There goes the story of the two long separated brothers- brothers who got separated in a festival. After that, a huge saga follows, telling their story trying to find each other. They get old and in their deathbeds, they suddenly realize that they have always been together-in the form of neighbors turned foes. If not for ‘the mole in one brother’s right thigh’, they would have died without knowing the identities of each other. Thanks to the social networking websites now, this kind of a situation is less likely to arise. They can simply log in to Orkut, Hi5, Facebook or any other such website and find the brother there. Communicating through websites has become so easy that one just needs to put any information about the person he wants to find and he gets the result immediately. And what is more-one can also browse through other people’s profiles on a social networking website and be friends with likeminded people. Social causes are promoted through various communities and groups in the websites and this type of awareness can create magic. Now all these things sound so like a fairytale. It is indeed a fairytale. But, fairytales do not last long- they have too much of their own limitations to pass the scrutiny of time. These social networking websites have also become a matter of grave concern in recent times. We need to look at them more carefully now in order to get a clearer picture of the events, pleasant and unpleasant.
A report says there are 38.5 million internet users in India today, which is most likely to increase up to 100 million in one year’s time. If we go by the report in ‘Business Standard’ magazine dated 4th of September, we find that 10% of the internet users in India are active members of at least one social networking websites which makes 4 million users today and another 6 million by the end of the year. With so many people logging in everyday, it marks a huge business for the providers. Apart from the foreign websites, many Indian companies like Reliance ADA Group (bigadda.com), MIH India (ibobo.com) have come out with their own versions. If we need any proof to show how huge a business it is turning out to be, we can easily refer to yaari.com that gifts ipods to its most popular users in an attempt to grow its users!
When a website called classmates.com was launched in USA in 1995, nobody thought it would lead to such a huge revolution. Now there are almost a hundred active social networking websites around the globe. With more and more users coming up, it almost led to inevitable chaos.
Orkut.com was launched in 2004 by Google and it immediately attracted everyone by being the first of its kind to introduce all Google features; including videos, search engine and chat. But the problem first arised in Iran, when the Iranian government banned Orkut in the country citing religious and cultural limitations. However, the buzz is that the Government felt that information sharing internationally can prove fatal for national security. It resulted in the creation of websites like orkutproxy.com which provide backdoor access to Orkut. This was the first instance when social networking websites started to get open to cyber mischief and later crimes. Lately when Koushambi Layek was murdered by her boyfriend whom she met on Orkut triggered off huge debates regarding the importance or rather credibility of these websites. Very recently, Adnan, a teenager was kidnapped and murdered by his friends in Orkut; the issue has arisen in a big way. The media has started a new term ‘Orkut murder’ after the incident. With so many fake profiles coming up in these websites, one does not need to know rocket science to comprehend the dangerous aspect of social networking.
It is not the only problem. Over the years, it has been a trend to create communities like ‘We Hate India’, ‘We Hate Pakistan’ etc. Despite repeated public interest petitions and court orders, these communities still exist. The trend has gone personal too- with communities like ‘F*^k Himesh Reshamiya’, ‘The A#@$^*e Ganguly’ etc has erupted. This type of open hatred is unstoppable in a website unless the administrators come up with a strong guideline which is highly unlikely for the moment. However, efforts have been made to increase awareness about it and people have responded with communities like ‘We Hate Those Who Hate India’.
Now what is the most important thing is to clean up the whole system of social networking. It is evident that it will not be easy or appropriate for that matter, to ban these websites altogether. When BPOs tried to do that in offices, there was hue and cry in a large scale and many backdoor website came up to help the employees access Orkut, Facebook or Hi5. Analysts say that the reason behind the problems faced by the social networking websites is the ease with which anyone can open multiple profiles as well as public access to private information. To rectify these problems, there is a need to upgrade whole system of account creation in social networking websites. Along with it, the providers have to ensure that no personal information like telephone numbers and email ids are not available in one’s profile. The users must also come forward and claim their privacy. We have heard of numerous instances when people are chased and disturbed by based on the personal information provided in their profiles including the latest one in Gurgaon BPOs.
We can not deny the fact that social networking websites have now become an integral part of the web, particularly in the urban areas. However, we must also keep in mind the shortcomings of something which is in the internet and open for hacking and cyber crime. It become a duty now to realize the importance of rectifying the issues and restore the websites to their original form i.e. a great place for healthy discussions and an even better place to keep in touch with friends (and make new ones too!).