Gawker Stalker Maps: Skeevy

Nick Denton is very excited

about his latest franchise, Gawker Stalker Maps. I’ve never been a fan of Gawker

Stalker: the feature has always seemed to me to be little more than a cheap

way of getting readers to interact with the website. Indeed, I said

back in 2003 that the introduction of Gawker Stalker was "the beginning

of the end of Gawker as it was originally envisaged". Gawker Stalker Maps,

however, moves beyond uninteresting and well into the realm of positively unpleasant.

The spectacle of Gawker vs Flacks in the New York Daily News today is particularly


As innovative as it might be, it dangerously puts these people in harm’s

way. Somebody’s going to get hurt," warned flack Leslie Sloane Zelnik,

who reps Lohan, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher and other soft targets.

"These people are trying to lead a normal life, and I think at some point

the government is going to have to step in and regulate this. I really think

this crosses a line."

Coen retorted: "I think the government should get involved to stop Leslie

Sloane Zelnik."

Up until now, Gawker has been the bitchy office queen, gossiping about NYC

media types and occasionally common-or-garden celebrities as well. Jessica Coen

might have been mean about many people, but she’s been mean in the manner of

the powerless snarking about the powerful. Now, Denton has upgraded the "Stalker"

part of "Gawker Stalker" from ironic to literal.

Your friend is walking down Broadway and sees Sarah Jessica Parker walking

towards her. The following day, she finds herself seated a couple of tables

down from SJP at a trendy restaurant. The following week, the two of them are

in the same dog run at the same time. "I’m becoming a Sarah Jessica Parker

stalker," she says. Funny or scary? Funny.

Now think what would happen if your friend reported all of these sightings,

in real time, to Gawker Stalker. Apropos Denton, this should eventually be able

to happen directly, without even being filtered through the two extra interns

that he’s reportedly brought on for this project. Your friend would be building

up a database of exactly when and where Sarah Jessica Parker is seen in public.

On her own, that might be harmless enough: three datapoints over the course

of a couple of weeks. But Gawker has well over a million readers. It only takes

a very small percentage of those to get in on the game, and pretty soon Gawker

is able to "pinpoint the location of every stalkworthy celebrity".

Yes, that’s their stated

aim. Funny or scary? Scary.

Part of what makes cities work is the anonymity conferred by large crowds.

One of the reasons why people move to New York from Smalltown is that in Smalltown,

everybody knew where they were and what they were doing at all times. Here,

you can walk down the streets wearing nothing but an inflatable crocodile, and

no one will care. Gawker Stalker Maps is an exercise in taking those comfortingly

anonymous crowds and turning them into a million-eyed intelligent beast, collating

and organising information on hundreds of individuals unlucky enough to be recognisable

in public.

That information, of course, will be incredibly useful to genuine stalkers,

who will be able to use it to work out their prey’s habitual wanderings. There

might even be genuine security implications to posting regular sightings of

Bill Clinton or Rupert Murdoch or any number of other world-famous New Yorkers.

But even without those worries, Gawker Stalker is destroying the implicit compact

between New Yorkers and celebrities. It’s one thing being recognised on the

street; it’s another thing entirely having to wonder how many of the people

who recognise you will be posting your exact location on the internet in real

time, on a web page devoted to that very purpose.

Nick Denton has a refreshing couldn’t-care-less attitude to what other people

think of Gawker Media and its properties. You don’t like his porn site? Doesn’t

bother him, he’s not forcing you to go there. I’m sure that he saw the technological

potential of a site like this, and decided to grab himself a first-mover advantage,

complete with sponsorship from E! Online. After all, if he didn’t do it, someone

else would, sooner or later. But there are lines he won’t cross: he won’t publish,

for instance, a database of celebrities’ cellphone numbers and home and email


At the moment, Gawker Stalker Maps is new, so it doesn’t have the really scary

functionality: being able to see not all celebrity sightings over the past couple

of hours or days, but rather being able to see all the sightings, ever, of any

given celebrity. I can only hope that day will never come. And for the first

time ever, I also hope that this webpage will not grow itself an RSS

feed, since it would be trivial to create such a celebrity-specific database

through a simple RSS filter. All the same, Gawker Stalker Maps is already a

nasty and dangerous web page, and really should never have been created in the

first place.

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15 Responses to Gawker Stalker Maps: Skeevy

  1. Gari N. Corp says:

    Hmm, I suppose you’re right, although it must have taken tremendous reserves of willpower not to automatically take the opposite side to the horrid flack lady.

    In fact, I dare say that mobile computing will erase the time gap to posting that Gawker Media claims will keep our celebrities safe.

    But, and I must say I skim through the Gawker Stalker posts when Mr. Sage serves them up, are we not mostly talking about sightings of coked-up starlets swerving to MeaPa club to MeaPa club with their retinues and minders?

    Yes, suggesting that some celebrities are more deserving of stalking is wrong, but many of these appearances serve the interests of celebrities, their publicists, and their corporate sponsors. Should gawker be in the position to divide between the private and public appearances?

    I doubt it if Gawker manages to acquire that many sightings of people, at least any that a determined stalker wouldn’t.

    Alright, I’ll stop arguing with myself on your website now, and go back to contemplating what Invanka Trump’s brains taste like.

  2. creeped out says:

    Gawker went over the line for me a while ago. The editors regularly make racist comments, then feign distress over racism elsewhere.

    And the blue states lose feature is revolting. The guy rips off Vice magazine’s voice to a creepily disturbing degree- then demands that the rest of the city be stale and unoriginal because he is.

    It’s hard to imagine they won’t face legal consequences from this new feature, but maybe they’ll be lucky.

  3. Haven’t communication technologies like the Internet and cable TV always been a little scary?

    One of their dangers has always been the dissemination of too much information. It’s not just about “the implicit compact between New Yorkers and celebrities”; the same overload of information is behind the problem of cable news incessantly covering non-stories (i.e. the Howard Dean scream) until they become stories and have destructive effects.

    But I can imagine celebrities countering the Gawker Stalker problem by reporting false sightings to introduce enough noise in the system that they can’t be reliably pinpointed.

  4. Nick Denton says:

    “But there are lines he won’t cross: he won’t publish, for instance, a database of celebrities’ cellphone numbers and home and email addresses.”

    Actually, Felix, I think we did publish the list of celebrity phone numbers on Paris Hilton’s Sidekick.

  5. Felix says:

    Our recollections differ on that one, Nick. As I recall, you linked to, which (briefly) had the list. But you didn’t publish it yourself. On the other hand, if you did publish the list, did you take it down? Is it still up?

  6. Nichelle says:

    Is it a coincidence that Gawker Stalker Maps launched the same day as new Gossip blog/aggregator We Smirch launches?

  7. creeped out says:

    I’m sure that Denton, Coen, Oxfeld, and Steele wouldn’t mind, then, if a website tracked their movements 24-7? And posted their cell phone numbers?

    Because the noise would totally balance it out. And deranged stalkers hardly ever commit bodily injury, right?

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