HUMAN relations complicate things, doesn’t it? I mean, the Internet was fine and dandy when it was a top-secret destination only a few people knew about, or had access to.

Back in 1996, all your friends were probably not on the Internet, and you — the master-geek of your class — could run wild and free, unfettered on the World Wide Web.

The coolest thing then was to get a private Hotmail account and the most real-time form of social interaction was IRC (Internet Relay Chat). At first, the latter was incredibly private. The first time I logged on, I chose a moniker (that shall never be disclosed) and spent an hour trading jokes with people I didn’t know.

IRC slowly evolved and slowly, my classmates would get on there as well. We would frequent the #mamak channel and chat up people from other Malaysian schools. The socially acceptable introduction at that point of time was ”a/s/l” (Age, sex, location)?



Boys my age would get excited when the opposite end replied ”15/f/kl” (”I’m 15 years old, female and live in KL). This developed later on into ”a/s/l/r”, which might be grossly inappropriate now — the ”r” stood for ”race.”

A couple of years later, as the new milleinium approached, almost every young person online was connected a number of sites and applications — there was ICQ, Friendster and even

Norms were changing and what was socially acceptable behaviour previously was no longer the case.

Social groups online had changed and people didn’t just aimlessly wander onto IRC and the #mamak channel to chat to random strangers anymore.

Rather, ICQ lets you keep a perpetual list of friends whom you could talk to the Net, who (through the miracle of the real-time internet) could actually see when you were online. This was amazing technology with keen social impact. The topic du jour in school was how we’d manage to duck to invisible mode just as Mr Social Outcast had come online to avoid any conversation with him.

Schoolyard socio-mechanics were being transferred online.



The, came Friendster. A race was on to see how many people you could have on your friends list and there was very little conjecturing over issues like privacy.

The web’s changed tremendously today. It isn’t just a repository of information anymore. It’s the set where millions of people are interacting daily. Not only have we learned how to move our offline communities online, technology has also increased what we know about each other and changed the colour of our interaction.

The web became just another place where we go to interact. And this is exactly where things can go wrong.

You see, the Web previously allowed you to take on a different persona. It allowed one to be ”faceless” and people had the anonymity that allowed them to act in any way they wanted.

Because you could hide behind screen names, you didn’t have to be yourself. Therefore, you could even be a total jerk.

Unfortunately, even though the Internet has become more personal now (less about anonymity), people still have the old way of thinking.

However, more people have decided that the Internet these days truly reflects on the individual, and what’s unacceptable in the real world, is equally unacceptable online as well.

Just like how you’d generally expect to get thrown out when you gatecrash a private party, a business gatecrashing on a competitor’s Facebook fanpage will equally see a negative reaction from the ”guests” – in this case, the online fans of the competitor.

Lies, deceit and misrepresentation isn’t cool in the real world, why should they be online? People will call you out, and this is inevitable.

The lesson here isn’t complicated. You’re the same person you are online and offline. You might give yourself a cool nickname, but everyone still know it’s you.

You might justify your actions by saying that ”This is social media” and therefore you have the right to act the way you did. However, if the community doesn’t agree with you, then you’ll have to face their wrath.

So, the best advice? Like anything in life, be honest, truthful and always respectful. But then again, your parents already taught you that, right?

* David Lian is davidlian online. You can follow him on Twitter at and on his blog at

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