Monitoring, Creeping, or Surveillance? A Synthesis of Online Social Information Seeking Concepts

Main Article Content

Jessica R Frampton
Jesse Fox


Affordances of Internet sites and Internet-based applications make personal information about romantic partners, friends, family members, and strangers easy to obtain. People use various techniques to find information about others, capitalizing on online affordances by using search engines to find relevant websites and databases; scouring the target’s social media or social networking site presence; accessing information about the target via their links or network association with others on social media; or asking questions or crowdsourcing information through online channels. Researchers have coined an assortment of terms to describe online social information seeking behaviors, such as interpersonal electronic surveillance, social surveillance, monitoring, patient-targeted Googling, cybervetting, websleuthing, human flesh search, lateral surveillance, Facebook surveillance, and Facebook stalking. Although considerable research has examined these behaviors, there has been little effort to clarify the concepts themselves. As a result, the literature is currently full of inconsistent and overlapping conceptualizations. To synthesize these concepts for future research, this review examines 73 online social information seeking concepts extracted from 186 articles. Specifically, the concepts are reviewed in light of their scope; the information seeker or target of information seeking (e.g., romantic partners, parents, children, employees, criminals); motives for information seeking (e.g., uncertainty, threat, curiosity); and the intensity of the behavior. Recommendations are provided for future research, such as employing clear conceptualizations and incorporating affordances. Finally, we offer a decision tree that researchers can use to help select appropriate terms to use in their work moving forward.

Article Details

How to Cite
Frampton, J. R., & Fox, J. (2020). Monitoring, Creeping, or Surveillance? A Synthesis of Online Social Information Seeking Concepts. Review of Communication Research, 9, 1–42. Retrieved from
Communication and Media Technologies
Author Biographies

Jessica R Frampton, The Ohio State University

Jessica R. Frampton (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University. Generally, her research examines the role of communication in close relationship stressors such as jealousy and uncertainty. She has a specific interest in how communication technologies can both exacerbate and mitigate these relationship stressors. 

Jesse Fox, The Ohio State University

Jesse Fox (Ph.D., Stanford University) is an Associate Professor in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University and Director of the Virtual Environment, Communication Technology, and Online Research (VECTOR) Lab. Her research interests include technologically-mediated communication in relationships, experiences of women and LGBTQ+ individuals online, and persuasive virtual environments, particularly in the contexts of health and environmental communication.


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