Dark side of Social Networking, Jan 12, 2011- IBN LIVE

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have enabled people to not just reconnect with friends and family, but have provided a platform for sharing information and staying in touch. You upload pictures, share information, tell the world where you are and what you’re doing. Fact: once you put anything online, it is shared around the world in seconds and stays there for decades. Here is the bad news – even if you delete what you wrote, chances are, it is sitting pretty on one of the servers halfway across the world. So much for privacy.

It would be rhetorical to ask if you’ve seen The Social Network.

For the uninitiated, this movie chronicles the creation of Facebook, arguably one of the most popular websites the World Wide Web has to offer. What led to 500 million smiling faces was a shaky, unstable start. Instead, what the movie doesn’t really show is how the dark side wasn’t only internal to Facebook, as it added fuel to the already simmering darkness of social networking. Not questioning the potential or power of social networking, one cannot deny the influence it has on our daily lives. Be it constructive or perverse. Here is an insight into how the multiple ways the dark forces of social networking often unleash themselves on to unsuspecting users.


Trolls are people who post rude, offensive and abusive messages on social networking sites. They disrupt online conversations by hurling abuse and posting rude and offensive comments. Anyone who has been on social platforms long enough would have had an interaction with trolls. The more popular you are, the higher the chances of your getting trolled.

A few months back, director Karan Johar, vented on Twitter. “While most tweets are objective, frank and warm… the ones that are constantly making tactless statements about my personal life are upsetting.” Johar isn’t the only one.

Sample this:

@chetan_bhagat kaisa hai bandarr??

@MallikaLA hey…i’m just like u…i love to kiss boys and love to be nude…

@Abhishek Bachchan And that was the last 100 bucks I spent on any movie starring this joker. Period

Attempt to put a face to this troll and one finds that they are normal people who let their dark side out once they get online. The availability of a medium, freedom of speech and a sequestered dark side is the perfect combination for a troll to thrive. Not just limited to non-celebs, Shobhaa De recently got trolled by Arbaaz Khan after she wrote that his movie Dabangg should be banned. Arbaaz tweeted: ‘Buddhi badnaam hui darling mere liye 🙂 hahahahahaha’

Foot in the mouth

A seemingly innocent tweet or a status update can do you more harm than you can possibly imagine. Popular news pieces tell us about people getting fired, arrested or even divorced. More often than not, we don’t think twice before posting a status update on any social network; truly unaware that users outside our friend circle are looking forward to such gaffes. Others, looking to do a quick background check- like a prospective matrimonial alliance, new employers or even a new acquaintance can be dealt quite a blow if an unintentional tweet or status update shows up on their feed.

There is a long list of people losing their jobs thanks to irresponsible posts on Twitter and Facebook. It is generally not such a good idea to bad mouth your boss or company on public profiles, or to post holiday photos on Facebook while you are on a sick leave. Abhijit Acharya (@abijit_tabs) once went to give an interview and tweeted about the company. The interviewers did not take it well and he obviously did not get the job. A waiter in the US lost his job recently after he tweeted about an actress, a star from the American series Hung not leaving him a tip. In July, Infosys announced the rollout of a social networking policy for its employees. This policy enlists dos and don’ts while interacting on social networking sites. It empowers the company to take legal action against employees who leak sensitive company information through their social networking profiles.

Social networking websites are a goldmine for lawyers. According to a survey, 20 per cent of the divorces in US today involve Facebook. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has stated that more than 80 per cent of members have utilised or come into contact with evidence found on social networking sites in the last five years. Amendments to India’s IT Act, notified last October, make status messages and tweets admissible as electronic evidence in court. According to Karnika Seth, cyber lawyer: “There are couples who are filing for divorce for reasons which could not have been proved before, but with tweets and status message updating several times a day, it works as additional evidence, often making adultery easy to prove.” Relationships are not just ruined because of Facebook but even on Facebook. A change in relationship status is all it takes to communicate to your lover that it is over.


Life has never been easier for stalkers and thieves if they want to track your routine. They can simply do that by keeping track of your timeline. An innocent tweet like, “Chilling at big chill with friends” can let a stalker know your exact whereabouts. Or “we are on vacation” can invite burglars.

India has also caught up to the popular social networking site called Foursquare that allows registered users to connect with friends and update their location. A direct invite to the criminals, isn’t it? People can even mark their location on tweets now using Google maps that can be very dangerous.

Consider this: If a criminal can easily find out where you are, what stores you frequent, what your daily habits are, who your friends are, and even what your personal food, entertainment, and beverage references are, you can be targeted with a level of ease never before possible.

Identity Crisis

Fake profiles are an increasing menace on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Fake accounts of celebrities, personalities and politicians are created on Facebook and Twitter to get lots of audience and then to spam them or post malicious content. Twitter now verifies accounts of popular and publicly known users, but has just a ‘report spam’ button for regular users.

Anyone can create a fake account and start talking to people. How do you tell the fake from the real? Recently, Bollywood director and scriptwriter Anurag Kashyap was very upset. There were fake accounts of him on Twitter, as well as on Facebook. An imposter opened accounts with his name and also opened an account with the name of his next movie That Girl In Yellow Boots. The imposter was continuously interacting with many of Anurag’s acquaintances using these fake accounts. Ronald K Noble, secretary general Interpol, recently revealed that two fake accounts were created in his name on Facebook and were used to find the details of highly dangerous criminals. Last year someone was managing a false account on Facebook impersonating Amartya Sen, the Indian Nobel Laureate. He was dishing out advice and participating in discussions.

Even after repeated objections by Amartya Sen himself, Facebook refused to remove the page. Using a pseudo-identity, you can now take pot-shots with malice towards one and all. The intentions might not always be malicious though. Parody accounts on social networking sites are not uncommon today. People make these accounts for fun. A parody account of stock broker Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has more than 13,000 followers. The parody account of Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs has 2.5 lakh followers. There is also a fake Bal Thackerey with 1,500 followers

Profile marketing

Your tweet that you need a new car or a house is a direct invitation to marketers. They can just search for keywords like ‘car’ and then tweet /call you back trying to sell their product. Try typing that you are not happy with a particular telephone operator and you will soon be stalked by the competition. You might be sick of the marketing calls but they don’t spare you on the Internet either. A service called Twithawk is a real time target marketing engine that will find people talking on Twitter, now by your chosen topic and location, allowing you to really hit your target, even mid-conversation, with ease. Gursimran Khamba (@gkhamba) tweeted a joke about calling Just Dial, the online directory to say he is looking for a shera, the CWG mascot’s costume. Just Dial immediately tweeted him back providing the numbers of shera costume traders.

According to Ankita Gaba, a marketing professional: “Companies are now increasingly using Twitter for marketing and customer care.” She has to actually tell her clients to do it subtly because users don’t want Twitter to be used for this. American company Rapleaf helps banks scan your social network and identify contacts connected with you that also do business with the financial institution. Based on the financial stability and credit history of your social network connections, the bank can make an assumption about what sort of credit risk you might be. Maybe it is time to do some thinking; maybe it is time to list the pros and cons of social networking.

Think about it, weren’t our lives a lot simpler before this revolution? If you really can’t live without it maybe just exercise a modicum of discretion and common sense regarding what you post online. Either way, its probably time you reworked your social networking privacy settings.

(This story first came in The New Indian Express)