THE SOCIAL NETWORKIt’s time to say no to people who invade your privacy

“Let Me Be Me.” That’s how a young friend recently tried reasoning with her parents who asked her to either ‘censor’ her Facebook content or deactivate her account. Why? Because they had just launched their dear daughter into the marriage market. The vivacious twenty-four-year-old corporate executive has been a regular face in the party circuit, with loads of pictures shared on her wall and in separate albums. The diktat meant no miniskirts ‘on record’, and worse, the rationing of male friends online! And there’s a supposed reason for the hypocrisy – ‘How can you pose for your prospective in laws in party wear?’ The shocked girl could have merely tinkered with her privacy settings but chose to give up and delete her account.

Coincidentally, the same week, I came across another instance of Stone Age logic. A close relative, who had marriage alliance offers from many a suitable boy, was stunned out of her wits when the families of some of the aspiring grooms looked up her Facebook profile and sniffed out her brother-in-law’s wall posts about a particular religious festival. That her elder sister had married out of the religion was unashamedly cited as grounds for disqualification. To put it bluntly, an inter-religious love marriage was construed as a not-so-favourable character certificate for the family. The girl’s mother has now altered the profile with a caveat to keep bigots at bay.

Notice that these ‘rules’ are not gender neutral. It’s an extension of those chauvinistic advertisements that seek ‘fair, slim, beautiful, educated, talented girls’ for a boy who may well look like the back of a bus, smoke like a chimney, drink till the cows come home, and – how can I forget – who also specialises in hiding behind mama’s apron as his folks ring the auction bell.

From their very inception, social networking sites have been synonymous with social engineering. Privacy has not been a major concern for many youngsters. After all, how many users change their passwords periodically or disable wall posts or control who can see their updates or albums? But when a sizeable chunk of elders insist on matrimonial advertisements carrying links to not just LinkedIn but Facebook as well – that’s if they don’t hire detectives for social-media snooping – it’s time for right-thinking, liberal, independent-minded Facebookers to stop giving in to these regressive antics. There’s a little bit of ‘Taliban cop’ Dhoble in many people. And it must be snuffed out.

A positive new beginning was made on Sunday by a regional political outfit in Tamil Nadu that, ironically, was in the forefront of moral policing in the not-too-distant past. Recognising the power and reach of the social media, the party organised a full-day workshop on the subject for its members, inviting, among others, an academician from a foreign university. The exercise was enough to whet their appetite for more. So in the next few weeks, a full-fledged training programme is being organised for the party by a well-known online messiah. Change seems the only constant.

Talking of politicians hopping on to the social media bandwagon, what about Mamata Banerjee making her debut on Facebook with a sales pitch for Abdul Kalam? Trinamool spokesperson and quiz master Derek O’Brien apparently asked Didi all the right questions and pitched in with answers too. Although Kalam chose to pass the offer, the new entrant seems poised to put her new find to good use. So the next time the mercurial West Bengal Chief Minister walks out of an interview, just check her Facebook wall. Because the game may not be over.