some bewildered reply while the stranger ploughs on about other friends he noticed they shared. So, to my point: is it now acceptable to openly admit to Facebook-spying on someone before even meeting them?

Don't get me wrong, I secretly Facebook stalk people I don't know all the time. Just last week, my friend Holly and I were trying to ascertain whether a certain boy had a girlfriend just from his profile pictures. (He did.) But to so casually admit to this practice is the thin end of the wedge, surely? It's a pertinent question because since the beginning of the month, Facebook has been road-testing a new "Stalk" button on selected, chosen profiles. It will enable you to visit the profile of a victim, click on the button and subsequently be notified every time there is any activity on that person's page - status updates, new friends, new photos, the works. In other words, actively stalking others could soon be a socially accepted norm. Great news! The object of your obsession has just "liked" Gavin and Stacey. Get down to Virgin for the box-set so you can bombard them with quotes from it. Disturbing? Nah. Come on gramps, it's just making it easier to know even more about one another.

Still not menacing enough for you? How about Facebook Places, the programme the site rolled out from North America to the UK and Japan last week. Similar to Foursquare and Gowalla, it allows users to "check in" at different locations, and tell their friends exactly where they are, merely through the click of a button. It's currently only for iPhone users, but plans are apparently afoot for BlackBerry versions too. So, should your crush be at a particular bar, why not just casually drop in and act as if it's a chance meeting? Nothing weird about that.

There has been much hype recently about The Social Network, the release more commonly referred to as "the Facebook film," which is out next week. The backing music to the film's much-watched trailer? A choral version of Radiohead's Creep. Given recent online developments, that seems about right.