It was perhaps 2007 when I first registered for a facebook account. I remember my sister sent me an invitation and out of plain curiosity, I joined what I later declared the ‘ultimate time waster’. To be fair, facebook is great fun keeping up with your family and friends, checking out what fun your friend had in that family vacation to Dubai, wedding pictures and facebook groups serve to keep family members updated who are missing out on all the fun, that newly born adorable baby born to your cousin, keeping an eye on your colleagues and especially those working under your teams and last but not the least, keeping tabs on the life and adventures of your ex-flame! With the advent of social media in Pakistan and with the sudden explosion of the ‘most used social network’, you see your mom, khalas and phupos, cousins, nieces and nephews all joining the bandwagon. I sometimes tease my brother and sister that with our blackberry savvy mother commenting on most of our facebook activity, maybe it is time to move to another social networking site.
Recently I have known two incidents, of stalking and hacking of facebook accounts, in cases where the girls whose IDs were hacked were put through the mental agony of their pictures shared with a wider audience, including their family members, causing not just panic and embarrassment but also severe stress. I am concerned because they were young underage girls, and when you are immature and vulnerable, you tend to trust people who you think are your ‘friends’, not realizing that the big bad world of the internet is inhabited by an entire network of individuals who will stalk you and who will comprise your privacy. Facebook is the new tool for a broken-heart-on-vengeance. Hacking somebody’s account or faking their ID is the new trend and if you are not careful, you run the risk too! There is a good post here on one of my favourite blogs, Deadpanthoughts, by Faisal Kapadia, that provides some good advice on how not to get hacked. Another blogger friend, Awab Alvi shared the link to report privacy violations on facebook as I sought his advice once to help out one of the younger victims of facebook stalking. This link is useful for everyone to know, just in case you ever need it.
My father has been playing a lead role on combating Cyber Crimes and I was discussing this evening of the key issue of vulnerability and what can be done to prevent damage coming to one’s loved ones. His response shook me to the core: he asked me would you allow your son to go out unaccompanied? I said, ‘no, in these turbulent days, never!’ He then said, so why should any parent let their children loose in the cyberspace where each link can allure him/her to anywhere they should not be. In this day and age, when parents who monitor who their child meets and interacts with, must not ignore the new social media, where the internet is interactive, responsive, interfering and at times disturbing like a strange man peeking inside your house through the window.
The fact remains that you cannot stop children from what is available out there as that itself is not a viable solution. It only raises curiosity and adds value to the allurement charm of the new and shiny tools of communicating with a world out there. What you can do however is to be more aware, know your way around the privacy settings of the new social media and be there to ‘share instantly’ what your growing child would like to discuss without being ‘judged’ by you. Else, you must remember that there will be ‘others’ taking up the role of the keen listener in the big crowd of the innumerable possibilities of the social media out there. The choice is ours.