World Wide Worry: Net works, not networking?
By Wednesday August 22, 10:18 AM7

The murder of 16-year-old Adnan Patrawala, who was allegedly abducted and later killed by his friends, has brought to the fore the potential dangers of the Internet.

Adnan was reportedly lured into meeting someone he established contact with on the social networking site Orkut. The boy then disappeared only to be found subsequently strangulated to death.

The blogosphere is alive with debates around the destructive potential of sites like Orkut with one website even alleging that Orkut brought death for Adnan.
As police grapple with clues and scan suspicious profiles on the social networking site, CNN-IBN debates if social networking websites can be destructive.
On Face the Nation conducted by Sagarika Ghose, the panel of experts discussing the issue were blogger and Editor of JAM magazine Rashmi Bansal, psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chabria and cyber law expert Karnika Seth.

The web of crime

According to statistics available with the Delhi Police, a total of 17 cases related to hacking, obscenity, e-commerce fraud and Internet-related crimes were registered last year. This was against 12 cases registered in 2005, indicating a 42 per cent rise.

With a raging debate online and offline regarding social networking sites, the question which is on everybody’s minds is should sites like Orkut be banned and if not then how can such kinds of cyber crimes be curbed?

To which Bansal said, “It’s a terrible tragedy and we feel for them but what we are discussing here is a larger social issue. Orkut is just one aspect of the Internet. It’s easy to blame technology but what we are seeing on the net is what is happening in the real world.”

Bansal explained that the access to easy money and freedom has led to a spurt in such crimes amongst the youngsters.

“What’s happening is that there are a lot of children nowadays who have a lot of money and freedom. Now this is a potent combination. So, whether or not Orkut existed tragedies like this could happen because there are a lot of people who don’t have access to this kind of money but want the lifestyle. There is bound to be friction when two different sets of people meet,” she reasoned.

So, it’s not technology that should be blamed but the social milieu.

Now one of the beauties or flaws of the Internet is that it is lawless. One can write whatever one wants and yet not be prosecuted for it. Anonymous identities can be made and one could also attack people viciously. But is that changing, is the Internet being policed a little more now?

Agreeing Seth said, “Yes, because we do need censorship of the Internet to a certain extent. It is a borderless space no doubt but needs to be regulated. Reasonable restrictions can be placed by the government or legal authorities.”

Explaining how this can be achieved, Seth said, “We do have the IT Act in place in India which is fully functional and operative. The case that we are referring to is a crime of kidnapping and murder. So these crimes are punishable.”

IT’s not all safe on the net

As Bansal said there is a social malaise but is technology creating a fantasy world where common sense is being lost and people are living in a kind of fantasia where the grip on reality is being lost?

Agreeing Chabria said, “Nowadays a lot of kids may use Orkut just for entertainment but what happens many a times is that children only use this form of communication and so their loneliness in this kind of life increases. Now what happens is that this is an unsupervised form of communication. So, the more they get into that world they seem to be withdrawing from the real world. A world where one can say anything and yet not be liable to prosecution can create a lot of complications. And it is happening and we can see that.”

Adnan left his house late on Saturday night to meet a girl called Angel D making no effort to actually find out whether she was a real person or not. Taking this case into consideration, do teenagers need counselling before they the approach the Internet?

Taking a practical approach to the issue Bansal said, “I think it’s just unfortunate and a case of bad luck. Most of the young people who use the net know that a person who is listed as a girl maybe a boy. People do use multiple profiles and identities on the net. So, it’s something that everyone is aware of and maybe the young man thought that he could deal with it.”

Bansal believed that “this whole thing of trying to supervise young people nowadays is very difficult because they have a mind of their own and they do manipulate their parents in such a way that it’s difficult to police them. You have to give them freedom and hope that they use it responsibly.”

Taking a cue from Bansal, Seth said that with such instances happening there is some sort of awareness in the youngsters.

“What is required for them to know is that they should be on guard. One needs to be serious while interacting with strangers. Secondly, there should be a conscious effort on the part of youngsters on what they are doing on the net.”

The dark side of Internet

There are two major worrying factors on the Internet. One is falsification of identity and the other is defamation or hate speak – the web is full of varied kinds of ideologies like Nazism which is being propagated or different kinds of hate propaganda. So, is falsification of identity and hate speech punishable?

“Yes, they are. When you talk of impersonation or when one is committing a crime with a mental intention to actually commit a crime then it is a crime under the Indian Penal Code. Also, the intention to defame somebody is also prosecutable. As regards hate speeches, one does not have the freedom to say whatever they wish to. It has to be policed to a certain extent. Freedom of speech is not infinite or undefined. Even in the offline world hate speeches are actionable. So, the same things are applicable on the Internet. People are failing to realise this but with more such instances coming to light these issues will have to be covered,” Seth explained.

She also said rules need to be applied to the Internet. It is a free world but it does need to abide by certain rules.

However, Bansal believed that the Internet is a responsible medium.

“We are looking at a specific case. There are over two million Indians who have registered on Orkut and only few odd cases have come up. So, it doesn’t mean that the entire medium is destructive. On the Internet destructive behaviour tends to be self-destructive like if you are a raving lunatic then people don’t want to listen to what you have to say. In general people are responsible and keep away from the extremism that is being discussed,” she added.

According to her even in this specific case if the boy was lured through Orkut then “they will be tracked down in no time and it will be far easier to track the case. I think technology has a lot of positive sides to it.”

So, is the Internet a vent for the criminal side of young people? Is it some sort of a safety valve where one unleashes his dark or criminal side and then becomes a normal human being in real life?

Concluding the discussion Chabria said, “In the real world there are a lot of things that one cannot do. But abusing people like teachers and creating a hate gang on the net is easy. So, definitely there is a side which comes out. What is dangerous is when people are leading parallel lives on the net and the real world. The warning sign is when your child starts coming into his own inner world and stops interacting with the outer world. When he spends more time with the computer than his real friends then that is the time to worry.”