Danger lurking behind social networking sites

M.P. Praveen

Spurned Romeos are creating misleading profiles of girls

KOCHI: Sakshi (name changed) received a call on her mobile phone in the middle of a night a year back. She had the shock of her life when the caller asked her the “rate for one night.”

No sooner had she hung up, that she got another call of a similar nature.

The mystery was cleared soon. Someone has created a profile in the Orkut portraying her as a call girl.

It featured her photo and mobile phone number and invited potential ‘customers’ to contact.

The culprit was a roommate of her friend.

Her friend used to access Orkut from a common desktop and had mistakenly activated the “remember me on this computer” provision whereby the id and password of the user get automatically saved.

The roommate accessed her friend’s Orkut id using this provision and got acquainted with her. Soon after he proposed to her, which she turned down.

Anger over the rejection led to the creation of her fake profile.

Social networking sites are the latest rage in a technology-driven world where friendships are maintained through “scraps” (messages posted in Orkut).

While the honest friendship seekers give their genuine details shady characters looking for fun enjoy the anonymity these sites offer.

K.J. Francis Pereira, Sub-Inspector of the cyber cell of the Kochi city police, agrees that character assassination borne out of revenge over a rejected proposal or failed love affair accounts for most cases of abuses related to social networking sites like Orkut.

This is mostly found among the college students and the revenge takes the form of creating fake profiles, complete with the mobile number, projecting the person as a dubious character.

“The victim ends up receiving calls even from abroad,” he says.

He also referred to an incident where pictures of the teachers of a college at Perumbavur were posted on the Internet by some of their students.

Job frauds and economic offences are also being reported, Mr. Pereira says. Provisions of both the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code are invoked in such cases. Only a handful of cases with the cyber cell have reached the conviction stage while the rest are still on trial.

Mr. Pereira says that there is the need for more severe punishments if they are to acquire a deterrent nature.

More than monitoring, he emphasis the need for creating awareness among the public to escape the pitfalls of social networking sites and other Internet-related frauds.

It was with this objective that the city police recently observed a fortnight-long awareness programme - Cyber Space Kochi 2008.

Significantly, the Kochi city police have a tie-up with Orkut whereby the Commissioner of Police is authorized to delete a profile as and when abuse is reported.

But the likes of Shreeja S. Nair, working for a Mumbai-based company, says social networking sites are not with pitfalls alone.

“These community websites helped me to get connected to all my school buddies whom I never thought of meeting again,” she says.

She says it’s about being “choosey and brainy” to escape traps. “I never add a stranger though I get loads of invitations daily,” she says.

Similarly there are NGOs that have created communities in social networking sites with the aim of furthering their cause.

Friends2Support, a voluntary NGO, organising and promoting blood donation and child education, is one such.

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