In a judgement by Chennai High Court (India,) Justice S Ramathilagam ruled: “What is said is important but who has said it is very important in a society because people respect persons for the social status. When a celebrity forwards a message like this, the common people will start to believe it.”
Social media is a collection of online communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Some of the prominent examples are Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, LinkedIn, and the list is endless. There are many blogs, chat groups, email groups, etc, which add to the blogosphere. A number of militant groups around the world are using social media for intelligence gathering, propaganda, recruiting, and also for communicating with other militant groups.
Social media platforms have become part and parcel of our everyday life and also play a crucial role in our society. Every day, thousands share photographs, videos, information, documents, etc through them. Obviously, they have become an effective tool in the hands of cyber criminals, militant groups and intelligence agencies.
What are the norms to be followed while posting on the social media, making any comments or forwarding emails? Some suggested tips are:-
Ensure Your Children and Spouse are Security Conscious. Always go through the contact list of your spouse and children with them and delete all contacts they and you do not know personally. Advise them that in case they receive a Friend Request on any social media site from anyone they do not know, never to accept it. There have been many instances all over the world where in terrorist groups and enemy agents have used social media to harass the family and friends. Similarly, do not add strangers as your Friends. It is also a good habit to cull down your Friends list, at least twice in a year. You may also delete those friends who did not respond to your posts and also those whom you think are a nuisance.
Trust Factor. The most important aspect regarding communication is the credibility and trust your friends and the society bestows on you. While forwarding any mail or making any posts or comments, ensure that this trust is never betrayed.
Accountability and Responsibility. In this is an age of unparalleled transparency, with the social media providing an open window into individual’s personal lives and minds, it is nearly impossible for anyone to disown a statement or opinion expressed on these public forums. Every netizen is both accountable and responsible for all their actions on the social media. Any post once made, becomes the ‘property’ of the social media. Even if you delete or edit the original post, the original still remains somewhere. The new generation in Canada do not want any of their photographs posted or tagged showing them smoking, drinking or partying as they feel that their prospective employers might dig into the social media. Some political leaders are now haunted by some ‘innocent’ photos of their youth their friends posted on the social media.
Uploading Photographs. Post only those photographs that you feel are a must and always give a comment as to why you are posting the photograph. In case you cannot write a line or a few words as to why you are posting it, it is better to avoid posting that photo. Posting too many photos is never worth the effort.
Disable Geotagging or Location Based Posts. In case not disabled, it would provide adequate fodder for the snoopers to gain information about the user’s exact geographical location, thereby revealing much more than one can even imagine.
Awareness About What You Post. There are hundreds of your friends, their friends and acquaintances, reading your posts. They may come from different backgrounds, beliefs, religions, customs, etc. In case your post is likely to hurt the sentiments of any individual, group or a community; it is always better to avoid such posts. Whenever you post anything against any religion, group or community, always think of your colleagues and friends, then decide for yourself about the respect they may have for you after they read it. Always think before you post.
Respect Privacy. The Indian media does not respect privacy and that does not mean that everyone should follow suit. During the funeral of martyred Colonel MN Rai, Yudh Seva Medal at Delhi, the media and the netizens went berserk with the video clippings and images of the daughter of Colonel Rai saluting the mortal remains of her brave father. That was a private moment for a daughter and everyone got to respect it. The Chief of the Army Staff consoling the daughter was also a very private moment for the Chief and hence need to be respected.
Chain eMails and Chain Status Updates. One often gets these chain e-mails or posts which says that to receive the blessings of a particular God or Saint, forward it to ten of your friends. Some demand you to forward to ten of your friends else you will die a horrible death and the list goes on. By tracking these emails or posts, intelligence agencies, marketing agencies and cyber-crooks collect information about you, your friends and their interests, beliefs and political leanings, etc.
eRumours. Next time you receive an email or a post which sounds it might be an eRumour – when in doubt -check it out. Here are some quick ways to check the facts before forwarding or sharing it:-
- Contact a reliable source, such as a government agency, a professional society, a company or an organisation with expertise on the subject. Many would have already given clarifications about these rumors on their websites.
- Verify the source and if you cannot easily verify the original source of an e-mail – either the original sender or the alleged source of the information – it is likely to be an eRumour. The perpetrators of such eRumours often falsely attribute misinformation to a seemingly legitimate source.
- Some eRumours claim to be based on television news stories or are written to sound like news articles. Most news outlets post recent stories, so you can check them out on the TV’s website, even though many news the media channels put up may have their colour.
- Visit a myth-busting website that lets you search by key words or phrases. If your topic turns up, you will have more information in seconds. If it does not, you can always submit a new rumor for review. These myth-busting sites have searchable archives. You may even bookmark them for future reference.
Share or Forward Only if You Must. Many times one receives a post or email about a social cause, encouraging those who read it to share it with their friends. This sharing or forwarding goes on in the network and the chain help spread awareness about the cause. The intention of the originator was right, but one gets annoyed to see everyone sharing or sending you the very same message. Sometimes one may notice something of value worth sharing. Hold your horses for a few hours (minutes) and you will in all probability see someone else sharing it. During this ‘hold’ time, analyse as to what part of the post has value and write it while you share or forward the information. Any sharing or forwarding without this value addition is mere ‘post officing’. Most forwards or shares is accompanied by statements like ‘Amazing Photo’, ‘Stunning Video’. ‘Excellent Article’ and so on. Always mention as to what you found amazing, stunning or excellent so that the recipient may be benefited from it. It may be pertinent to ask oneself these questions prior to making any posts:-
- What is the purpose of the post I am about to share? Is it to draw attention to myself or lift me up in some way? Am I trying to make myself feel better or get compliments?
- Is what I am sharing genuine and honest? Am I sharing it for the sake of sharing?
- Would this post be an encouragement to others or would it tear someone down?
Email Forwarding and Plagiarism. Forward only if you must and in case you have a line or two to write about it to give it some value addition. When forwarding, trim all unwanted ‘fat’ like forwarding history, unwanted blank spaces, etc. Ensure that the ‘meat’ is intact. Always try and use the ‘BCC’ option for multiple addresses. In case you are copying and pasting someone’s email into yours, always credit the source, else it is plagiarism and infringement of the copyright and intellectual property.
Tone. The social media is based mostly on textual communication. There is neither any body language for the receiver to perceive, nor is there any visual contact. Thus the tone of your written expression conveys a lot more than you think. It is very easy for someone to misunderstand you and presume that you are being sarcastic when you are not. Further, everyone has their own style of writing and the reader has every right to perceive it in the way they think. Use of emoticons can reduce suck risks to a great extent. Putting a simple smiley face at the end of a sentence can do wonders by relieving the tension.
Use Messaging for Private and Personal Matters. Avoid posting any private or personal matters in the public domains like the Facebook walls or photo sharing sites. Many aspects are meant to be private among family members or your co-workers or friends. No one is eager to hear about such matters from a public forum. If you need to inform your friends or your family about some important and personal news like a demise of a family member, do not declare it out in the public domain. It is better to make a telephone call or send an email or a message about it.
Putting Down Others. In the blogosphere, every netizen is entitled to their opinion and are always free to express it. Hence there is no need to put anyone down just because you disagree with that person or you dislike the person or his ideologies. At times people criticise their friend’s friend who replied to a post, whom they don’t even know. It is embarrassing both to you and your friend. It is always preferable to execute communication in the correct spirit.
When in Doubt, Do Not Post It, Always Throw it Out.