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Vikram Bhatt is trying to prove that he’s the real one on social networking site Facebook, after he saw 17 more Vikram Bhatts, sharing some common friends. Nikhil Taneja writes...

entertainment Updated: Feb 23, 2009 14:48 IST
Nikhil Taneja
Nikhil Taneja
Hindustan Times

“Are you on Facebook?”.. is perhaps the most-asked question at social dos these days. Status message updates, ‘pokes’ and wall posts are redefining communication between acquaintances. The official number of friends on your ‘Friends List’ now marks your coolness quotient. ‘Relationship Statuses’ now make it official if you ‘actually’ love someone, and you can virtually hug, kiss and “own” people.. even bite them.

The social networking phenomenon has indeed taken the world by storm, converting many-an-infidel to the
religion of the Internet. But the recent controversy over users’ privacy, where the site declared that it owns the right to all user information uploaded on it, has made even the staunchest of supporters unsure. Though the social
networking site has now reverted back to its original terms of privacy to appease its 175 million users, is Facebook as safe as you think? Nikhil Taneja goes looking for answers

On one hand, the World Wide Web is the perfect escape from the real world, but on the other, it’s also where every user id is unaccounted for,” warns U Karthik, a 21-year-old software engineer.

Indeed, you can be at your frivolous best on the Internet but you also need to be aware that there are stalkers, paedophiles and perverts lurking on every public forum. And since Facebook has fast turned into the de facto center of the web world, privacy concerns are all the more relevant.

Singer Anushka Manchanda, who hails from Delhi, loves Facebook because it gives her a chance to share her pictures, videos, and music with her friends across the globe.. though she’s seen the ugly side of it.

“One fine day, I woke up to find private photos of mine, in a bikini on a trip to Goa, on a random Internet site,” she recalls. “It was from my Facebook album. Someone had just right-clicked on it, saved it and uploaded it elsewhere, and there was nothing I could do.”

One of the biggest pitfalls of Facebook, and of the Internet too, is that one doesn’t have control over the information posted on it from falling into the wrong hands. Musician Randolph Correa, one half of Shaa’ir + Func and a member of Pentagram, puts forward his reservations, “I find it creepy that people can gape at your photos and if you are regular enough –– can know what you are up to every minute of the day.”

The question that Facebook has managed to raise to even the Internet illiterate, and especially the Internet illiterate, is an important one –– how much of yourself are you willing to share with the world? If you are on Facebook and add unknown or little-known people to your ‘Friends List’, you are personally letting them into your life.. but you may not be prepared for such an intrusion into your privacy.

Actor Gaurav Gera, who has taken the pain of creating separate profiles for fans, and for friends and family, agrees, “Being on Facebook is like chatting with a friend in a big room, full of people. You have to be responsible enough to lower your voice.. you never know who is listening.”

On Facebook, you may get ‘Friendship Requests’ from your oldest and closest friends to people you may not like, but can’t afford to offend, by not adding them to your Friends List. Which is why Gera uses the ‘Limited Profile’ tool in Facebook. “Even among my friends, I take the time to control who gets to see what aspect of my life. There are some pictures that only my family gets to see and if a tagged picture is too personal, I ask my friends to remove it.”

Gera is a rare commodity of cautious Internet-users, who know the importance of privacy control. Manchanda, once bitten and twice shy, knows the implications of being too casual about adding strangers to her Friends List. “By adding them, I am not only giving them access to my world, but I’m endangering the privacy of my friends too.”

Like several other attractive girls who have social networking profiles on the Internet, Monica Dogra, the other half of Shaa’ir + Func, has experienced the biggest dangers of being accessible –– cyber stalking.

“It’s gotten out of hand a few times,” Dogra discloses. “You may be shy to approach someone in real life, but the Internet removes the element of fear. Of course, you’d like to have your ego boosted if it’s genuine praise, but I have had to block quite a few people who were turning into a nuisance.”

But celebrities on Facebook are now witnessing a whole new dimension of being stalked –– paparazzi snooping. Recenty Shahid Kapur and Priyanka Chopra were in the news for some “flirty wall posts” they allegedly exchanged. Minnisha Lamba was written about when she changed her ‘Relationship Status’ from ‘Single’ to ‘In a relationship’. This would only have been possible had the journalists been ‘Friends’ with them.

Dogra laughs at such instances, “Being an artiste and being under media scrutiny has a remarkable side to it — people feel like they know you, so they can write anything about you.”

While that may not be too bad, the worst instances of Internet sabotage are when people go beyond knowing you –– some believe that they are you! Take the case of director Vikram Bhatt, who was in for a rude shock one day when his account was blocked and deleted by the Facebook team because “they thought I’m a faker, pretending to be Vikram Bhatt.”

Bhatt elaborates further, “At this time, there are 17 Vikram Bhatts on Facebook. And the first three have the same friends as me! I think the biggest problem of being from the film industry is to prove on the Internet that I’m the real Vikram Bhatt!”

Bhatt still isn’t unnerved. “As far as someone pretending to be you is concerned,” he says wryly, “Be happy that you have reached somewhere in life that someone is duplicating your profile.” And he’s quickly back on Facebook because, “If you want to network.. Facebook is the best place for that.”

That’s a sentiment which is universally echoed by every Facebook fan. “The fact that everyone worth their salt is on Facebook today, has even landed many people jobs,” defends Shveta Nagpal, whose friend got a job as a sound recordist with a rock band.

That’s exactly what happened with Karan Kundra, who plays the lead in Ekta Kapoor’s new serial, Kitani Mohabbat Hai. He sent her a friendship request at a time when she was scouting for a new actor for the soap. Kapoor, who is a self-confessed Facebook addict, liked his pictures, and after an audition, brought him on board.

Asha Nayyar, a casting agent, often receives portfolios through Facebook. “It makes the job easier,” she says. “The Facebook profile of the actor gives a significant insight into his/her life and character. By giving someone a peek into their privacy, models have actually got a break by approaching ad filmmakers directly.”

Even here, there’s a catch.. as ‘Facebooking’ and ‘jobs’ don’t always go hand-in-hand. Facebook has been banned in a lot of office spaces because of the amount of time employees spend on it –– sometimes even updating their status messages about work.

In fact, in the recent past, employees in multi-nationals have been sacked for discussing their work life on Facebook – another form of privacy breach. Says lyricist and ad guru, Prasoon Joshi, “When you are on a public domain, there has to be a censor. If the information you leak online is confidential to the company or is maligning it, there will be consequences.”

Joshi, in fact, isn’t in favour of networking sites at all. “Technology doesn’t connect now.. it disconnects. People are trying to make a comfort zone online. It reduces your survival instinct. No one talks to each other in real life anymore.”

But several others agree that Facebook, today, is causing a paradigm shift in the perception of the Internet, from being an over-sexed teenager’s dream-come-true to the most sophisticated networking tool that ever existed. The consensus is that like every bit of technology, Facebook should also be used responsibly — or if you are too particular —– it shouldn’t be used at all.

“It’s a fair interface,” concludes Correa. “If you are too specific about your privacy, give it a miss or use privacy controls. If not, just enjoy networking with friends. Because Facebook is one of those mediums which is finally defining what the Internet is here for.. connecting people. Just don’t stop talking to people in real life!”

First Published: Feb 23, 2009 14:38 IST