The essence of friendship has been evolving since ages where earlier meeting your friend’s everyday helped strengthen the bond, but now it knows no boundaries. The trend of ‘cyber friendship’ is the new fad in the social circle where people make the best of friends without actually meeting them. WSL explores this virtual world of friendship.
Talking to a stranger instils a feeling of fear and suspicion in many people but the current trend of ‘cyber friendship’ displays a contrast picture altogether. Friendship, which earlier grew leaps and bounds with regularly meeting, now just needs an internet connection helping anyone connect even boundaries across. Tuhinanshu Prasad from Greater Noida felt extremely comfortable while talking to his first cyber friend that he met five years ago over on yahoo messenger. He felt an immediate connect with his ‘stranger’ friend. “Connect and the mutual feeling of pure friendship is still the same. Even after five years of talking online, we never feel that we have never met face to face. The opposite personalities that we still make me talk to her every day. I never found such a friend in real so the virtual friendship never bothered me much,” he shares.
The approach matters
“I hate those cheesy lines that people often write to approach a stranger on social networking sites,” grumbled Jyotsna Pachnanda from South Delhi. She was flabbergasted with so many approaches on facebook but one simple message from a stranger she liked. It was then when they accepted each other’s request and became good friends. She says, “The right approach is the kick-start to the bond of friendship. I loved his straightforwardness which helped us gain that trust on each other of not landing into any soup or dirty cyber issues.”
When friendship turns sour
But there is always a risk factor associated with making friends online. There have been many cases where the friendship has turned sour due to the blind trust shown on strangers turning friends on social media. Citing a few such cases, cyber law expert and advocate, Karnika Seth from Supreme Court of India says, “There is a reported case where son of a businessman in Mumbai named Adnan was allegedly trapped by his friends by impersonating as a girl on Orkut. They both decided to meet after a few months of chatting. This is when his friends nabbed and murdered him brutally. Also there was another case of Pranab Mitra, a former executive of Gujarat Ambuja Cement, who was arrested for posing as a woman named Rita Basu and seducing an Abu Dhabi-based man through internet to extort approx Rs 96 lakhs.”
‘Not a safe medium’
Unless due diligence is adopted, making friends online with strangers can be fraught with many risks. The anonymity that exists on internet makes social media an attractive medium for cybercriminals to commit various crimes. Following are some of the glaring threats:
• Sexual predation
• Sexual grooming
• Cyber stalking
• Cyber bullying
• Photo morphing
There is increase in cases of identity theft, fake facebook profiles on social media or phishing attacks or other forms of cyber harassment. Advocate Sethi adds, “Although most of these acts are punishable under IT Act 2000, cybercriminals remain undeterred as they use spoofing tools to conceal their true identity. Moreover, the maximum term of imprisonment for most of these crimes ( for first conviction) under the IT Act,2000 is up to 3 years with fine except child pornography in Section 67B and Section 67A ( transmitting and/or publishing sexually explicit content).
Those were horrible days for Trisha Mehta from Dwarka when she was being stalked by one of her online friends. “I used to get messages on facebook and text messages till last year December where my online friend used to post pictures of my day-to-day activities but never came in front of me. Earlier it used to be fun talking to him but slowly he started scaring me with such acts. I was lucky that my parents supported me and filed a police complaint. Though I was scolded and even grounded by my parents, but I am glad I could get out of it,” she remembers.
Know your limits/ Don’t share personal information
Personal pictures, photos, bank details, details of medical history, details of one’s plan of the day or that of their parents, personal e-mails or any other information which is personally sensitive should never be shared online to avoid such untoward and ugly instances, says advocate Seth. Unless one knows a person personally or through a trusted friend, it is not advisable to talk to strangers online. In case there is an exchange of any files, it is advisable to screen the content using antivirus. Computers/ laptops/mobile should have anti-spyware installed as well. If any personal pictures are to be uploaded using any app, one must read all the terms and conditions for its use and ensure all privacy settings are enabled.