Centre for Internet & Society

While a sizeable chunk of users do not mind living their life in public, oversharing can have nasty repercussions in real life. This article by Sahana Saran was published in the Bangalore Mirror on 24 July 2011.

A wife wrote a bitchy remark about her mother-in-law on Facebook when her husband was out of town. A happy homecoming turned sour when the husband saw the comment. There was a huge showdown which finally led to divorce.

On the flip side, when Savita and Vinay’s (name changed) baby was about to be born a couple of years ago, the couple’s friend live-tweeted the whole childbirth process and the proud parents didn’t mind.

Oversharing on social networks by young people can have damaging results, say internet experts. Why does it happen?

"These days youngsters hook on to social networking sites, and you cannot blame them for seeking each other’s company because that is how they are at that age. There are more restrictions on children these days because of security and abuse issues which the earlier generation may not have encountered. For example, sleepovers which were much common earlier may now not be readily allowed. Their time outside their house is also monitored. Many schools these days have surveillance cameras or some form of curbs that might restrict students from having a private interaction. That is why they seek such interactions through the internet and social networks. Still in India, there is not really a need to press the panic button saying that they are becoming Facebook addicts," says Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society, who is an internet behaviour expert.

Sunil quotes an analysis done in Poland to show how much social networking has become a part of young people’s lives. It showed that teenage girls who meet every day in school, go back home and immediately switch on their PCs and start interacting with each other again. And all through the day, they are on Skype and can see every single thing that each one of them are doing in their rooms in their respective homes. Studies done in the Philipines demonstrate how personal life is becoming public. A study by the Institute of Philippine Culture showed that many of those assessed were on Friendster and allow full access to information on their accounts and readily share details of activities, interests and contacts.

Is the situation different in India? Bhavana, a business management graduate  in her 20s, says that what she puts up on her social networking account depends solely on her state of mind. But she ensures that messages are not too personal because earlier she had put up posts which backfired.

"Sometime ago we were celebrating my brother’s birthday and some misunderstanding happened during the celebrations and I was heaped with blame by friends and relatives on FB when I tried to justify myself. I was taken aback. Now, I am more careful about posting messages about sensitive topics," she says.

And when you let people know where you are through Google Latitude, you need to watch against saying offensive things.

"There have been instances of people gate-crashing parties following a Twitter or FB post; in China, mobs of people have attacked those whose views they oppose," adds Sunil. 

What makes some people, who would never dream of whipping up controversies in the real world, so reckless when they are online? 

"Most often, it is a way of being noticed, of getting attention. Everyone wants to have a popular public profile and telling the world about your opinions and your activities is a way of gaining attention. But new forms of communication are being invented every other day and each has an etiquette of its own," says Sunil.          

According to Dr Thomas M J, there are two kinds of people who are the net — attention-seeking and anonymous. The anonymous generally never put personal details about themselves on social networks. "But the other group consists of those who are externally controlled. For such people any open media acts as a place to talk about themselves and they love being in that public space. Moreover, social networks give internet users the courage to say whatever they want because they can avoid face-to-face contact. Even if there is a response, it is muted because because it is not direct and they can escape confrontation," says Thomas.          

Read the original article published in Bangalore Mirror here
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