Spotted- the joke's on you.

The newest phenomenon that seems to be sweeping not only Maastricht, not only the Netherlands, but the whole world in general - is 'Spotted' or 'ICUSawMe'.

The idea - for those of you who have been living on another planet, or are over the age of 30 - is that if you can, online, anonymously comment on your surroundings (a pretty girl, an irritatingly loud German, a camel outside the Maastricht University Library...) and you do not risk the mortification of people finding out who made that particular (rude/creepy/odd) comment.

It has been used mostly for people who are procrastinating in the library and have been watching one of their pretty/attractive fellow students for a little too long. They are bored, and a little cowardly - so decide to send a private message to the 'Spotted: Maastricht University' Facebook page or post on ICUSawMe. Other people who may be in the same room at the time, recognize aforementioned 'pretty/attractive student', or indeed know them then tend to comment on the post and procratinationous banter then ensues.

As with every student-related computer venture, it then begins to be used not for it's intended purpose. Jokey love letters to cups of coffee, people posting about themselves or as - in the most recent exciting turn of events - cause uproar and threats within the student community.

"You look beautiful ... You're head held so dignified with such poise and confidence.... Look at those long, long legs and such perky humps.... Yours truly, the camel admirer"

I am talking of course, about a post on Spotted which proclaimed "Damn why are you so sexy?" and then had a link to this student's profile. Unbeknownst to most people who clicked on it - due to some geeky computer magic - the link automatically sends the user to their own Facebook profile.

Now here's the interesting bit. Spotted then received a stream of emails from various Facebook users either demanding that the link to their profile to be taken down, threatening legal action, or asking excitedly "who was it that wrote that post about me?".

What does this say about our student population? That they are easily duped? That they are self-centred and full of themselves, not being at all surprised or suspicious at the idea that somebody else might be obsessed with them. Or does it say something more about the paranoid fear some of us have about lack of online privacy? Are our students too quick to become defensive?

Or does it say something else about the society we live in as a whole? Why we feel the need to communicate anonymously, or why so many people follow pages such as these, curious to know who is being spoken about or secretly hoping that the person described is themselves? Do we function in an incredibly ego-centric way online? Or are humans just naturally that way inclined? Are we paranoid or just living in fear of missing out (FOMO)?

There is one for Maastricht Uni, one for Maastricht Nightlife and even one for spotting people on the Dutch trains (Hartstocht in de Trein). Why are we so scared of interacting that we need to resort to an online middle-man? Or perhaps we just lack social interaction so much that we seek contact with complete strangers...

Maybe this is simply the modern equivalent of passing notes in class or dropping your phone number into a fellow train-goer's lap... but the university of Limerick's 'spotted' claims (jokingly) that it is a 'Church/Religious Organisation' - although this is quite funny, there is some biting irony to be found there.

We are totally addicted as a society to online networking, but increasingly creepy apps for smartphones are becoming popular such as 'Find My Friends' (a way to track your friends locations by tracking where their phones are) , 'Banjo' (shows you the other people with Banjo who are 'near' you and you can then interact with them, and if one of your Facebook friends is passing by your house or in the same supermarket, you will be alerted) and 'IJML' (stands for 'I just made love' and is probably the most fun of these apps - you can anonymously 'pin' a location where you had sex and leave details of It is also possible to see on Facebook messaging when the other person has 'seen' your message and where exactly the other person is messaging from. (Of course you can disable this if you want).

Do I have a problem with this from an internet safety perspective? Probably not. I happily partake in the facebook-stalking and twitter-creeping that has become the norm for my generation. If people don't want to be involved they can change their privacy settings, or not sign up for these things or not download the apps.

No, what worries me is the underlying insecurities that are exposed through these features, or the insecurities that they themselves create. Why is it that we need to know exactly where everyone is at every minute of the day, that we feel the need to be in constant contact? We begin to get paranoid if someone who has 'seen' your message hasn't replied or if someone you know, but don't want to see, is in the same neighbourhood. We have become used to seeing only the best or photo-shopped photos of our friends on Facebook and often forget that we are not seeing all the photos of our friends when they are hungover, having a bad hair day or in unflattering light. We then begin to feel inadequate or boring as everybody else's 'online personality' is having so much fun, is so popular and looks so great. We forget that not many people are going to update their status with "I am having a really boring day and have a massive headache, and I have a really annoying spot on my nose. I am probably failing my exams too and I didn't actually enjoy that party last night very much." - are they? Because everyone is having JUST SO MUCH FUN OMG YOLO.

We are even so used to other people having information about us, and so wary of the consequences if it gets into the wrong hands that we do not even suspect an online joke to be what it is without first getting crazy-paranoid (to the point of even threatening lawyers...). We are also used to having our online world revolve around us - our own profiles, personalized email settings and 'cookies' on websites that can suggest products that you might be interested in given the previous items you viewed. Is it really surprising that we all expect people to be posting about us on spotted too?

For now, maybe try and tell that person to their face that they are typing too loud, and no - you don't need your lawyers for that...

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