The kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Adnan Patrawala in Mumbai recently has put the spotlight back on the internet in general and social networking sites in particular. Patrawala was allegedly murdered by young men he met on Orkut, a social networking site. Four people are already in custody and a police team is looking for the fifth suspect. But, other reports suggest that Patrawala was befriended by the men at a gaming parlour, not on the social networking site.
Whatever the case — whether he met the accused online or offline — of late, our knee-jerk reaction has been to blame the internet for unfortunate incidents like these. Reports on internet misuse have surfaced regularly. In February, an airhostess moved a Delhi court alleging that someone has opened an account in her name on a social networking site. In March, the Pune police claimed that drug parties were being organised through these sites. But such ostrich-like behaviour will neither take the debate anywhere, nor help us tackle the problem. We must accept that internet is a technology, not a moral science textbook that will act as guide for users. It depends on us how we use it. We did not ban the telephone because of those blank calls, did we? If the internet has led to unpleasant cases, the same technology has been leveraged many times to track down the culprits. It is very difficult to ban forums like Orkut because they are international sites governed by international regulations.
Instead of blaming the technology, we need self-control on the part of users, parental guidance for under-age users and sensitisation programmes in schools about the positives and negatives of such technologies. Teenage is that part of our lives when independence and privacy are considered non-negotiable and such curbs/advice are not accepted easily. Parents and schools must read warning signs if a child retreats to his online world and stops interacting with the outside world. At the first hint of trouble, the users should be encouraged to contact the law-keepers. Instead of keeping technology at bay and branding it as a Frankenstein’s monster, parents and schools must use the same to keep a tab on the users to avert any untoward incidents.