KYC norms for social networking sites?

Within the next 48 hours*, the Delhi High Court will hear the Union Government’s response to queries on how minors in India are being allowed to open Facebook and Google accounts. The Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and the Information Technology clearly prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from signing up. The sites too bar children who are yet to enter their teens. I’m sure the court will take a pragmatic view of the issue. I have a few questions.

Why can’t the ‘spirit’ of the law dictate possible tinkering of its ‘letter’, in sync with the pace at which youngsters mature these days? If a youngster can get a learner’s licence to ride a gearless motor bike on our killer roads at 16, how logical is the two-year wait to navigate the social media? If the Government could consider lowering the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16, on what basis do we conclude that youngsters below 18 are not old enough for online interface? Can you prevent 15-year-olds from dating? Or nine-year-olds from driving Ferraris, goaded by their parents in ironically, India’s most literate State? Do pubs ask for age-proof before allowing youngsters inside? Do movie theatres insist on the same for A- rated films? Have we done enough to stop child sexual abuse, child rapes and such heinous crimes against Gen Next? There is no denying that paedophiles are out there on social networking sites to pounce on unsuspecting kids through chats and other interactive tools. But does the solution lie in making our children aware of the dangers lurking at several places or banning them from doing online what they can do in real life? Several parents are friends of their children on Facebook and unobtrusively monitor their activities. Most youngsters view Google as a verb! Ignorance is not bliss; it’s misleading and dangerous. How feasible will implementation of ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) norms for social networking sites be? Can you end up having an Aadhar-like verification for these sites?

The public interest petition that stirred the present debate, alleges that last year, Facebook admitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that about eight crore registered users gave false identities. I’m curious to know how they found out. And what action has been taken against these users? Has Facebook deactivated these eight crore accounts?

Frankly, I feel Twitter is in urgent need of more checks. I know of 11-year-olds on this site! What are the safeguards Twitter offers users against venomous trolls? Imagine the havoc trolls can cause a child, who may get caught in their nasty outburst over an innocent tweet. How many can you block or report for spam? The option to protect your tweets does not prevent more trolls from sending you obscene and abusive responses, unlike Facebook, which offers you a privacy setting to disallow posts on your timeline or an approval for posts you are tagged, from appearing on your wall.

The yardstick employed to verify accounts is still beyond my ken. Does the micro-blogging site verify accounts on the basis of mass following? Twenty five thousand and above? But how do some users with 1,600 followers have the verified sign? Is it only on the basis of parody accounts? In that case, how long will it take for users who view a verified sign as a status symbol to create a few fake accounts to meet the eligibility criteria? Half the time, when you protect your tweets and end up with the small mercy of accepting follower requests, the Profile Summary can be quite an ‘enigma, wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery’. Some of these ‘tell us about yourself’ lines make me smile. Here’s one: @fireprabha — ‘I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better’. No one needs those ugly trolls too!

(*The case comes up on May 13)

RELATED NEWS

A social media policyMay 24, 2013

Facebook’s verified pagesJune 7, 2013

Read before you wishJune 21, 2013