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Online, there's a fine line between searching and stalking

If you're trying to track down current or former lovers, there's an appropriate way to do so without becoming a stalker.
If you're trying to track down current or former lovers, there's an appropriate way to do so without becoming a stalker.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Our Netiquette columnists answer users' questions about stalking on the Web
  • Is it OK to admit to your mutual friends that you searched for your ex on Facebook?
  • How do you approach the cutie you met in person once you find him/her on the Web?

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at netiquette@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- This week, we pulled the cotton from our ears and emerged from our dark caves of seclusion to open this here column up to user-submitted questions.

Some submissions were inanely obvious (no, don't tweet that picture of your boss, I don't care if he told you about his chinchilla fetish at happy hour the other week), some were boring beyond belief, and, many, oddly, were just plain stalkerish. But not in the way you might think.

In the past, we've covered the topic of how to deal with online stalkers when the attention is unwanted. But more and more, as gaining access to anyone on this rapidly rotting Earth of ours is easier than ever, we Web denizens are wondering: Does using the Internet to check someone out make me a stalker?

Chances are, probably not. Read on for a couple of queries on this issue:

"When I was waiting for the bus the other day, I evaluated the attractiveness of all the people at the stop; there was one obvious winner. Then the seat next to him was the only seat open. Upon sitting down, he immediately engaged me in very adorable and flirty conversation. We exchanged names and we both talked about what we were studying at school, but I didn't have an opportunity to give him my number.

"Anyway, with his name and major, I was able to find him after only 30 seconds of Googling. I want to contact him but I'm not sure how. Especially because it would be like, 'Hey, I stalked you a tiny bit to find your full name.' My question is: What's the appropriate (read as LEAST CREEPY) way to contact this person and what should I say in a message?" - Creepy Crushing in Chicago

I'm going ahead and assume (for the sake of brevity) that you are not an insane stalkery-type person who collects the hair and toenails of her crushes, which she then uses to construct elaborate shrines to their beautiful (soon-to-be-departed) souls. If you are such a person, please cease reading, and, uh, please don't hurt me.

Moving on: It seems like in your case, you don't have that many degrees of separation between you and your bus boy. You attend the same school, take public transportation (i.e. you're poor) and are not, in fact, Luddites. In this case, I say: Be bold. You found him on Google, you say? If you found his Facebook profile (and not some old swim-meet records from middle school), go ahead and send him a brief message ("Hope your meeting on the downtown campus went off without a hitch!") and a friend request.

Such a method is nice and private -- tweeting "Hey! You're freaking hot" might be a little embarrassing -- and if he doesn't respond, you can always chalk it up to the fact that Facebook is cutting down on notification e-mails. Our lives are public nowadays, and if homeboy didn't want to be found, well, then he could always limit his visibility on the site.

(If his profile is indeed hidden but you tracked down his e-mail address, follow a similar tack. Unless, that is, his e-mail address was hidden on page 38 of Google results at the end of an article he wrote freshman year about the campus parade-and-circus club. In that case, give up.)

Furthermore, it's not like the phenomenon of searching out star-crossed potential lovers is anything new (that's what Missed Connections et al are for), so we're guessing your dude will be flattered at the very least that you sought him out. And hey, maybe now you can meet up and compare hair-and-toenail shrines. <3

"Through some Facebook stalking, I recently discovered my ex had gotten married. (We're no longer FB friends). Although that was a shock for sure, the real heartbreaker was that all my friends (who are still FB friends with her) didn't disclose any of this information to me. ... Not even the engagement! How do I tell them they're backstabbers without admitting I'm a stalker?" - Backstabbed in BK

First of all, Backstabbed, it doesn't really seem like you have been, in fact, backstabbed. You're not Facebook friends with your ex anymore, you say? If you refer to our column on how to deal with breakups online, we recommend unfriending exes after particularly painful breakups, which is exactly what you have done (congrats on your reading-comprehension skills).

The fact that you unfriended this girl indicates you don't want her in your life -- and don't want your life in hers -- so we can see why your friends didn't call you immediately after she decided to tie the knot.

Still, we get that this is information you would rather get from a friendly face than from a half-sloshed night of Facebook stalking, sandwiched between, "Oh, Laurie has a new baby. ... It's hideous!" and "Joel went to prison again."

If you want to call up your pals and -- rationally -- explain that you would rather they not hide your ex's huge life moments from your sensitive (yet manly) gaze, go ahead and do it. Just explain that you were idly clicking through Facebook after a few too many mojitos and decided to check up on a few of your exes. Your friends will understand, because they are likely stalking their exes as we speak.

Stalking exes on Facebook is basically akin to a distasteful bodily function: We all do it, but no one goes around bragging about it in mixed company.

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