Kripa is a married mom of two in her mid-30s. She is on Facebook, Twitter and many, many WhatsApp groups. And yep, she has many “friends” across these various social media, across groups, too–school groups, college groups, work groups. Too many ‘friends’ to count, in fact.
Through the day, Kripa finds it hard to ignore her cellphone because it pings incessantly with messages from the various groups she is part of–there is a constant exchange of messages, videos, images, jokes–some “non-veg” jokes and videos, some innocent, some childish. All kinds of messages, really.
One day, Kripa sent a smiley in response to a lurid joke a male pal from school had sent her. She had been very busy that day, and had sent the emoticon without even reading the message properly. Then her ‘friend’ started messaging her every day, every morning and every night. And if she didn’t respond to his WhatApp messages, he would call or text or message her on FB.
Kripa was being “stalked” and harassed by her ‘friend’.
Friends who turn stalkers
Okay, that was a fictitious person but the situation is now an increasingly common one says Dr Prabha Chandra, psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS). “Many women have come to us for help because they are being harassed in this manner by ‘friends’ on WhatsApp/Facebook groups they belong to,” she told me recently.
The problem, according to Dr Chandra, is that on social media, you often don’t take the time to reflect or think about what or even who you are responding to. “When you meet someone face to face, you get cues about a person, his/her intentions from their reactions, the way they look at you, what they look at, etc. So in real life, there are more inhibitions, more boundaries when it comes to various situations. But on social media, your brain does not get these signals, responses are instant, a smiley, an emoticon, a ‘like’. So an impulsive ‘like’ or a ‘smiley’ to an inappropriate message can get you into a risky situation. The sender may think you are encouraging them,” she pointed out.
Are we too social on media?
Dr Chandra believes that teens and people in their 20s are better at handling social media because they instinctively understand and use such media better, fix their privacy settings better and so on. “On the other hand, people in their 30s and 40s tend to go overboard when it comes to social media,” Dr Chandra felt. Sometimes you behave inappropriately, boundaries are crossed, and you get sucked into situations/relationships you are not prepared for. And that can have far-reaching consequences for you and your loved ones.
The omnipresence of social media too plays a role. On Facebook, for instance, everyone is a ‘friend’, regardless of how close you are to them or how well (or how little) you know them. And little do you realize that you cannot judge a person on tbe basis of their photographs. Take my own example. A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance sent me a ‘friend’ request on FB. On the spur of the moment, I accepted, even though I did not know the person very well. Later, I learnt that he had used my ‘friendship’ credentials to send ‘friend’ requests to all the good looking women on my ‘friends’ list on FB. Shocked and upset, I immediately told my friends to ignore his messages and I also blocked the man. What if this man had started harassing my friends? Naturally, they would have blamed me for the mess they found themselves in.
And that’s how I realised a ‘friend’ can become a creep very quickly.