Sunday, 20 February 2011

Are You Dealing With Real Friends?

How many of us will switch on whatever gadgets that we use to access the Web in the morning before even brushing out teeth? I am not sure how many hands are raised but many of us are becoming more dependent on the Web to keep our lives going.

Part of this addiction is through various social network platforms, Facebook, Twitter to name a few. Lately, I have been receiving invites to join a lot more of new platforms which are fast crowding the cyberspace.


One important feature of social networks is our ability to connect with "friends". This feature allows us to be in control of who should be allowed to share their views, thoughts and even telling us what they eat on a real time basis. As much as we analyse (I trust we are doing this even now) the identity of any person requesting to be our friends, others are doing the same on us. This brings us to one important challenge, how do we profile ourselves on these social networks.

Loss of privacy is a main concern to most of us, especially if our data is stolen and used by unscrupulous people who are scanning the web for such opportunities. Some of us may be too careless by revealing private information that allows crooks to take advantage from it. As a way to mitigate this risk, people may camouflage their identities using nicknames or even false identities. They are also people who prefer not to use their real identities just for fun.


The group function on Facebook has been used in many occasions as a mean to shape public views. Discussions posted on such pages reinforce the points advocated the the group initiators. What I observe as an emerging trend is the existence of cyber-trolls, people using false identities posting intimidating comments on such pages to turn the tide to other directions. Given that it is very easy to create a new Facebook account using fake identities, cyber-trolling appears a new mean to counter opposing view on cyberspace. 


This could also be observed on popular blogs, especially on matters involving public debates. For example, in the past, articles in English on such matters did not attract many opposing comments. Nowadays, it appears that "the other side" are becoming more interested to counter the posted views, using good English as well. Is this a sign that there are groups out there who are investing substantial resources to hire profession cyber-trollers to fight their cause?

Somehow many people tend to be too trusting when dealing with people and information on the web. Some even take the information as wholesale truth, without any attempt to verify them. Developing a more skeptical attitude may be a wise idea as there is no effective filter on the web. I normally try to triangulate news or information by considering what are said on websites where the writers' identities are known. Reading comments and feedback from other readers would also provide some idea on the issue being discussed. In fact this skepticism should also be applied on all information, including what we watch on TV, listen on the radio and those found in daily newspapers.  


Given the risks of dealing with people whom we do not know, screening our friends on social network is something for everybody to consider. I do not have criteria for safe friends but giving this issue more attention would certainly avoid unnecessary problems in the future. 
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