Footloose in Cyberia
Acronyms and code words that are alien to their parents’ generation allow Gen Y to put intimate details of their lives online. But it comes with the risk of cyber snooping and online bullying by hate groups. Caution is the key.
Acronyms and code words that are alien to their parents’ generation allow Gen Y to put intimate details of their lives online. But it comes with the risk of cyber snooping and online bullying.
When his English language test marks dipped to below 30 per cent last month, Harsh Kanoria’s mother worriedly scanned his notebooks, emails and Facebook posts only to realise that the 15- year- old didn’t write sentences any longer; he wrote in codes. It was an alien lingo, a mishmash of letter- and- number codes, acronyms and crunched words that looked straight out of a secret mission code. ‘ Ridneck; got MWI last night’, ‘ PIR TTYL’ flashed a post with a picture of a gang of pals surrounded by beer bottles. Unable to decode it, Kanoria’s cyber- savvy architect mother keyed in these letters on websites that explain ‘ teenage Facebook codes’ to decipher the secret messages— ‘ Embarrassed’; got ‘ drunk’ last night; Parent In Room, Talk To You Later. The student of an elite suburban Mumbai school now spends his weekends in a counsellor’s couch to “unlearn” the Facebook jargon and learn how not to bare his soul to strangers. “It’s shocking that youngsters put out their lives and most private moments for random strangers to see. In fact, they use codes to keep secrets from their parents who they should actually be the closest to. This makes them inhabit an unreal world of denial and extreme real- life secrecy which results in an identity crisis,” says Sudha Rameshwar, a Mumbai- based child psychologist who is treating Kanoria.
Like Kanoria, millions of Facebook- and- chat- happy teens across India are learning a new code, a language that is alien to parents and sometimes even a generation just before them. From
SOS signals to codes for drugs and abbreviations for sexting, the new language is risqué, and designed to befuddle the outsider. They share ‘ E’ ( the drug Ecstasy), ask for ‘ juice’ ( weed),
A SURVEY SAYS 60 PER CENT OF THOSE UNDER 17 IN URBAN INDIA OWN A SMARTPHONE.
tell that hot girl in the chat window to
TDTM ( Talk Dirty To Me) and announce that IWSN ( I Want Sex Now), after quickly announcing that they are ‘ Legal’ ( 16 and allowed to have sex). They post hidden emotions and secrets, rag the new guy on campus and forge friendships on social networking websites instead of in the real world. Findings of the Tata Consultancy Services ( TCS) GenY survey 2012- 13 show that almost 74 per cent of the “post- millennial” generation, or those born after 1996, prefer social media over phone calls, with networks like Facebook being the primary mode of communication with peers for 92 per cent of those surveyed. With smartphones emerging as a must- have accessory for urban youngsters, text chats are only a click away even while on- the- go. The TCS survey even shows that six out of every 10 under17- year- olds own a smartphone, mak-
ing cyber communication the preferred mode of teenage talk.
NOT- SO- PRIVATE LIVES
When NRI Anmol Sarna posted about his weed rampage in Canada and drunken college brawls on Facebook and Twitter, little did he guess that one day his words would be published in national magazines and newspapers across the country. The 21- year- old NRI who died tragically in Delhi on September 13, allegedly from a rave party gone wrong, is not the only one to bare it all on social media feeds. From pictures of first dates on Instagram to posts about losing your virginity on Facebook, from tweets about exam cheat sheets to nude cartoons of your ex on special revenge porn websites, nothing is too private to be posted online today. “Anmol was just an average youngster. When you reply to tweets or comment on status updates, you never think that one
day they will be tracked by the whole world. It’s like a bubble where you think your life is private and safe but in reality it is not,” says Dinesh Varma ( name changed), 20, from Delhi. Varma knew Anmol through common friends in Hicksville, New York, where the latter grew up.
Recently, a 14- year- old Hyderabad schoolgirl was caught unawares when her Facebook page was flooded with posts calling her ‘ bisexual’ and ‘ lesbian’ after she posted a picture of herself hugging a girl— her best friend. The vicious barbs continued to flood her page even after she deleted the picture. She finally underwent counselling to recover from the trauma of this cyber bullying. “For most people, social networking is all about flaunting every little move; they don’t realise that private pictures and details of your activities can go a long way in harming you emotionally,” says Durva Phansalkar, a counsellor working with teenagers in Pune.
A survey conducted by First Monday, an online peer review journal, showed how out of a group of 1,115 first- year university students, only 26 per cent actively updated and monitored their privacy settings on Facebook in the US. The majority of respondents remained unaware or uninterested about privacy issues on social media networks. “Students know that privacy settings exist online but they don’t constantly check on it. This is partly because of the volume of people using social media networks. One automatically assumes because so many people are using it, it must be safe. From toilet breaks to smoking up in school, everything is being posted online today without a second thought,” explains Suneeta Makhchandani, 42, a student counsellor based in Gurgaon. Anmol’s posts, where he publicly refers to his friends
REALISE THAT PUTTING THEIR PRIVATE LIVES ONLINE CAN GO A LONG WAYIN HARMING THEM EMOTIONALLY.
as ‘ niggas’, certainly shows the diminishing line between private offline lives and ‘ seemingly private’ virtual lives.
BORED AND DANGEROUS
For many, social media is the new afterschool hobby. A survey commissioned by Norton with 500 respondents in the 18- 64 age bracket, who are active Internet users, shows that an average Indian spends 9.7 hours a week on Facebook. Meenakshi Gopinath, principal of Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, says parenting and education can play a critical role in determining a teen’s online life. Nuclear families, neglected pre- teens, peer pressure and lack of engaging social interactions are prompting many to take their lives online. “When we were growing up, we would attend music or cultural events, go for outings with grandparents, and on really boring days there was always a game of pitthoo to be played with colony friends. Today, young children find themselves in completely nuclear environments. Social media is the substitute for what used to be time spent in offline social interactions,” says Gopinath.
With Gen Y increasingly living in the virtual space, the cyber world is spawning several scandals from cyber snooping and online bullying to hate groups. Recently, a young boy in Delhi beat up his classmate for “digitally altering” a picture of a booze bash and posting it online. With cases of cyber trauma and the news of a 13 year- old student in the US committing suicide after she was bullied on
A STUDY SHOWS THAT INDIAN INTERNET USERS SPEND 9.7 HOURS AWEEK ON FACEBOOK.
social media, parents, teachers and experts are waking up to the perils of excessive social networking. Earlier this year, former BJP leader K. N. Govindacharya filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against minors opening accounts on Facebook citing that it violated the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and the Information and Technology Act.
Even as the courts are yet to crack down on social networking for those under 18, schools like Delhi Public School, Gurgaon, and Bangalore’s Vidya Niketan have issued a blanket ban on Facebook for students to prevent social media- related problems. Many schools in Pune are discussing ways to wean students away from the cyber life. For now though, Facebook continues to be the study corner and playground for the modern teen.