As a social media editor, most of my job consists of spending inordinate amounts of time on the Internet, which has made me a Grade-A creep when it comes to finding out information about people. Although technically, I’m really just mining the free information that you post, so it’s fairly easy to find out lots about whomever you want to stalk. Here, four things to keep in mind before furiously typing [insert person’s name here] into Google.
Be Strategic About the Information You Extract IRL
When you first meet someone, it’s unlikely that they’ll immediately offer their full name and their vested interests. However, small talk can usually vet you enough information for a substantial creep session. Think about the last time you met someone new: After you made introductions, you probably talked about professions, where you lived, or where you’re originally from (this is especially true if you live in a city). All factors that are essential for your next Google search.
Sign Out of All Your Accounts
The most important factor before you start your social-media stalking is to sign out of any accounts that you might be searching on that could leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Your Google accounts (your Gmail is linked to everything from searches to YouTube, especially if you use Chrome) and LinkedIn are probably the worst offenders, since they’ll show that you viewed someone, as opposed to platforms like Facebook or Instagram that allow you to search without showing your tracks. Using a browser that you don’t usually use that won’t have your info is probably the best idea—so if you’re always signed into Chrome, open Safari before you start your searches. Likewise, when you finish your searches, always, always clear the browser! I like to clear my Facebook searches as well after I do any creeping.
Know the Correct Platforms for the Information You Want to Know
Generally speaking, LinkedIn and Twitter are the way to go if you want to know cut-and-dry information about someone. LinkedIn, that destination for networking and careers, is actually a great way to find out a lot about someone, from their alma mater to their current work situation. Twitter is a good gauge for someone’s personality—in 140 characters or fewer, you could learn a lot more about their interests. Both of these platforms also generally have someone’s full name, as opposed to Facebook or Instagram where people tend to stick to private settings.
Get Creative with Your Searches
Let’s say you met John at a party for a friend of a friend. You two exchange numbers and make plans to get drinks the next week, but before you meet up in person, you want to make sure you’re not going out with a serial killer. Although he mentioned he works in finance, this doesn’t help you with your Googles since both his name and profession are probably the most generic that they could be. In this case, relying on your degrees of separation from John is probably your best chance of finding out more about him.
How does your friend’s friend know him? Try searching for him under potential mutual friend lists in Facebook or by looking at your mutual friends’ Instagram tags. If you can find their Instagram account and it’s public, searching their tagged photos will usually reveal a treasure trove of photos that can tell you way more about them than their countless food pics or blurry ’Grams.
Pro tip for your Instagram stalking—take a screen shot of photos that you might want to look like in more depth; Instagram doesn’t let you zoom, and you definitely don’t want to accidentally like a photo from 32 weeks ago if you try to scroll for a better look.