Every time 19-year-old Mallika Bhargava signs into social networking site Facebook, she’s bombarded with information about her friends; information that till a few years ago would’ve been guarded with secrecy. The site’s main page is like Bhargava’s own tabloid, with little snippets about who’s dating whom, who got drunk last Saturday and pictures of the weekend’s craziest parties.
“Facebook has made things that would’ve otherwise been shameful into trophies. If someone has had a wild and crazy night, there will be a competition to see who can put up wilder pictures,” says the psychology student. “Couples even put up pictures of themselves making out.”
Over a million young Indians are now registered with the site. And social researchers are beginning to believe that Facebook’s Page 3-esque virtual world is creating an alternate version of reality for its users. “You could be friendly with someone on your social network but may not even want to exchange niceties with them on the street. It’s creating a dysfunctional reality,” says Uttam Chopra of Contests2win.com.
According to University of Southern California student and social media watcher Alice Mathias, Facebook is changing everything from the way young people perceive relationships to the way they gossip. “The website does the gossiping for you. There is no need to whisper through cupped hands anymore,” says the 23-year-old. And continues, “Facebook now allows you to declare whether you’re in a relationship and with whom. It’s the teenage version of a ‘wedding ring’.” As a result, hundreds of users now believe that announcing their relationship on Facebook is the only way of making it ‘real’.
But there’s something else that makes the trend more alarming – the website’s demographic is becoming younger and younger. Says 15-year-old Raena Parikh: “Even 5th and 6th standard students are hooked. I know 11-year-olds who use the site to show off by putting up pictures of themselves with celebrities and holidays abroad.”