Chennai has third highest number of Facebook users among metro cities

Last week, when Neeraja, a class XII student received a call from a friend asking her why she had put up abusive messages on her social networking profile, she thought it could have been a mistake because her account was almost unused for three months. It was only later, when she logged in and searched for her name, that she found two identical profiles with her pictures and contact details.

When the case was reported to the Cyber Crime Cell of Central Crime Branch, Chennai Police, it did not take long for the officials to send an e-mail to the site reporting the abuse. “We had to find the location, and details of the machine user, among other things, but it was sorted out. Often, users of social networking sites tend to put up pictures without enabling security controls which makes it easy for others to copy them and even morph them,” said M. Sudhakar, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Central Crime Branch.

This case, like many others, was not pursued legally. “In ninety per cent of cyber crime cases, the offenders are known to the victims and their family. Though we insist on legal prosecution, the families tend to sort it out by themselves,” Mr. Sudhakar said.

According to the TCS GenY survey 2011-12, Chennai which had just 13 per cent of Facebook (FB) users in 2009, stands third today, among the metro cities. The survey was conducted across 12 Indian cities — Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune — with respondents comprising over 12,329 high school students between the age group of 12 and 18. Nearly 85.12 per cent of students surveyed possess FB accounts.

The survey also says that the average time spent by 33 per cent of the children on the web is about 60 minutes, while around 6 per cent say they spend more than six hours on the Internet.

This rise in number of users has also seen a rise in cyber crime activities, particularly those targeted towards children. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 799 persons were arrested under Information Technology Act, 2000, in 2010, and 294 persons were arrested under cyber crime-related sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Of these, 137 were from Bangalore and 46 from New Delhi, followed by Mumbai and Chennai.

“But people are no longer hesitant to report cases, which is a good sign,” says Mr. Sudhakar. Most cyber crime activities targeted at children deal with fake profiles. The target group is mostly children in the age group of 12-17, say sources.

R. Varadaraj, who runs Sun Detective Services, claims that the number of parents seeking professional help to find out more about their children's online activities has increased manifold in the last two years. Many parents, he says, prefer to approach detective agencies and not the police to ensure secrecy.

“Imposters take on the names of celebrities and common names, mostly feminine, to woo school and college students. Adding people on chats ensures their mails reach the inbox and not spam. Obscene mails and message follow which often leave students completely stressed,” he says.

Students often do not know the risks attached to security on social networking sites and restricting them outright may not be the right thing to do, say counsellors. For instance, Pooja Kannan, parent of a 14-year-old student, says, “For months, I did not know my daughter was registered on Facebook. Her profile said she was a college student. Now, I insist that she doesn't go online after10 p.m. Spying on children doesn't work because they feel let down and become more distant.”

Counsellors say children should be advised against sharing personal details or pictures with anybody on the Internet. They must not divulge their contact details on online applications hosted by social networking sites that promise to deliver messages.

“We ask parents to ensure that children do not post pictures on such sites or even store their pictures on mobile phones because they often get misused and end up being posted on obscene sites, when the phones are lost or the site is hacked. Many illegal sites do not reply to requests so it is impossible to remove sensitive content,” says Mr. Varadaraj.

(Names of children have been changed to protect identity.)

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012