What kind of social defence do we have for the social media? It socializes and influences to an increasingly greater extent. And its impact seems to become bigger compared to “real life” social relations. It seems impossible for parents and teachers to monitor their children online. I was watching a televised debate on National Television DD News this week about a news story published in a Daily news paper: “Close Facebook accounts now, Bangalore school tells its kids”. 

It was interesting to see how the decision of the school triggers a national debate in the best interest of the child. Questions raised during the debate were for instance: Should we just leave it to the child and let him/her decide? When does a virtual boundary cross the social boundaries and harms the child?

Teenagers in India (and across the world) increasingly live in a virtual and socially disconnected world of their own without realizing that any act of theirs on facebook has real consequences outside the virtual realm.

On this televised debate all the panelists felt a strong need to debate, discuss and counsel the peers at school and family.

I think it’s crucial to improve teenagers media literacy to empower them and make them informed that online behavior has impact on their personal life in the real world, too.

A related recent event from Gurgoan Delhi NCR comes to my mind immediately, where more than 100 school kids were caught using alcohol at Gurgaon pub:

The host, a teenager, reportedly created a community page  “ Sex, Smoke and Rock and Roll” on Facebook and invited friends to the party. Of the more than 3,500 friends, over 100 boys and girls responded after paying Rs.600 each.

Research from the University of Southern California, released recently, confirms that what teens see online, they do.

When teens see pictures of their friends using alcohol or smoking, on sites like Facebook and MySpace, they are more likely to use alcohol or smoke themselves, reported researchers this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study involved about 1,600 10th-grade boys and girls, all aged 15, from a school district in Los Angeles County. About 25% of the students were Asian. 

While there are no statistics for India, US data shows that 25% of adolescents and teens online find unwanted pornography while surfing, by mistyping addresses, going to sites with misleading names, and clicking on links from other sites (Online Victimisation: A Report on the Nation’s Youth).

Now we also all know that the global alcohol industry is targeting the teenagers to promote their alcohol brands, as they find it easy to market and the channels of the virtual world are wide open and vocal especially compared to traditional mass media. According to the marketing experts, social media is less regulated than main stream mass media in India. On social media Big Alcohol only needs not to promote auxiliary items (surrogate advertising) or services in order to market their alcohol brands.

I think school and family together must create a social defense to the very  threat posed by the Big Alcohol or otherwise the human rights of children will be violated more and more and increasingly aggressively.

All popular brands of alcohol are gearing up to reach out to their young targets through social media with their fan pages where it is possible to follow brands like Kingfisher, along with the whisky brand Signature (both owned by UB Group) which has 1.1m fans, and competing whisky brand Blender’s Paradise which has 750k fans complete the top three communities on Facebook.

We as parents, teachers and policy makers need to ensure that our young generation continues to engage with us in the family, school and nation building. Children may not start avoiding us. Online connectivity (social media) can give them a leverage to unwanted solace.

I hope, new Indian alcohol policy drafted by Ministry of Social Justice  will ensure the social defense by way of banning the use of social media for brand promotion of alcohol directly or indirectly in India. Readers may like to join another debate and share their views on “Do social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have a positive societal influence?”


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