They are immensely useful in transcending boundaries when spreading social messages. But the flip side of social networking sites is their potential for spreading destruction and social malaise. The latter trend was seen in two recent uses of social networking. The first one was of a man selling his grandchild to a businessman in Delhi for Rs. 8 lakh after striking a deal using Facebook. The other was the Dow Jones falling by 143 points after hackers sent a message — ‘Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured’ — from the Twitter handle of a news organisation. The Syrian Electronic Army, which had hacked the Reuters feed last year, took credit for this.
Social networking sites have shrunk the world and connected the most disparate of people like never before. However, it is the challenges posed by its dark underbelly that governments around the world have not been able to control. China, despite it denying any part in it, has been notorious for its cyber attacks on countries and organisations that have spoken against its interests.
A recent example of Beijing’s use of cyber space to stymie unpalatable views was the attack on the New York Times’ website after it ran a feature exposing former premier Wen Jiabao’s wealth. Many countries, including India, have been victims of Chinese hackers. Al-Qaeda has been using the Internet, especially video-sharing platforms and social networking sites, for propaganda and recruitment.
To think that a single tweet can affect international markets and in other cases escalate tension between two nations is spine-chilling. Does this mean that the government should roll down the shutters on social networking sites? Definitely not. Real-time censoring of Internet traffic, given the volume (which is only going to increase), is unthinkable.
Governments, especially in India, should, through its various wings, create more Internet awareness and give cyber monitoring cells in the police and other agencies more teeth. Internet and social networking sites are here to stay and evolve; shying away from them or banning them will be counterproductive. Governments should be one step ahead of forces that exploit these platforms for nefarious purposes. This is the only way it can really get a handle on things.