From bringing 1000 people together for a peaceful protest to allowing mental abuse and torture, Facebook can be all this and more!

Facebook is a great communication tool. You can tell the world that you are having coffee at Adyar, graduated “finally!” or wonder why your LIFE SUCKS AT THE MOMENT!

Connectivity

Moving beyond personal interactions, people are using Facebook to reach out to people outside their social circle for a cause or to propagate their passion. Take local bands like TWKC, for instance. For them, the chances of people stumbling upon their “page” and music are higher on Facebook than on any other medium because of the site’s ability to multiply the reach of a message. A friend who shares TWKC’s fan page throws open its visibility to the 500-odd friends on his list. Even if one of those 500 shares it, another 500 can view it. That’s grabbing about 1000 eye balls, all in a day! “We don’t have a better way to communicate with our fans and other bands, publicise our shows and post events. As a band, we are more accessible now. And since starting our FB page, I am assuming more people know us now,” says TWKC’s drummer Karthik Narasimhan.

Moving from rock music to an issue rocking the nation, India Against Corruption’s Facebook initiative is the perfect example of using social media to move the country’s youth into action. Created in 2010 by journalist-turned-activist Shivendra Singh Chauhan, IAC’s Facebook page is said to have bypassed the popularity of pages like Manchester United within a year of its formation, according to an independent report. The reach is such that what was planned as a Delhi-based protest and posted on Facebook, garnered so much interest and participation that it panned out into a 60-city protest including a few abroad.

“We use the page for crowd-sourcing and citizen activism. It’s also being used as a space for people to share their woes against corruption and the authority,” reveals Shivendra. He narrates an incident where a guy in Goa was beaten up by the police for taking pictures of them accepting bribes. The guy then posted this incident on the IAC page. The post received numerous comments and people even posted numbers of senior Goan police officers and even Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, who were promptly flooded with calls requesting them to take action. Those living in Goa even visited the victim, who had been admitted in a local hospital, to offer support. Such is the power of the social media, feels Shivendra. Of course, powered by people’s sentiment against a common enemy: corruption.

Even a cause with a local reach within Chennai, like the two-month old Bridge the Gap initiative, makes use of Facebook to reach out to people. It’s an initiative where donations ranging from books and clothes to furniture and electronics are picked up from the donor and delivered to those in need of these, free of cost. While word-of-mouth is fast, a share on Facebook is faster, as founder Maheedhar Raman vouches for.

Here’s the catch!

While there are umpteen stories about how great Facebook is, one cannot overlook its flip side (Shocking! Even FB has flaws!)

First, if one’s not careful about privacy settings and the information shared, it can fall into the wrong hands. Take the case of Jaishree R. A friend’s friend from Dubai happened to view a profile with her picture under the profile name “Amu Kutty”. The profile description made her out to be a whore. At first Jaishree was shocked and overcome with humiliation to the extent that she contemplated suicide. But better sense prevailed, and she sought the help of the police’s cyber crime department.

“Though people’s initial reaction was ‘Don’t go to the police, just delete your pictures, delete your account, you don’t need Facebook anymore’, I decided to lodge an official complaint because I had to know who was behind this,” says Jaishree who is all praise for the cyber crime department’s efficiency. “The page was blocked immediately and they were also able to tell me that the person responsible was in the U.S. There have been no more problems since. I continue to be on Facebook as I want to keep in touch with my friends, but am careful about what I post. But nothing much has changed.”

Jaishree’s main problem is that, though many of her friends reported ‘abuse’ on the fake profile page, no action was initiated by Facebook. “I followed all the steps online, but didn’t even get a reply. I tried looking for a contact number or helpline but in vain,” she says.

Jaishree’s friend also faced a similar situation but refused to go to the police for fear that her family would get to know and that the person responsible for the fake account would do something worse.

In both the above cases, the people responsible were total strangers. In Madhi’s* case, the situation was different. A “friend” whom he had fallen out with created a derogatory Facebook account in Madhi’s name. Though the issue was sorted out, to know that someone you trusted with access to your pictures and information can do this to you is unnerving.

Facebook is also a haven for spammers. Ever got a link on your wall from a friend you haven’t heard from in years: “Rofl! I can’t believe you are tagged in this video!” Well, you should have learnt your lesson by now and not clicked on it. But if you are a slow-learner, then you are probably too afraid to click on another video link.

Facebook is a medium of extremes. There’s no point in blaming Facebook and holding up the red flag as it’s the user who defines its character. A little caution and awareness about the dos and don’ts of info sharing online can go a long way in making your virtual hangout space secure.

*Name changed on request

The official word

Facebook is a great medium as it connects people like never before. I recently read that it has even beaten several job portals in providing access to jobs, which is great! But unfortunately, youngsters get carried awat by its good features and fall prey to its negative side. Any information that is available in the public space is a risk. Where most of them go wrong is in updating their location online. This makes it easier for miscreants to locate them offline. That’s a big no-no!

The biggest irony is we might not voluntarily share personal information in person with people we know but strangers online have access to it with just a click. This is where users need to exercise caution. Always think about who is going to look at what you are uploading. Facebook has access controls, so use them! In case of any problems, first report abuse on Facebook and do approach us: CID cyber cells or city cyber cells.

The police department is just beginning to make use of the social media’s potential. You must have noticed the active presence of Chennai City Traffic Police page on Facebook. It’s gradually picking up, but we have a long way to go.

SONAL V. MISRA, SP, Crime Branch CID (Cyber Crime) Chennai

Virtual nightmare

Kavitha’s life has turned upside down overnight. No more can she relax by walking her dog or going to the gym. Everywhere she faces the question: “Aren’t you the one on Facebook with a nude picture of yourself?”

The fake profile was a stranger’s way of taking “revenge” and “blackmailing” her. Her marriage that was called off and she attempted suicide but survived. Though a complaint was lodged with the cyber crime cell, the police are unable to do much since the person who created the profiles is based in the U.K. When one profile is taken off, another is created. There’s seemingly no solution in sight for Kavitha at the moment…