R.I.P. to Yet Another Form of Creeping on the Internet

A go-to resource for keeping tabs on exes and crushes online has disabled a very important feature. The yearners, piners and lurkers online who can’t help themselves were none too pleased.

This month, X announced that it was “making Likes private for everyone to better protect your privacy.” In practice, the change meant that although users would still be able to see posts they had liked, their list of liked posts would be hidden from other users. And by extension, neither could they see others’ likes.

It may be the biggest development in casual cybersleuthing since the so-called Following tab disappeared from Instagram in 2019. That feature, which revealed a user’s every move on the platform — whose photo she just double-tapped, which account he just followed — made it astonishingly easy to get to know someone’s interests.

Taken together, these recent privacy-minded changes are making it harder to snoop on the internet, frustrating those who may be struggling to let go of their romantic past or are obsessed with keeping tabs on current partners or even budding flings. As expected, jokes went flying as soon as the new likes policy on X was announced.

“Likes are private?” one user posted on X. “Now how am I supposed to see who my crush has a crush on??”

However, for those who had been the snooped upon, the news was warmly welcomed. “Likes are private now, she can’t stalk me anymore and jump to ridiculous conclusions,” another user wrote.

Larry Fitzmaurice, writer of the “Last Donut of the Night” music newsletter and a longtime X user, said in a phone interview that he understood the pros and cons of being able to see other people’s likes, but concluded that it was probably unnecessary.

“I guess it has benefits, especially if you’re in a relationship and you’re trying to figure out if your partner is cheating on you or whatever,” Mr. Fitzmaurice, 36, said of the ability “to watch over each other’s every move online.” “But in the grand scheme of things, it seems like it just makes us all a lot more mentally ill.”

“If people are horny, they’re going to be horny,” he added. “Like, you snooping on them is not going to stop the waterfall from flowing.”

It was also common for people, including celebrities and politicians, to be exposed for their like activity. In 2017, when X was still known as Twitter, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was widely mocked after his @tedcruz account had liked a pornographic tweet featuring a highly explicit video with adult actors. (Mr. Cruz later said a staff member had accidentally hit the wrong button.)

It’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge the seriousness of online stalking, which can quickly escalate from creepy to abusive to illegal. But a lot of harmless curiosity is just that: harmless. And many simply can’t resist the way these features provide a window into whether your ex has moved on, if your boyfriend is liking half-naked photos of other women or if your girlfriend might be aligned with questionable online communities.

In the 2010s, the Following tab was where you could learn more about your followers’ interests and be introduced to content you wouldn’t ordinarily find on your personal feed. You could see that the person who hasn’t replied to your text message was liking posts in real time, with the time stamps to prove it, or see who was not so secretly flirting with each other via clicks. And of course it was infamous for exposing cheating.

Even though it might have felt as if everyone was gleefully checking everyone else’s Instagram activity at all times, the app told BuzzFeed News in 2019 that the feature wasn’t used frequently, and that the company even suspected many users didn’t know it existed.

So now that there are no more public likes on X, what options exist for online sleuths looking to creep while dating? Of course Facebook and LinkedIn still exist, and Venmo is notorious for oversharing about revealing transactions.

A quick dive into someone’s YouTube subscriptions or Spotify listening history can tell you a lot about where are one’s mind and heart. For the real yearners out there, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

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