What Does 'Creeping' Mean?

Increasingly Popular Pastime on Social Media

Creeping or stalking on Facebook
Christ Jackson/Getty Images

Creeping refers to "stalking" someone on social media, which typically means checking them out or following what's going on in their life on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. It's not as creepy as it sounds. Creeping just means browsing their timeline, status updates, tweets, and various online bios to find out more about them.

Facebook creeping is a cultural phenomenon and particularly popular pastime, especially with young people.

It was called "stalking" in the early days of Facebook but more often now is known as "creeping," a word that carries a gentler connotation and is not associated with criminal activity, as stalking can be. It's not nearly as offensive as real-world stalking, but is still a bit controversial, even though it's an increasingly common activity.

The verb "creeping" literally means to move slowly and cautiously, often so as not to be noticed or detected by others. People sometimes say a person "creeps down the hallway," for example, when they mean tip-toed or walked quietly.

This concept of doing something without other people noticing goes to the heart of why checking people out on Facebook has come to be called "creeping" or "Internet creeping." It's because the social network's interface allows people to check each other out without notifying that user that someone else is looking at -- or has looked at -- their timeline or personal profile area.

People also use "creeper" to refer to someone who likes to do a lot of creeping online, by constantly checking people out. But don't call them "creeps" -- a creep refers to a weird person, not a basically normal one who "creeps" online to follow what their friends are doing and check out people they'd like to know more about.

Facebook Creeping: Routine Activity

Facebook creeping is especially common among young people. They regularly spend time checking out the friends of their friends on the network--  often looking to see who they might want to befriend or even date.

Of course, there are natural limits to creeping on Facebook. Individual users can set their privacy profiles so that only their friends can see what they have posted.

But many people also post some material to their Facebook timelines that can be seen by anyone. Also, if a mutual friend has posted something to someone's timeline, then you should be able to see that posting even if you are not connected to the individual, because you are allowed to see most of what your own friends have posted, even on other people's timelines.

How to Tell If Someone's Creeping You on Facebook?

Everyone would love to know who's been checking them out on Facebook and Twitter, right? Well, that's not easy unless the "creeper" takes some overt activity such as liking or commenting on your posts or photos, or favoriting/retweeting your tweets.

Both Facebook and Twitter have opted not to give users the ability to see who has viewed their profiles or individual posts and photos.

Facebook's help center listing common myths about the network explicitly says the network does not show, or allow third party apps to show, who's viewed your posts or profile.

On Twitter, you can, of course, see the list of followers for most people, unless they've taken their account private (few people do.) And on Facebook, who can view someone's friends list is governed by their individual privacy settings.

LinkedIn does allow some people to see who's checked them out, through a feature it calls "who's viewed your profile." By default, this feature shows users how many people have checked out their profile in the past 90 days.

For some users, it also shows the names of those creepers.

Rules of the Road for Internet Creeping, Facebook Stalking

In the world of online culture, a few commonly accepted guidelines have arisen as to how to do Internet creeping without offending anyone or embarrassing one's self.

One big no-no, for example, is letting on to semi-strangers that you have already checked them out in great detail online. It can be off-putting to the person who's been "creeped." Citing something you saw on a person's Facebook, for instance, is a terrible idea for a first date. In general, with people you are just meeting or acquaintances you barely know, it's rarely a good idea to reference personal details such as birthday parties, trips to Spain, and favorite food.

This is especially true if the item being reference is older--a year or two--because it tells the person that you were actively browsing their timeline, as opposed to merely seeing it in your news feed, which is populated with more recent items. Keep in mind, if you click the like button or comment on something older, that person may well get notified that you have done so--which makes your action really stand out since it's an older item that no one else is talking about anymore.

Another good rule of thumb is not to like or comment on anything posted by the person you're checking out if you don't know them in real life. Such actions give them an instant clue that they are being watched online by a stranger or someone they barely know, which makes many people uncomfortable.