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Look who's watching

To prevent harassment on social networking sites, women must ensure that their privacy is protected, writes Ruchira Hoon.

india Updated: Aug 20, 2007 19:07 IST

Twenty-seven year old corporate communication executive Mala Vishwanathan was very upset when she found out that her colleague had been checking her profile on MySpace and Hi5 everyday.

Not only did he know all her social plans with her friends, he was curious enough to ask her who she was going out with on the days she left early Mala's isn't an isolated case.

Over the last yeal: there have been several cases where women have complained that their cyberspace privacy has been invaded - they have been stalked, abused and even threatened online. A11 thanks to networks that were created to promote friendship.

Social networking sites may definitely be a great way to keep in touch with your friends, old and new, but in turn they have unleashed a gamut of problems - primarily for women. <b1>

From morphing pictures and posting them on various pornographic sites to sending lewd messages by stealing a person's identity women have had to bear the brunt of eve teasing even in cyber space.

Harassment galore
With over 10 million people across the world using popular social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook, access to information from so many countries has become easier and faster. But surprisingly, it's the Indians who seem to be facing a lot of trouble and they've begun to be very vocal about it.

I got in touch with one of my exes through Orkut, who turned out to be still obsessed with me," says Tanisha Malhotra, a publicist. "He began sending nasty messages to all my male friends, warnign them to stay away from me as I 'belonged to him'. It was so scary that I had to send mails to all my friends informing them that I was deactivating my account." Harassment doesn't just end here; target attacks are very common as well. <b2>

So why are there more cases of persecution in India than abroad? Consultant psychologist Dr Arpita Anand fells that since Indians are not used to open communication, their repressed feelings can be obviously seen in such instances, "Here, people don't know how to maintain a healthy relationship as there is no prevalent concept of dating and friendship. Which is perhaps why you see people from small towns sending requests to strangers who they think are attractive," she says. "Also men look at women as a gender stereotype and find it difficult to view them as individuals who would like to pursue their own lives. Perhaps that's why they get perverse and dominating."

Protect yourself


Although newspapers and television channels these days are filled with instances of misuse and abuse, there are a number of ways by which you can protect yourself. To start with, read the privacy settings that are available to all before making changes on your account. Privacy settings can give you a fair idea about how you can protect your information from strangers or even from people you are not great friends with. For example, on Facebook, you can limit the way a particular person can view your profile. You can ensure that the information he accesses is only what you'd like to give out.

My space on the other hand has recently introduced a security feature that doesn't allow strangers to comment on your photographs.

In fact, after a number of indiscriminating incidents, Orkut has smartened up to the concept of privacy and security. They have begun giving security tips like 'change your password regularly' and 'never enter your Google Account login and password on sites other than orkut.com and other Goog1e properties' every time you scrap (send a public message to) someone and even sometimes when you view people's profiles.

Says a Google spokesperson, "We do not proactively monitor content on Orkut because we feel that it is better to educate the users about appropriate online behaviour Orkut has outlined a clear set of guidelines on online safety and we encourage our users to follow them." <b3>

Since social networking sites are supposed to be fun and user-friendly, make sure that you are not giving out intimate details about yourself when you're online.

According to Annette Martis, manager, Consumer Products and Solutions of Symantec, a premier cyber security group, what you say on these sites may become public at any point in time, so it's better to be careful.

"Don't use your account to spread rumours or disclose personal information about others. Your actions could have serious implications for you," she says. "Monitor your blog comments for compromising information your friends may have added.

Delete anything you don't want people to see, and consider removing offending posters from your trusted list." The most important thing that people must remember is that they have the option of reporting that their privacy has been abused in whichever form, whether it's nasty messages, vulgar pictures or stalking. <b4>

All they have to do is write to the web master of the particular website so that necessary action is taken. Goog1e's spokesperson also adds that on Orkut, under the 'terms of service' section, they have prohibited illegal activity and other objectionable content (such as hate speech, advocating violence, objectionable user identity etc).

"We take abuse of Orkut seriously and have implemented numerous tools to receive, handle and respond to complaints.

Additionally we have offered to help the state police to expedite reporting of inappropriate content."

Social networking sites are a great platform for people to meet up. As long as you use your best judgment and follow secu- rity tips, you'11 make cyberspace a safer and a better place.