Review: ‘YOU’ showcases stalking in the era of social media


Illustration by Ariel Landry

Kaylie Saidin

The release of Lifetime’s psychological thriller YOU was met with overwhelming praise, particularly when it became available for streaming on Netflix. The series introduces us to Joe, a seemingly average New Yorker who considers himself a gentleman. He runs a bookstore, where he takes great care of first-edition copies of famous texts in a basement glass cell with controlled humidity. Joe, essentially, is old fashioned: he believes in chivalry and believes women should be protected by men. He has no social media, preferring to “live in the moment.” At face value, Joe has many qualities that some may consider desirable.

But because we get Joe’s inner thoughts via voiceover, the audience is aware of his creepy nature almost immediately. Beneath the old-fashioned, Victorian-novel-worshipping facade, he crosses lines of curiosity with ease and ventures quickly into stalking territory. And the basement glass cell is quickly revealed to hold a darker secret.

When a young writer named Beck wanders into his bookstore and they briefly flirt, he takes her name from her credit card. Although he claims to have no social media, he stalks Beck on every imaginable website, finds out what places she frequents, where she attends school and where she lives. He then begins watching her from outside her house. His justification for all this is that all of her accounts are set to public — she “wants to be seen,” he boldly proclaims to the camera.

Within the first twenty minutes of the pilot episode, viewers may begin to question the rationale behind their privacy settings being so loose. How easy is it to find out too much about someone’s life through social media? The truth is — and anyone who has peeped around on social media knows this — it’s not that hard.

Joe and Beck, in many ways, represent different ideals about social media and modernity. Beck writes poetry and fiction on her laptop, while Joe shelves two-hundred-year-old copies of Wuthering Heights in a dim-lit bookstore. Beck showcases her life and work on social media and the internet, while Joe publicly rejects social media and has no online presence (although he obviously uses social media to stalk people). Both of them are people who see the Internet and the rise of social media as a tool; Beck uses it to present her life to the public in a highly curated manner, and Joe uses it to gain private information about people and further manipulate them.

The ways that both Beck and Joe use social media are infuriating for the viewer. Beck’s constant curation of a lifestyle that doesn’t reflect her real life is a constant source of annoyance, particularly for Joe, who finds her to be entirely different than the person he stalked online. Beck’s friends include a social media influencer named Annika whose feed is constantly the butt of jokes about millennials. When an old, seemingly racist video of Annika is exposed on Instagram, the video instantly goes viral in yet another reflection of the social media circus that controls much of the young adult world.

But none of Beck or her cohorts’ use of social media, despite its annoying nature, rivals the creepiness of Joe’s use. Joe steals phones, peeps into iCloud accounts and posts from other accounts to cover up murder. He manipulates everyone around him.

YOU, essentially, is a tale about obsessive psychopathy in the era of social media and the internet “cloud.” The ways we use social media define us, and by the end of the series, neither Joe nor Beck are particularly likable, primarily due to their poor use of social media.

Beck hides behind a fake and very public persona on Instagram, struggles to write poetry without becoming distracted by Instagram notifications and has friends who work as “influencers” by marketing body-positivity and female empowerment as their brand. Joe, on the other hand, uses social media to stalk and control others.

YOU is not just about stalking; it’s about the ways social media and technology appeal to ugly impulses and enable people to engage in terrible things. Both Joe and Beck represent different extremes of using modern technology in harmful ways — although, being a murderer is far worse than being an obnoxious millennial.

Illustration by Ariel Landry.