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Updated: December 15, 2013 16:01 IST

You’re being watched

Anuradha Shyam
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Illustration by Keshav
The Hindu
Illustration by Keshav

In the euphoria of sharing, what one forgets to realise is that what one posts is public.

The social media is an exciting platform from which we connect and communicate with the world. It creates links, in ways that could never have been imagined. Today, you literally have the world at your fingertips and from the Email revolution , things have accelerated to include Facebook, Twitter and Whats App (an application that allows you to instantly share messages, photos and video) to new forms that are generated every day. Besides communication on a personal level, social media is now the latest tool for revolution or change. Groups use the social media to further their cause, raise petitions to voice protest and create change at a global level.

At a personal level, it breaks long helped notions of hierarchy in relationships. A person in Coimbatore shares his poetry on his Facebook account which is regularly accessed by his granddaughter in Norway. She adds her comments on it and immediately sends it across, posting her refreshingly candid views. In a matter of minutes, this exchange takes place and connects people beyond conventional modes of expression.

Throughout history, change has always been followed by new ways of adjusting, negotiating and working with the new rules in place. The social media is in a nascent stage and as we engage with this medium, we find ourselves sometimes facing the repercussions of this new mode of communication. In a free-for-all scenario, the social media is witness to all the “darkness” within — tendencies towards violence, bullying and manipulation become more open, more immediate, and more real. The division between what is personal and public becomes blurred.

In the euphoria of having access to this medium, have we forgotten notions of privacy? How then does this manifest in the “real” world? In sharing these two stories, it would be interesting to step back and reflect.

Public versus private

The first story happened, a few years ago, in the school I taught. A senior class had gone for an annual excursion. Since time immemorial, excursions have been spaces when we all have enjoyed the freedom of being with friends and freedom from parental control. Inhibitions are shed and these trips build memories for the future — where we have bonded over late night food raids, playing pranks on each other and generally being in a state of sillines. This particular trip had the seniors taking pictures of them at a beach party. The photographs were immediately posted on Facebook. As always this was followed by a barrage of comments, and the comments took on an ugly turn, where one person was singled out. The comments became vicious and personal — even if it was said in the context of “humour,” when it appeared in black and white, it lacked context. Adding to this, a distant relative of a student was shocked by the kind of photos taken and immediately called up the parents. The distraught parents approached the school and much mediation took place before the whole incident snowballed into something uglier.

In the euphoria of sharing, what one forgets to realise is that what one posts is public. It is not just between you and your close circle of friends, it becomes accessible to an entire community who will respond. A private moment with friends becomes a global talking point. Photographs and visuals come with their own interpretations and when you post every private meeting, you lose that balance between what is personal and what is for public consumption. Some of the seniors felt violated as they did not know that their photographs would be on a public platform. They shared with us, that instead of it being liberating, it made them more apprehensive –letting their hair down was a private moment and seeing themselves posted on a global platform made them feel unsettled.


In the second incident, a young intern who had been working in a prestigious law firm was asked to leave. The company, he was representing, told the firm that they did not want him on board. On further investigation , it was found that the young man’s profile on the social media, had images of him that the company felt was not in line with what they stood for. Furthermore, the young man had made disparaging remarks about the company he was going to represent. It was an unfortunate matter of not being aware, what he thought was personal was open for all to see.

Today companies, in their recruitment, access the social media to get a sense of “who” you are. It is unfair — A collection of photographs or comments made do not define you. It is one aspect of your life. Yet, because it has crossed into public territory, it is open to all kinds of interpretation. Ironically, the social media also becomes restrictive, as one young model said, “My every move is watched so my every move is calculated”.

Handling social media

How do we redefine the way we use this new tool? The tangled web where the private and public have no boundaries. Perhaps, just good old-fashioned common sense, which in our hurry often takes a backseat. Some pointers that might help when you use the medium

Awareness: Know that everything you post is public and permanent. Slow down before you click that post button. Understand for yourself whether you want this to be public or not.

Respect: Communication is about respecting boundaries. If you are going to photograph a private space (party, outing, work), it is important to ask whether the person wants to be online. We have numerous situations, in schools, were people have felt violated.

Introspect: The choice to be on a social media application is yours. If so, decide what aspect of yourself you want to project to the world outside. There is beauty in privacy. Discover that beauty again.

One of my favourite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “All human beings need to have three lives: Personal, public and secret”. In today’s world, those boundaries are shrinking at an alarming pace.

Does this story speak to you; do share your opinions and thoughts:

Nicely articulated.

from:  Shantanu
Posted on: Dec 18, 2013 at 14:34 IST

A well-written article. And absolutely true too.

from:  Nayanathara
Posted on: Dec 16, 2013 at 16:19 IST

Good post. A little carefulness is all that is required. But, there is
no need to shy away from social media.

from:  Raghu Pradeep Nair
Posted on: Dec 16, 2013 at 12:09 IST
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