Internet has spawned many branches of knowledge distribution. The first, the email service, made its presence tentatively in the beginning and now billions of email accounts have been created and are served by 1000’s of Internet Service Providers. One other major development that has taken the world by storm is social media networks. Anyone worth his salt is now an active user of one or more such networks. People around the world are getting in touch with complete strangers. They could be from your own neighborhood or from the other side of the globe. It does not really matter so long as you strike a chord in the other. Interactive dialogs that used conventional means like terrestrial phone connections are ‘passé’. The new entity, social media network, which makes use of the World Wide Web and mobile technologies, has become far more accessible and even more convenient. The content that is user generated can be broadly classified as one that is between individuals and another as used by business and called consumer generated. Social media have an all-pervading presence in all spheres of life. Political scientists and sociologists are of the opinion that the recent uprising in the Middle-East could not have been played out in so orderly a manner without social media coming to its aid.
The growth of social media networks is nothing short of phenomenal. In the U.S. alone, there are no less than 1400 networks at the last count. With so many networks and so many people busy doing their thing in the network space abuse can only be expected to follow. In fact, the negative side of social networking has come to occupy a significant part of activities around networks. Unless you want to and can restrict the viewing of the information you put on, it is all in the public domain and it is for anyone to see and take note of. Whether the information is interesting or something insipid, it can be used to the viewers' advantage irrespective of the consequences to the author, nary a thought for the potential detrimental aspects that could result from such usage. Such adverse actions can be taken on the sly even by the governments and indeed there are many instances of this having happened to unsuspecting citizens.
All governments, whether they are the supposedly democratic or openly autocratic, have indulged in this nefarious activity and continue doing so. When caught, they try and wriggle out by citing some obscure rules and regulations they themselves would not have been aware of but for the need that has arisen to defend themselves against the charge of spying on their own citizens. Some 13 decades ago, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, the first Baron Acton, had defined the absolute power of the government as absolutely corrupting. This has become too true in the present environment of social media hacking. Governments employ experts to pry into the affairs of private citizens by means both fair and foul. The citizens are only helping them by feeding all sorts of information about themselves into the open space that is social media networking. It is not a secret any more that the American government is capable of listening in to every phone conversation that takes place anywhere in the world 24 hours a day. Mind-boggling but absolutely true nevertheless and no doubt frightening.
The heart of social network deception is simple and plain lying. It is, however, a matter of consolation that most of these lies are of no consequence. Though one tends to look askance at these irritating lies, it soon dawns on observers that the fallacies could indeed spell disaster in individual lives. Cases where charlatans took their victims into complete confidence and struck when the iron was hot are numerous. People have been swindled out of their money and much else besides. Gullible boys and girls have been impressed upon by fly-by-night operators to give their all and it soon turns out to be too late when the young people realize that they have been taken for a ride. In more sophisticated methods for laypeople (but just another episode in the day's work of an unethical hacker), user accounts have been broken into, e-mail address books have been entered and copied. Fake information and photos have been posted on the accounts of unsuspecting people thereby creating enormous and unforeseen difficulties for the actual account holder. Numerous people have lost their livelihoods, many perfectly happy marriages have gone on the rocks and families in large numbers have broken up, not to speak of businesses that have collapsed.
The modus operandi, often, is not some brilliantly-thought-out plot. The malicious entity, a he or she, uses a name other than his own and opens an account in a particular social media network. He posts a photo purportedly of himself but not actually his own. He is prudent enough to select a nondescript photo of somebody who is around the same age as the target. And the sky is the limit for him/her. He/she has an open field and starts creating havoc in as many people's lives as possible. Children are especially vulnerable to abuse. The Crimes Against Children Research Center, an organization that conducts case studies, has come to the conclusion that one in seven children are tempted with objectionable sexual content on different social media sites. It further found that the children had been careless enough to give the predators their name, address and other details enabling the latter to feel encouraged to ask the children to meet them physically. By way of motivation, they had cunningly learned about the tastes and preferences of the intended victims and made gifts that were sure to impress them.
Parents around the world are at their wit's end exploring ways to protect their wards against the very present abuse. The best way to do this, of course, is to put a blanket ban on the use of Internet by children. Since this suggestion can only succeed in making a fool of the author of this piece, let us consider something more practical. Parents, as surreptitiously as possible, should keep track of the time their children spend online. If you find that the quantum of time they spend in front of the computer has suddenly shown an unexplainable increase, it is a cause for worry. And, if this happens at the cost of his/her other interests like outdoor activities, watching TV shows and spending time with real friends, it is time to investigate.
Many parents are too embarrassed to confront the children when they find pornographic files on the storing devices. This ostrich mentality is not going to help one bit and on the contrary, may even encourage the children to not only continue with their activities unhindered but, egged on by the perpetrators who are always on the prowl, get emboldened enough to make their foray into deep and serious trouble. Recently the Phoenix police arrested Tommy “R”, a 19-year-old in connection with the murder of 54 year old Mark “W”. It has emerged that the duo met through a social network. Some facts about the case point to “R” as the potential murderer. In another case, Rachel “W”, only 21 years old, will spend the next 20 years of her life in prison for murdering her friend Sarah “L”. The friendship went sore over a mutual friend, Joshua “C”, and the animosity between the two girls only grew when they started using a social media network to vent their anger against each other. One thing led to another and “W” became the target of stalking. “L” and friends started following “W” everywhere and harassed her in all possible ways. An exasperated “W”, not really intending to murder her friend - according to her - did it all the same and now is full of repentance which is hardly going to help her. Her life ruined, she is uncontrollably desolate in the Lowell Correctional institution for Women.
Physically too there are symptoms you can recognize as ringing the alarm bell. If your child becomes increasingly withdrawn, lethargic and depressed, it is time for you to make inquires. You must keep in mind the fact that he/she is in a precarious state and needs delicate handling. You may, by all means, consult a psychiatrist but without being too intrusive. The general consensus is that more person-to-person contact in the good old way is the best remedy for this alarming situation. You meet people physically first and it is only then you become friends. That is far safer than getting close to people whom you hardly know and start spilling all the facts about yourself in the “mechanical” world that is Internet and, in these circumstances, in the abominable social media networks.
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