Online footprints!

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By: Chitra Ahanthem

As the world gets more wired today, it is fast leading to a situation where, on one hand people you hardly know will send a “friend request” while on the other, people one gets to meet but have nothing to talk in common wants to be “friends” again on various social networking sites like Facebook, Orkut, Hi5 and others. Since we are talking of an internet phenomenon, it is then apt that a Google search be used to look up the definition of a social network. It gave two definitions:
– A social network service focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, e.g., who share interests and/or activities.

– Are websites that allow users to build on-line profiles, share information, pictures, blog entries, music clips, etc.
Those interested can further use Google to read up on the history of social networking sites but it can be accepted as a fact that a large majority of people who have access to the internet are spending a large part of their time on social networking sites. Since one of the many ways that these sites function is to have a forum for posting status updates (from the personal to the banal to the serious and political or radical and so on), photos and links to other websites, it mostly means that once one signs on a particular social network, there is almost a barrage of people who send friend requests. They come from a variety of people: people you have heard of but not met; people you know by another name but who has an interesting pseudonym; people you meet in real life and with whom one does not have anything much to talk about or those you are in personal contact (and hence not necessary to be on another forum) and then there are the people who have assumed identities, who will pop up once in a while and say “friend”? Sometimes one comments to a particular status or information that a “friend” puts out and then, following that one gets a friend request out of the blue from someone else who is the “friend” of that “friend” but one you may not necessarily don’t know or want to know.

Social etiquette requires that people write something along with a “friend invite” but it is not uncommon to have people sending blank invites but the virtual world and the nature of people using it means a variety of funny and not so funny moments online. While social networking sites have not only meant that long lost school/college/University batch-mates get to reunite, it also has meant professional get together(s). Then, there are “groups”, where one can have the most serious debates to funny crusades. For instance, there is a “Shut up, Arnab Goswami”. Those who follow national TV channels and Times Now where the said media personality anchors Prime time news will immediately register why! Such an online forum gives a wide range of manner in which it can be used: some people use it to share photographs or interesting write ups while some play online video games with one another starting from online farming (why cant they do it in real life?!) to another phenomenon called “mafia wars” where one gets to “kill” people left, right and center.

The popularity of such online forums has also meant that there are certain sectors where access to social networking sites are not allowed during office , government departments and in security establishments. Those following national media again will be familiar with the famous “tweets” that became politically damaging for former Union Minister, Shashi Tharoor. A “tweet” exchange between the former Indian Premier League Chairman, Lalit Modi and Tharoor amidst intense media scrutiny led to exposes in the world of IPL over cut backs, illegal deals and corruption charges. This is where it may well become a norm for media to follow people in certain Government departments and use personal comments for public consumption thereby bringing in an issue of ethics for both actors. Yet, there have been many other cases where police have tracked down criminals and lawyers using photo uploads as evidence in particular case: one such case was that of a person accused of molesting a woman. It was found later that the accused man was very much in another distant location from the purported crime scene. The “proof” of his location was Facebook!

On one level though, there is the question over whether Government officials can access networking sites during official work hours while on the other, the media needs to ascertain whether one official’s personal observation is really a reflection of an entire department. India still needs to get a proper law in relation to cyber use and its misuse and it would do well to look especially at how media and Government officials use it. But the wide popularity of social networking has also made it possible for social action. Nearer home, a stretch of the Nambul river got cleaned up thanks to a team of young people who started talking about the dirt around the river. These were young people either studying or working outside the state who “networked” with people based in Imphal; then went about seeking financial contributions, logistics and human resources to do the river clean up. The recent media attention over a possible closure of the RIMS Clinical Psychology Department is another case in point where social networking groups flagged off a furor of responses and follow up action that ultimately reached the media.

End-point:
Social network sites seem here to stay and it depends on the individual using it how best to use it. Like everything else, it has its advantage and disadvantages but this FOOTNOTES owes it to Facebook where I have been asked to start writing for IFP again(:-i
PS (those into computer use will recognize the last character as a smiley…)

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