In the old days, having a crush on someone or preparing for a date involved obsessing about that person or showering. Now, there's a much more time consuming but just-as-essential step that's been added to these processes: online stalking
As previously established, people who spend their whole days trying to find out things about other people know just a lil' bit about finding out things about prospective dates. So with our journalistic superiority complex firmly in place, let's break down exactly why you should be looking where for intel on your possible future love.
Pros: Definitely good places to stalk people back in Ye Olde Days of the Internet, Myspace and Friendster are not what they used to be in that they are literally not what they used to be. So while they can't now be recommended as particularly helpful in any true capacity, as pioneers of networking online, theses great cesspools of disorganized friending could be considered valuable only because there were few other ways to gain intel about someone.
Cons: They were ugly. So so so ugly and they seemed to encourage ugly content too; stupid comments, ugly pictures, nonsensical, random gossip wanderings that made no one look good. If you wanted to develop a disgust for the human race that would grow until you never wanted to date again, looking up people on Myspace was a good way to go.
Pros: They probably Gchat. [Note: This is a big pro.]
Cons: Everything else; just using this useless platform is enough to depress you away from participating in any kind of interaction online or even in real life.
Pros: Since it's often used by people who are reallllly into photography, have a child or are old, Flickr is a great way to track down how much of an amateur photographer this person telling you they're really into their Nikon D90 is, whether someone has a child they're not telling you about, or whether your possible love is lying about their age.
Cons: How much are some beautifully shot panoramas of some mountaintop in Spain going to tell you about this person? Not much, except that you might be able to join them on their next trip!
Pros: For the status-obsessed, LinkedIn is a good (but not foolproof) way to confirm that someone did indeed attend Princeton and that yes, they do have a job at Goldman Sachs. If finding someone who is gainfully employed in a certain type of industry is your big focus, LinkedIn is a good way to make sure you'll be able to get the Tiffany engagement ring you're dreaming of.
Cons: Unless you're a super-sleuth, it's pretty easy for the person you're stalking to find out you stalked them on LinkedIn. ("So-and-so viewed your profiled.") The other stuff you'll find out on LinkedIn will only be there if you're interested in a certain type of person. So if you're maybe into someone who's got a big LinkedIn presence, you'll find that out. Which is a con if you think that being into LinkedIn is always a con, but a pro if you are also a big LinkedIn person.
Pros: If you're lucky enough to happen upon someones old LiveJournal, CONGRATULATIONS: you've found a secret tunnel into their past self. Did they like to listen to Dashboard Confessional and admit they were feeling :( because a test went badly that day? (Yes, probably; that's all anybody did on LiveJournal. CONGRATULATIONS: you are dating a human person.)
Cons: If you've hit LiveJournal, you've gotten too deep into your digging and you might start to feel like a sick and horrible person. Conversely, if you've hit LiveJournal, it might be a sign that this person is the one for you, in that they had a LiveJournal, it still exists and you are good enough searching on the internet to have found it.
Pros: Since everyone's personal website is hosted on Tumblr now, a Tumblr can be a great place to see exactly what kind of employment (or lack thereof) the sexy random you met while in line at the fried chicken place is into. Are they an artist? A writer? A secret tween?
Cons: You might have to scroll back pretty far to find stuff, which could make you feel a little crazy or might actually make you a little crazy in practice. And depending on what theme they've got set, you might immediately veto this girl because she's got autoplaying music going and never get to know that she just really liked that song that one week and it was a joke okay?
Pros: Since Twitter actually relies on words, it's a great way to see absolutely how idiotic the person you're crushing on is. It's also a great way to see where they are at any given time (if they've enabled Foursquare and you'd like to take this obsession to the next level) and what people they flirt with on a daily basis (the "fav" truly is the "poke" of Twitter). If someone's active on Twitter, it's also a great indicator of how often they're going to check their phone while you're out to dinner with them.
Cons: Not everyone tweets; the platform is by no means incredibly popular among people outside of certain fields (media, tech, PR, publishing, etc.). But unless you follow them (or they're private), the person you're looking at should have no idea how often you're checking their feed – you could even set up a private Twitter list just of them if you're feeling particularly okay with your stalking tendencies.
Pros: The "original" social media platform, Facebook is a great way to get an overall look at how someone wants to be perceived – plus, sometimes it will literally tell you if that person is in a relationship. (See: "In a relationship.") It includes chosen interests, so it's pretty easy to see if someone is pining for the days when it seemed like maybe Mitt Romney would become our 44th president. Since most everyone has a Facebook, it works as a social web, demonstrating who the person you're wondering about knows. Plus, if everyone involved was young enough when they joined joined or have friends who love #tbt, there's a high chance you'll come across embarrassing old photos from their high school prom posted.
Cons: Depending on your age, Facebook is soooo yesterday. From what I gather, youngins' aren't into The Book much these days, so information gathering can be limited at best. Plus, if the future love of your life has managed to figure out Mark Zuckerberg's notoriously complicated privacy settings policy, there might not be anything to gather if you're not friends with them.
Pros: A picture is worth a thousand words and that adage is what makes Instagram so powerful. Wondering if someone has a significant other? A quick glance at the thumbnails on their account to see if most are selfies of them kissing another human will confirm that that person is probably #attached. Wondering if someone sucks in general? A quick glance at the thumbnails on their account to see if most are shots of their lunch will confirm that the person is annoying. Instagram is the perfect way to see who someone hangs out with a lot, where they go and what filters they like – all of which are highly important pieces of information that will dictate whether you're compatible with this sexy man who favors plaid button-downs and PBR.
Cons: There's a reason every dude you get on Tinder is linking to his Instagram in his profile to get you to stop before you swipe left: it's a great way to demonstrate that he's got the coolest, perfect, hippest, most rad life ever without actually having to use any words. Images are powerful, but they don't replace proof that a person has the ability to, ya know, string a sentence together or have an interesting opinion (though they do show that someone can write a pithy caption). If you have a happy trigger finger, you can very easily "heart" a photo of someone you're stalking without realizing it. Instagram also suffers from the dreaded "private account" option. If the lady you're into wants to keep her pictures of the Blood Moon to herself, you're out of luck this equinox.
The biggest con of all is that if you want real information, these platforms can't be used separately. In order to get a clear picture of whether you should give up on your quest to life-match with this particular special someone, the proper combination of multiple internet sources is the only way to go. Unfortunately, these searches usually end the way most relationships do: with heartbreak.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.