Do you share intimate details of what’s going on in the confines of your home, on social network sites? Beware. Here’s what you should not discuss with friends online
By Dr Debarati Halder
Recently, an old acquaintance of mine was sharing pictures online of a family wedding with us, her friends, with a polite request not to share the images through our individual profiles. This wise gesture of hers reminded me of my early days in social media, around 10 years ago. It was a new platform with lots of opportunities to share our happiness and sadness with people whom we barely knew, had never met or may never meet. This gave the new users, especially women users of social media, confidence to reveal secrets about themselves and their family, which they may probably never share with anyone in real life, fearing backlash.
Such secrets included tussle with their mothers-in-law, desires for gifts from husbands that were never fulfilled, teenage crushes, hatred towards sister-in-law, pregnancy-related issues and above all, sexual relationship with the spouse. Unknowingly, these social media users created a growing data base of their own ‘secrets’ and these may have been used by cyber predators in a calculative way for stalking, sextortion and bullying.
Not much has changed. Parents who share such sensitive information should be careful, because in the present situation, their children may do the same, without knowing the consequences. Moreover, sharing negative comments about family members online can have an adverse impact on children, if they come across the comments.
Often, people (irrespective of their years of Internet experience) tend to share intimate family details on social media, which may backfire on them. Here are 10 issues that are best avoided on social networks:
1. Fights at home: Often we get to see online status updates with emojis indicating ‘broken heart’, ‘feeling low’, ‘argumentative’, ‘defensive’ and so on. This is one of the ways in which people inadvertently spill the beans on bitter quarrels with family members. Some may even seek suggestions for the next course of action. However painful an experience may be, it is better to avoid talking about it on social media, as it can attract bullies and trolls, while allowing online predators to blackmail users. One must also refrain from publishing the names of persons (irrespective of whether the person is a family member or not) because this will not only damage the relationship, but also amount to defamation.
2. Sexual relationship with spouse: Some users may feel safe and confident to put up explicit information about their marital relationship in a closed group because they assume that no ‘outsider’ will be party to the discussion. This is a myth, because there are possibilities of compromising the profile/s of certain users, or spouses of group members having access to their husband’s or wife’s account, and tracking their online activities. These secrets may then be shared in the form of gossip.
3. Sensitive personal information: Some users may share pictures of their newly acquired passports, identity cards, credit and debit cards on social media and this can be quite risky. Others may even share bank account numbers or their bank balance details in casual conversations online. Sensitive personal data such as financial or health information and data regarding identity is protected by laws such as the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011. Such data, if compromised or leaked, is likely to cause heavy losses to the specific individual, who owns the data.
4. Details shared by minors: Children are usually unaware of the risks of sharing personal details on an online public forum. They are likely to put out sensitive information such as home address, email addresses or phone numbers of parents while chatting with their friends. Children should be apprised of the dangers of giving out sensitive personal data online, as it may fall into the hands of criminals, who can use it to their advantage.
5. Pictures without consent: A very common trend on the Internet is to share personal pictures or pictures of other people, which may not have proper authorisation for sharing. The other day, I was watching the video of a popular vlogger who was sharing how her child resists being part of ‘mumma’s vlogs’. When uploading pictures of family functions, get-togethers and picnics, steer clear from violating other people’s privacy by posting their photos without their permission. You never know if there is any hidden 'frenemy' in your social media profile who may prove dangerous to your loved ones. Also, refrain from sharing intimate pictures taken with partner, and nude or scantily-clad selfies to avoid stalkers.
6. Birthing pictures: New mothers love to share their birthing experiences online. This can be useful to know more about health problems of the mother and baby and how to cope with ailments. But it can also have a negative effect. No birthing experience is the same – some mothers may not like their attending nurses, some may have complaints about their doctors, while others may want their husbands to be present during the birth. Few moms may also post breastfeeding videos. This can lead to unnecessary arguments and heated discussions that attract bullies and trolls, so it is advisable to keep these occasions private.
7. Geo-locations: We have all heard of instances where stalkers have attacked their victims based on their geo-location, which was shared online. In today’s scenario, where women’s safety is often compromised, it is not a good idea to share updates online on the places one is visiting to avoid stalking, harassment or revenge killings.
8. Travel information: While it is dangerous to share your location online, it is also a bad idea to announce to your friends on social media that you are going to be away from home for a long time because you are holidaying in some place. Giving exact dates of your travel in online posts and implying that you’re your house is going to be empty at that time, is an open invitation to robbers.
9. Updates on home-alone children: Advanced technology has made it possible for working mothers to be in touch with children who are alone at home or in the care of maids. But did you know that sharing too much information about activities of children when they are one their own at home can be dangerous? Based on parents’ updates, children may be kidnapped from homes or parks. They may be sexually violated by perpetrators (who may also include close relatives) especially when parents are away. Such perpetrators who may be known to the children, may visit and commit crimes taking full opportunity of the situation.
10. Racial and religious opinions: While our constitution gives us the right to express our opinion, we need to understand that the social media is a highly volatile place and strong religious and racial opinions, however personal, can trigger unnecessary trouble for the commentator and his family. Sometimes, such posts may also attract government surveillance, especially when there are possibilities of riots breaking out on sensitive issues. Hence, it is best not to fan the fire of hatred online.
When an individual is stalked or bullied based on the information she puts on social media, it is best to report violations of rights and cybercrimes to proper authorities like the police, the courts and the websites, to check on the perpetrator’s activities and prevent escalation of the issue. Let us use internet and social media in a positive manner.
Dr Debarati Halder, LL.B., LL.M, Ph.d,(Law) (NLSIU, Bangalore) is the managing director (Honorary) of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org). She may be contacted @ email@example.com
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Dr Debarati Halder