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.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Son­ali Achar­jee and Aditi Pai

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),


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.


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



as ‘ nig­gas’, cer­tainly shows the di­min­ish­ing line be­tween pri­vate off­line lives and ‘ seem­ingly pri­vate’ vir­tual lives.


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


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.



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