Archive for the ‘Facebook’ Category

This is a short one.
‘What in the world is a social network’ is the title of the piece I read this morning. Rhetorical as it may sound, I really wonder how effective these sites really are. Some of them claim to bring you and your friends and family closer. Sometimes I wonder whether every person on your list even knows you exist or you know about them?
Take my own Facebook list. Two days ago while going through my list of ‘friends’ I discovered that I had four people on my list who had passed away, two of whom had died over a year ago. One had been in the news recently for the family first wanting her body exhumed and then rejecting the move. I didn’t even know she was on my page, till she died in mysterious circumstances. Two were students who had committed suicide. The fourth was a well known journalist for whom I had proofed a novel he had written. Why didn’t I delete them? Just too caught up in too many things, I guess, to even notice that they had migrated to another more heavenly social networking site. My fault entirely. And then that morning I got fed up of scrolling through the stuff posted by one of the 1278 people on my page, to look for something I was interested in. Which is what got me thinking.
Would anyone even notice if I dropped out of sight from their pages. I wondered how many would even notice or really care whether you’re there or not. At least the vast majority don’t. And in the last 48 hours I’ve proved it.
I deleted 800 people from my Facebook page on Tuesday morning. That left me with 478 friends.Today is Thursday and just one person – a student of a media institute where I no longer take lectures – messaged me to ask (demand), why I had inadvertently deleted her from my page. Nevertheless,, I explained why and her question was “but why me?” Needless to say she’s back on my list.
So this could mean one of two things. Either, they don’t really care for having me in their social network, or they haven’t even noticed I am missing. Which says a lot for ‘staying connected’!


I don’t know what it was that the young lady from a Mumbai college did to get herself expelled, but whatever it was, I think the punishment was a bit too harsh. Suspending her for being an administrator of a confessions page could have been the appropriate thing to do, if at all.

From what I’ve read in yesterday’s Hindustan Times, the student was expelled because she was the administrator of a Confessions page started by students of the college. The college authorities believed that neither the institution nor the staff should have been maligned on the page and took objection to it. They decided to teach her a lesson. Again, I am only going by newspaper reports, but I do think it was a bit harsh, and the reaction to it as overly dramatic, as the incident in Palghar some months ago when two girls were arrested for posting something on Facebook during Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral.

Just a couple of weeks back students of a media college, where I take classes, opened a Confessions page. I love reading what these youngsters have to say about life and a lot else and I have often commented as well. There have been times, when I’ve felt the urge to put my comments down in “their language” with the A, B and C in the right place! I’ve refrained from doing so, purely because I realise that what I say as their teacher could have its repurcussions.

Anyway, I went on this Confessions page and found some really nasty comments about people’s sexual orientations and these kids were named in these updates. I was appalled. Whether it was fact or fiction and whether X was a lesbian, Y a homosexual and Z a transgender was an extremely personal issue and no one had the right to flog it on a social networking site. Worse, there were some factually incorrect statements made by some students, which maligned some members of the faculty, again anonymously.

I registered my protest on the page and from there, others picked it up. Then a post written by an anguished student Sheikh Rehmatullah, questioned the need for such a page and the kind of scurrilous content it was propagating. Another faculty member posted her response to it and suddenly the shit hit the fan.

Rehmatullah asked for my comment and I responded. I agreed with most of what he said. My reply to a faculty member (since she berated me for being diplomatic!) was that students need to let off steam, so I didn’t have a problem with the page per se, as long as there was someone filtering it, which in this case, seemed unlikely. If there was, he or she was either nodding off on the job or was finding the deluge of updates too much to handle.

These are 17/18-year-olds, and they can hardly be expected to behave like 35-year-olds, but some of the updates were downright defamatory. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students voicing their opinion, some quite vehemently, against the page. And most blasted the rude, crude and extremely insulting anonymous updates. Then one smart kid decided to post an anonymous message from “The Director” and I remember saying “This is what I mean by self censorship” or some such thing. I believe the page was pulled off a few hours later.

Cloaked in the garb of anonymity, you cannot say anything you want and get away with it. And mind you, unlike the girl who was expelled from the college in Mumbai, these kids are media students, who should understand restraint and practice some form of self censorship.

Unfortunately, many of today’s media students (and I stress on ‘media’) believe freedom of expression means NO restrictions. I have no argument with students from any other colleges who wish to vent their spleen against college, professors, government, politician, friend or foe. But I do believe that such liberties are not applicable to media students. They need to understand that in the profession they are in, it is imperative they stop and think of the reactions their actions could provoke. on a larger canvas. If they still think ‘viva la revolution’ is the answer to all ills, they are in the wrong world.

In newspapers during editorial meetings, people raise objections to a point in a story and argue over it. Sometimes one argues that the report is half-baked forcing it to be put in cold storage. In journalism classes I have spoken of checks and double checks on a controversial story to ensure there are no loose ends, which could come back and bite one in the ass! We even consult lawyers on the newspaper’s payroll to confirm whether we can carry a report without inviting a lawsuit. We don’t publish just anything. Sometimes we may err on the side of caution, but then it is better to do that, than be forced to print an apology the next day. I’ve seen national newspapers carrying front page apologies for stories done, where they accept that they hadn’t got their facts right.

We love to talk about the American or the British media, but even they have some form of self censorship, and it is something my young friends in media schools need to learn. It’s not a ‘free’ world as everyone would have us believe. The sooner some media students understand that, the better their future…

There are a couple of students who keep egging me on to comment about 1.) Bal Thackeray and 2) the arrest of the two girls in Palghar and the subsequent furore it created.

Let’s take the late Bal Thackeray. I kept mum during his funeral only because I don’t believe in denigrating the dead – however, divisive his policies, his role in the Mumbai riots or his State funeral. The thing is, you may have hated his politics and his raving and ranting but the truth there were around two million out on the streets that day. I am sure they were not all there, just to make sure he was really gone. I did not always agree with Bal Thackeray’s brand of politics but a large number of Maharashtrians did – whether out of respect or fear – so why raise a hornet’s nest on the day of his death and subsequently his funeral?

The point is a lot of kids I saw calling Thackeray names on social networking sites, would not have had the guts to do that if they ever came face to face with him or even someone from the Sena. Secondly, many of the kids ranting were media students who are supposed to be objective in their writings. I did not see too much of objectivity, so it was not too different from the hooliganism of the lumpen elements that make up the rank and file of some political parties, including the Shiv Sena.

Strangely, some of the kids who were letting off steam were those who gleefully call the Pakistani cricketers or the Pakistani populace in general, every available profanity in the dictionary, and even question their parentage. So it was okay if they said it, but not okay when Thackeray did so or when he ranted against any community?

I am also quite cool when it comes to using swear words in public, but even I was embarrassed by the language used. I am afraid you can’t go around calling anyone a ‘bastard’ or a ‘fucker’ on a public platform. And Facebook or Twitter is as public a platform as television if not in reach per household, at least in terms of their growing popularity.  That is the language I heard and that is why I refused to get into a debate or argument on the subject.

This is one of the reasons the government is bringing in stricter IT laws. I sincerely hope they do that soon. If freedom of speech gives us the right to speak our mind without fear, it also tells us that there are restrictions on the language we can use in public. And as we saw during the Arab Spring uprising, it takes one comment on Facebook to galvanise a hundred thousand people, for a just cause. The last thing one wanted to see on the day of Thackeray’s funeral was riots breaking out because of some idiot with a keyboard and an itchy finger who wanted to be the first one in cyberspace to vent his spleen.

Then, there’s the issue of the two girls from Palghar who were hauled to the police station. It was frankly, disgraceful. The girls did not say anything that could be considered dangerous to public peace. Some overzealous cops goaded by politicians decided to act and ended up with egg on their faces. We know who controls the cops, so for them to be coerced by a mob led by some politicians is understandable.  What surprised me was that it happened under the control of a cop who I thought was quite liberal in his views and quite clued in to IT and cyber laws.

I’ve met this top cop on a few occasions and found him quite adept at public relations and knowledge of the Internet. Some of my students from the SIMC 2011 PG batch might remember him as the cop who I had invited to take a lecture on crime reporting. The lecture was supposed to be for 90 minutes but stretched to three hours because the kids had too many questions and he was such an entertaining speaker. I don’t know if I had to drag him away or he did so himself, but I do know that it was one of the most informative three hours I spent listening to someone on the subject of crime reporting.

But coming to 66A itself, that it is flawed is pretty obvious. Too many things in there can be twisted around by politicians in power and misused. For example what constitutes “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or “any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience”? Does a comment like the one left by the two girls come in that category? Frankly, I’ve seen worse and saw even worse on the days following Thackeray’s death, and those fellows had a free run in cyberspace.

Our experts need to sit and discuss these issues threadbare. Secondly there is the political angle. The UPA government, at the Centre and Maharashtra condemned loudly (methinks too loudly), the action against the two girls. I would like to see their reaction if someone was to post something against the Gandhi family. Why were they objecting to all the cartoons morphing the prime minister and Sonia? After all, none of these were offensive. Let’s wait and see what Sibal does when that happens.

It’s for the second time in three years that I’ve actually got tired of being on Facebook. Like my late boss and Editor S.D. Wagh used to say, “If I see another newspaper, I am going to throw up.” I’ve begun to feel that way too. Reading the status updates, some thought-provoking, others funny and a lot of others just inane, was all in day’s work. I was okay with that. Some of the one-liners were really creative, pithy and acerbic and deserved a pat.

But I was really tired of being spammed with Osama videos and all kinds of silly links that wasn’t going to open in fifty years – if I ever lived that long. I mean one video a day is fine but 20 links one after another? Or someone spamming me with a stupid link about “Hey look what the girl did…” I have no interest in what any girl did or what her dad did to her.

What’s worse is some of my students who think they are being smart by carpet bombing unsuspecting Facebookers like me with some product, and copying the whole world or someone else tagging me in some video due to which I suddenly get fifty replies, I have no interest in reading something that starts with “cool dude” and ends at “saxxy f*****g shit maan”. That’s the extent of the vocabulary. I have no problems with some of my more enterprising students sending me their work for me to read or pictures to see.I am guilty of not having had the inclination to see them all because of the way I’ve been feeling. One of them sent me stories he had written that I haven’t had the energy to open.

Then there are those whose sms’ I read on MY FB page – “Pick up the phone asshole”. Wouldn’t it be easier to sms the ‘asshole’ at the same number, instead of letting me and others know, that someone so desperately wants to speak to someone else? There are also some downright crude messages by some (who I had mistaken for) very refined kids I meet up in college, to their friends and acquaintances. Frankly, they disappoint me.

So, I don’t know what your opinion is, but to me Facebook is beginning to resemble a large community toilet which is used by people with verbal diarrhoea who outnumber genuine networkers and friends, for whom it is a platform to renew ties. The fact that I can’t go beyond this line, proves how desperately I need a break from all the crap I’ve been hit with. And since I am too polite to kick people out of my page, I shall remove myself.

How technology has changed our lives! We remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other such dates, mostly because we see them mentioned on social networking sites that we frequent. If we don’t see them we probably won’t remember. But there was a time when we functioned better without technology.

Around twenty years ago, I was one of those who sent out greeting cards to people on every Diwali, Christmas and New Year. I had watched my mom and aunt do that year after year almost like it was a ritual. When I grew up, I too carried forward that tradition. I would send out cards irrespective of whether I received even a thank you. There would be some who would call and thank, but most didn’t bother. I really didn’t mind that, because I believed it was the thought that mattered.

Sometime in the mid 1990s – think it was 1995 – I decided not to send New Year and X’mas cards to anyone. I wanted to see how many people would remember that I hadn’t. Exactly three did! And those three called up to ask why. Since that year I stopped sending out greetings cards! Now in spite of the Internet, which makes life so much easier, I still don’t send out greetings because I believe that it is all so meaningless. I make an exception with birthdays. Of course, now with Facebook, we know the birthdays of half the world – at least those in our small world! So simple isn’t it, to type out those half a dozen words? There have been times, however, when some of the people haven’t bothered to respond. I guess, advances in technology notwithstanding, human behaviour will remain irrational!

Since I joined Facebook a few years ago I have steadily built up my friend’s list that comprise family, friends and students. I would invariably be greeted online on my birthday. Sometime, last year I decided to remove the mention of my birth date (March 29) from Facebook. I wanted to see how many people remembered. This time on my birthday I went to the college for a lecture and about half a dozen students wished me! The rest had no clue. Two of them I remember distinctly, because over the heads in the melee after a class they mouthed the words ‘happy Birthday’ to me. It’s nice of them to have remembered. A couple of childhood friends and a friend from Chandigarh, also sent me their wishes, but by and large no one knew. Let me be very honest, I wouldn’t remember birthdays unless I saw them mentioned on Facebook, so I didn’t expect anyone to remember mine. That’s how dependent we’ve become on technology!

However, this evening, technology took another strange twist. I suddenly thought of a journalist and friend I hadn’t seen on Facebook for a while. I read his tweets and his status updates regularly. He and I had gotten to know each other a little some years ago, when I was looking for a foothold in journalism and he was looking for a job out of Kolkata, and if possible in Pune. He was also looking for someone to proofread his book. I offered to go through it. I don’t know what happened to the book, but I dissuaded him from coming to Pune because there was nothing here for someone as senior. I didn’t know of his reasons then for taking such a step. I learnt about them sometime in November last year when we were chatting on Facebook.

In December and then in January I was caught up with my new job and we lost touch. This evening, I suddenly wondered where he was and searched for him on Facebook. I couldn’t find his page. Then something made me type out his name on google and the first link that popped up was a piece about him on a news portal that said, he had passed away following a cardiac arrest on January 22.

Off Facebook, as promised…for now

Posted: January 3, 2010 in Facebook

Some good things may come to an end. I am not going to say anything more, so let’s just wait and see how it goes…
I promised I’d go off Facebook on December 31 and I did. I deactivated my account and I’m going to stay away, till I feel like getting back. They have a nice option which asks you if you would like to return or something on those lines and I clicked on that! Let’s see how I feel a month or so down the line – whether I miss the endless chatter and the smart quips of my students and friends!
The fact is I got quite tired reading stuff from people who were using Facebook as a short messaging service. What do you say when you read stuff like “Are you there?” or “abey saale kahan hain?” I know Facebook is a social networking site, that connects, but some people seemed to have taken that tagline, a mite too literally.
Initially, I was really thrilled meeting so many people on the site, some really old friends and some cousins who I had hardly ever been able to keep in touch with for various reasons. I really thought it was such a wonderful way to connect.
Suddenly friends and acquaintances were popping up from somewhere asking me if I was the same guy they used to know 20 or 30 years ago, – I was doing the same – and it really freaked me out.
I was getting invites from so many of the kids I taught that I had lost count. When I decided to take a break I noticed I had 370-odd friends in my group. That might not be too many, but was still a lot considering that my relatives and actual friends didn’t go over 75! And it was quite flattering to note that so many people read the updates I posted and commented quite regularly. Thanks everyone!
No offence to any of the people in my group, but I think I just got tired of it. You know, after a while you wonder what the hell you’re doing there – well that’s the feeling I got. I get that feeling about a lot of things in my life intermittently!
And then there were those inane groups people sent you an invite to. For the life of me I can’t figure out who actually likes to join some sort of dumb farm and do a bit of virtual farming! Some of the applications– to put it mildly – were bizarre.
Then there were all these kids who kept going from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ to ‘in a confused relationship’ to ‘single’ in a matter of weeks! Or is that days? Now I know why my sister-in-law and her husband get jittery every time their 17-year-old daughter logs on to Facebook. They’ve also banned her from putting her picture there!
So who knows when I’ll be back! And especially, post-January 11, who knows at all! So if any of you want to get in touch me….call or email me! No Facebook please!

Break to banta hai!

Posted: November 14, 2009 in blogging, Facebook

Have you ever craved for something to the extent that it drives you to distraction? It could be a cigarette, or a drink; a Bengali sweet or an Ice cream; some spicy chicken or an aloo parantha; computers, music or movies …whatever. I am sure there are a lot more things in this world we crave for.
My friend Joe Pinto says on his blog Against The Tide that for the next three months he is going to spend as little of his personal time in from his computer, as he possibly can. I think it is an excellent idea, considering the amount of time we spend at our PCs every day. The problem is that computers are today an integral tool of work and communication that we cannot do without it.
I calculated that I spend approximately 15-16 hours at my computer, working, chatting, blogging or surfing. And I think that is a bit much! Actually, the reality hit home when I saw an application on Facebook which asked me to find out if I was addicted to Facebook. Once I saw the percentage, I was appalled!
The eight hours at work is something I cannot do without, because it keeps the home fires burning. But I could do something about the other eight, spent either on Facebook, my blog, Youtube Limewire, or some other site, ether chatting, writing, watching music videos or downloading music.
Do I need to spend so much of my free time at my PC? Starting today, I am going to find out. So, if you don’t see me on Facebook, I am probably playing cricket with my son! And if you need to get in touch with me…you have my email IDs and mobile number.