Stranger Danger Alert on Facebook

The headlines no longer shock us. Rape. Sodomy. Kidnapping for ransom. Murder. All have become so much a part of our daily lexicon that we do not even react to the news reports anymore. Like on Sunday. The news about a Delhi University student being sodomised by people he met on Facebook. Most newspapers dismissed the crime in little more than a single column. And most of them failed to even notice one aspect of the crime that links it to our daily lives – Facebook.

While we in India are still romancing Facebook, UK’s leading newspaper The Daily Mail, reported last year that the police there are receiving reports of one crime related to Facebook every 40 minutes. The use of Facebook as a facilitator in the crime has come up in investigations into rape, murder, intimidation, fraud, abduction, bullying and others. Most often, Facebook is used to groom child abuse victims.

In the case reported on Sunday, the student befriended his rapists after they shared a common interest in modeling. He was groomed by the suspects and then called for a meeting. The suspect showed up with his uncle and the duo sodomised the student in the back of their car.

We all know that children are the most vulnerable to cyber crime. Yet, how many of us as parents have turned a blind eye to the fact that our children below 13 have Facebook accounts? Maybe we need to know about the cyber-bullying on Facebook that drove a young school girl to suicide. Fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd of Canada had been persuaded by a stranger she was chatting with online to take off her top and expose her breasts. A year later, that photograph showed up in her school and she was mercilessly bullied about it. One of the bullies actually used the photograph of her breasts as his Facebook profile photo. Amanda became an icon of sorts by posting a heart-rending video on Youtube to show how she was devastated by the bullying shortly before she committed suicide.  

Facebook has become an indispensible part of our lives. Initially it was just a wonderful means of keeping in touch and a lot better than Orkut and Myspace. Soon it became an integral part of the marketing strategy for many companies. Now it is equally the best place for start-ups. For all its positive uses, the social networking site, just like the real world we inhabit, has become a space where crimes are happening.

We may embrace technology as it makes so many things in life easier. But what we fail to do is observe the same safeguards in the virtual world as we would in the real world. How many of us would befriend a stranger in the real world? How many of us would ‘share’ our most personal photographs with the world? How often would we agree to tell a complete stranger where we are at a particular time? Hardly ever in the real world. But on Facebook, all this and more is available for anyone to see and use as they deem fit. Time for a little caution here.
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