The new culture of volunteering information about ourselves has a flip side

From Lewis Carroll’s “cabbages and kings” to the Vadra update “mango people and banana republic”, we’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Sashi Tharoor lost his post over his ‘cattle class’ tweet. Robert Vadra didn’t have one, but chose to deactivate his Facebook account in the wake of a controversy over his wall post. Closer home, an eligible bachelor lost a shot at a ‘bride’ future as his prospective in-laws, known to me, found a mismatch — not in the horoscope but between his Facebook status update and information on a matrimonial website! The young man’s privacy settings allowed ‘everyone’ to view his wall posts. His recent update: “Wow! Eight days of being a teetotaller. Back to booze soon!” didn’t tally with his matrimonial advertisement that claimed he wasn’t the ‘spirited’ sort! As for Vadra, his spur-of-the-moment update has triggered a slightly mean repartee on how an ordinary businessman “acquired” the country’s most powerful bride. The link has almost gone viral. While I don’t approve of personal and below-the-belt remarks, one must remember that the social media can sting those who are hyper-sensitive or faint-hearted. Think before you post; you never know how or when it may boomerang.

That said, there are no real guarantees on such platforms. You may have the highest privacy settings but be prepared for surprises. I’m not referring to spam or viruses or links that scream “what the hell are you doing in this video?” Or “This person is writing nasty things about you.” (Click on the links and all your friends or followers will get the same poser from your ID). Like bacteria thrive in moist conditions, rumours can find no better place than the social media. We saw that during the North East crisis. But there are also timely warnings shared on sites. Many of us may have seen posts on how all our inbox messages can be viewed by everyone, thanks to new Facebook settings. I’m still not sure if this is entirely true in all cases. With every key stroke, we leave behind a trail. There is an entire data warehousing industry out there keeping tabs. It’s not just for commercial or business analysis. The social media has given rise to this culture of volunteering information about ourselves. Where we party. Who we meet. What we eat. What we feel like doing. What our career plans are. What our stand is on a controversy. The list is endless. We bare it all. For all you know, just like confessions made to police officers are inadmissible, we may soon have similar provisions about status updates! Intelligence gathering was never this easy. Telephone tapping may soon seem like an archaic practice! Which is why when some of my sleuth friends ask me how I am, I retort “don’t you know?!”

There is no reason to panic. There is every reason to be a lot more circumspect. For instance, on Facebook, you can compartmentalise your contacts into relatives, friends, favourites and acquaintances. Posts meant for a particular category can be addressed to only the relevant readers. You wouldn’t want a family update or something very personal to be viewed by all and sundry — not just all your friends but everyone on the platform if your privacy settings are weak! Make no mistake. Many love to read personal stuff about others. And also flood you with unsolicited advice!

On the other hand, it may also not be appropriate to pour out your sorrows and unwittingly convert all your friends into Agony Aunts or Uncles! Or shrinks. Watch your back. Watch your posts.


Coming soon: Free Wi-Fi for Facebook users November 5, 2012

Turning complainants into followersSeptember 28, 2012

A tale of two concernsSeptember 14, 2012

Free speech vs. hate speechAugust 31, 2012

The hide & tweet effectAugust 17, 2012