Breaking News
Saturday, October 8, 2011

(Published in on 7 October, 2011, retrieved from

(Picture Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)

When a brand name becomes an adjective, you know it’s there to stay. And for years now, we’ve been Googling to appear knowledgeable, tweeting to keep up with what’s happening around us, and Facebooking for exhibitionism and voyeurism.
However, with Facebook unleashing new policies, and Google trying to conquer yet another facet of our lives with Google+, there seems to be a sense of unease among netizens. The question, ‘How much do these networks know about us, and how will they use that knowledge?’ is finally becoming important.
But why get anxious now? We’ve known Google has been privy to the content of supposedly private emails ever since they began to display targeted advertisements on our sidebars.  
Twitter brought down the exalted status of celebrities, whose dignity lay largely in their inaccessibility, by opening up a mode of personal interaction with their fans and detractors. So we know all about Mrs. Rooney’s catfights with hecklers, and Karan Johan and Ram Gopal Verma’s cattier sparring. With its illusion of allowing for private opinion, Twitter has also drawn out several politically incorrect tweets, as Shashi Tharoor and Omar Abdullah found out the hard way.
The inimical effects of Facebook become a subject of discussion every time a post has a drastic effect, the latest case in point being the suicide of IIM student Malini Murmu. Earlier, the site was blamed for ramifications ranging from divorce to denial of medical benefits.
The Facebook debate intensified when articles began to appear about Facebook using cookies to keep track of sites a user visits even after s/he logs out of the network.
When its chief executives held a meeting to plan changes to the way it operates, they set off a wave of panic.
An embarrassing number of Facebook friends began to post on each other’s walls, warning that the network was going to start charging money for usage, unless one spammed all of one’s friends with the notice.
Other users began to forward notes on the dangers of Timeline – for instance, that people will be able to see you’ve ‘unfriended’ them. Oh, no, just in case they didn’t get the hint, now they can rub their faces in it!
Articles suggesting that the volley of information and connections one has on Facebook will keep one ‘locked in’ for decades had the world suffocating at the idea.
No one seems to recall that Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies didn’t knock on their doors with guns and force them to sign up. Neither did they make them update their friends with every mundane detail of their lives. And to top it all off, they haven’t denied users the freedom of deleting posts, or even deactivating their accounts.
One problem I had with Facebook was that it doesn’t allow users to moderate comments on pictures in which they are tagged – which was solved when I removed all my pictures from Facebook, and untagged myself from friends’ albums. Another was that it didn’t allow users to remove their names from lists their friends had added them on to, such as workplace and school – though it did let them unlink the names from their profiles – but that seems to have been reversed now.
So, why is everyone complaining about the new Facebook?
For one, there seems to be a perpetual fear that Facebook will expose secret stalkers by letting stalkees find out who has been checking out their profiles. Every now and again, one finds a wall post linking to a page that will allow one to “see who’s viewing [one’s] profile!” Never mind the fact that a user can block people from finding him or her, and filter what people see even if they do find him or her.
For another, users seem ticked off by Facebook’s decision to prioritise updates from people they interact with the most. I recently read a much-liked status update: “Why does Facebook get to decide whom I want to see updates from?” Huh? So people would like to be updated on the lives of people they don’t interact much with?
When Google made a valiant effort to usurp Facebook’s hold on social networking by introducing its initially exclusive Google+, Facebook reacted by copying its one desirable feature – circles to determine the visibility of each post. I was among the many journalists Google sent out early bird invitations to around June-July, and I still haven’t switched – or expanded – base.
We can spend all our lives pondering about whether the pervasion of the internet has been a boon or bane. The truth is, we take the pluses for granted. When something is free, and relatively secure, and has huge benefits, can we really expect it to take nothing from us?
Much has been made of Twitter’s role in co-ordinating relief efforts after bomb blasts and natural disasters. Most of us were grateful to Orkut, and later Facebook, for enabling us to get in touch with long-lost school friends. Blogs and websites have done for intelligent people what shopping malls and reality shows did for beautiful ones – authors and journalists have got unprecedented publicity through their web forums, and cartoonists, humorists, and even artists have been discovered.
Now, place that in contrast with mobile phone operators, whose clients harass paying customers, and were free to do so with impunity until last week. A sensible user of social networks has nothing to worry about. And the ones who’re so addicted to validation they can’t moderate the content of their posts deserve to deal with it.


Post a Comment