When Gurpreet, a fairly healthy, 19-year-old male logs on to a chat room, he undergoes a sudden change. He picks the name CoolBabePreetu. 23-year-old Sunil does it too, opting for SweetSunita. And so does Sagarika, who logs on as BigDude.
Which leads me to a question: Why the heck do they do that?
If you haven't noticed already, gender always comes into play while one is in a chat room. Chat IDs are used to provide their users with an invisible persona protecting their true identities. More often than not, however, they are used as a cloaking device for other activities.
Deviprasad, a 21-year-old regular chat room patron, has an explanation. "Most perpetrators are males posing as females in order to get someone to talk about intimate topics such as their choice of lingerie, sexual experiences and preferences". Apparently, when such questions come from a female chatter, women are more comfortable and tend to open up easily. This also becomes a form of twisted entertainment for guys at the other end. The funny thing is that guys vying for a woman's attention rarely know that it's sometimes a man hiding behind that 'SweetSunita' façade.
Do women really get fooled easily? 'No," says C Ramesh, who considers himself a professional at donning female IDs. "You have to make the approach look flawless and trustworthy. It may take up to 10 chat sessions or a few weeks before a female chatter becomes comfortable discussing intimate details about herself." When asked about what he gains at the end of such a conversation, Ramesh replies, "It's just a temporary high. The idea of making someone talk about their private lives proves I can manipulate their minds even without looking at them."
The criteria for choosing a particular ID could be manifold. Funny and witty IDs attract people and make personality statements. Some people use multiple IDs for the sake of convenience. Couples coin IDs with the names of their lovers. Researchers use it for doing surveys so that they aren't traced. It all boils down to the fact that, on the Internet, the freedom to change one's name, age, sex and location can be used in any way to suit one's purpose. Men use female IDs to get into adult conversations, make friends with multi-cultural folk or simply to tease a person. Women do the same to get into a man's psyche, find their prince charming or just have a bit of fun.
Sameera Khan uses a male ID for security reasons. "It keeps men at bay," she says. "While in a chat room, I become this 45-year-old male wanting to talk about technology and current affairs. I usually adopt a wait and watch stance and then find someone interested in serious chatting instead of frivolous stuff."
So much for reasons. What about the psychology at work here? Dr Naveen Patel, Mumbai-based physician and teen counsellor says, "This is a result of a child's upbringing, his or her friends, playmates, school life and the manner in which the opposite sex is first introduced. Most parents do not choose co-ed schools for personal reasons, but when their children are finally confronted with the opposite sex in college, they find it difficult to communicate. Mix this with the girl's typical idea of most men being perverts and you already have a rift in what would otherwise be peaceful coexistence."
So, is this a major issue? "It definitely is," says Dr Patel. "For women, it is emotional turmoil and they are liable to get hurt when they discover that the person they have become close to is a man using a woman's ID. For men, this could give rise to negative traits like cheating, low concentration and even more serious concerns such as cyber stalking or blackmailing."
At the end of the day, the Internet is a media that offers only selective censorship. It has still to reach a worldwide consensus on banning offensive language or immoral practices online. Software can filter real time possibilities like text or content, but cannot identify the human beings on the other side. The best that service providers can do, for now, is put up warnings about age requirements for their Web sites.
Till this can be remedied, then, there's little one can do about Gurpreet becoming CoolBabePreetu, except use that 'Block User' option.
Awareness is of utmost importance while venturing into a chat room. The Internet is a free media and users of a free service like chatting don't have legal rights to pursue perpetrators yet. For the moment, then, this should help: