A Step Too Far

We’ve all “stalked” someone famous online, but how does it feel to be on the receiving end? We look into what it’s like when idolisation takes a creepy turn.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

We’ve all “stalked” someone famous online, but how does it feel to be on the receiving end? We look into  what it’s like when idolisation takes a creepy turn.

Once upon a time, the word “stalker” referred to someone creepy, scary, and even dangerous, usually reserved for big stars. Now, everyone seems to be a stalker, thanks to the internet. There’s no shame in following a person’s every step on social media, especially since we’ve all become accustomed to sharing daily snippets of our own lives on our preferred channels.

The nature of celebrity has changed, largely thanks to social media. Influencers make a living through online popularity, and we can feel closer to them than your average Hollywood actress. All we need to do is search for their handle on Instagram or Twitter to find out what they’ve been up to. From who they’re dating to their favourite cafe, information about them is available, quite literally, in the palm of your hand.

Compared to “traditional” celebrities like singers and movie stars, influencers are expected to interact more closely with their fans to retain support. This is because while actors have TV shows and singers have concerts (communication platforms that are largely one-way), the influencer’s main arena is social media, where audience engagement is everything. And since many influencers offer similar content, engaging with fans by replying to comments or direct messages can make all the difference in setting them apart.

Where do you draw the line?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “stalk” as “to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment”. While most of us are pretty harmless when it comes to supporting our favourites, it’s possible that having too much access to their lives can make some fans obsessive.

According to Vinti Mittal, the Director of Singapore American Community Action Council (SACAC) Counselling, “People become obsessed when they fail in attempts to tear their thoughts away from that person. They become overly fixated and may get involved in obsessive behaviour, such as dressing, talking, and behaving like the celebrity. They let themselves indulge in fantasies that are far away from reality.”

She adds that if the influencer is someone they can see and reach out to, fans can mistake them to be their friends. And if the level of obsession is high, things could get dangerous.

It doesn’t help that many influencers address their fans as friends or “brothers and sisters”, and hold meet-and- greet sessions, which can cause some fans to think they’re closer to their idols than they are.

 “Sometimes, people send me anonymous messages about how they saw me in school, at a particular MRT station, or even walking to work,” says Singaporean influencer Chevonne Cheng. “But thankfully, I don’t have people physically stalking me.”

“I once got a question on ask.fm (a website that allows users to receive anonymous questions and answer them publicly) from a person that said, ‘So you stay in [redacted]. I live just a short drive down the road! If there’s a slightest chance you’ll ever be curious or interested in letting me kiss ur toes (sic), please do let me know, my dear :P.”

She gets inappropriate comments or e-mails about once every two months, and while that might be freaky for some, Chevonne doesn’t feel overly bothered by it. “It’s a little bit creepy at first, then you realise most people just hide behind their keyboards.”

However, things got a bit too close for comfort when she was approached by a man working in the same building. “[He] e-mailed me and requested to meet for lunch.” But he also then added her colleagues on LinkedIn, and her, once he found her account.

Thankfully, he never tried to take things further. But Chevonne’s not too flustered by such incidents: “The people who approach me are usually polite and not creepy at all,”she says.

A matter of privacy

Influencer marketing network Gushcloud manages a number of high-profile social media influencers in Singapore. They protect their influencers by keeping their personal information private. “We don’t give out the addresses of any influencers, even to clients we have worked with,” a representative said. “This is to protect their privacy and prevent stalkers from following them back home.” But, of course, they can’t stop their influencers from posting about the places they frequent.

According to Chevonne, what differentiates fans and stalkers is that the former truly cares about the person they’re interested in. “Stalkers can sometimes be a little too aggressive because they don’t really humanise you. They think you ought to respond to them, so they may not respect your feelings. Friendly fans care about how you feel. They just want you to be happy so they’ll support you while giving you space and freedom without shoving their ideas in your face.”

Despite such experiences, Chevonne doesn’t feel it affects the way she shares her life on social media. “There’s a lot going on in my private life that has never been shared on my social media platforms. People only see what I allow them to see, everything else is just their own opinions... To be honest, you’ve got to respect creeps equally. Maybe they just don’t know how to express themselves.”

My Reading Room
Influencer Chevonne Cheng has had her fair share of creepy experiences

But this girl knows how to take a stand against inappropriate comments.
If the influencer is someone they can see and reach out to, fans can mistake them to be their friends. And if the level of obsession is high, things could get dangerous.

4 Celebs Who’ve Been Stalked Before
While Singaporean celebs have been pretty lucky when it comes to stalkers, the same can’t be said of their US counterparts...

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In 2012, a man was arrested for trying to enter her house in Nashville. Years later, another man got a restraining order for sending disturbing e-mails to her dad.

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In April this year, a 25-year-old man was convicted for stalking the model outside her new Beverly Hills home.

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A man armed with a pair of scissors knocked on her door after climbing the security fence. He claimed she was his wife and was arrested in 2012.

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A two-time trespasser prompted Selena to build a fence around her home in California in 2014.

Images: TPG/Click Photos, Chevonne Cheng / Text: Liu Kai Ying.