5 pm. I'm at a cyber cafe, engrossed in a friendly conversation at a chat room. Everything runs smoothly, until someone with the nickname 'Cybercheez' logs on.
He or she singles me out and sends me a message: "I see you but you can't see me."
Mildly annoyed, I reply: "That's too bad." "I know everything about you," Cybercheez insists. "Then I must be famous," I say, dimly aware that my friend Blossom -- a cherubic 16-year-old at the next terminal -- has started giggling. After a few more similar exchanges, she begins to laugh uncontrollably. Closer inspection reveals that she's the prankster.
Blossom isn't alone. In fact, no chat room is complete without a pest. I, therefore, took it upon myself to find out what makes these people tick. And who better to start with than my friend Sandeep P, the uncrowned 'King' of chat room pests.
"I don't consider myself a hardcore chat pest," he tells me, modestly; then adds cheekily, "But, ultimately, it's the sufferer who decides whether I really am one or not".
Sandeep usually logs in with a user ID that has the word 'king' in it so that 'loyal subjects' can easily identify him. As these IDs suggest, his sole aim is to rule the room: "It gives me immense pleasure and a sense of satisfaction to be above others".
He delights in sending scary, private messages to inexperienced visitors, saying that their computer is being hacked by him. "This trick works most of the time," he adds, proudly. But woe betide anyone who dares challenge him: "Some worms who give me a tough fight are spammed with hundreds of private messages copied and pasted from the same room." He also prefers "to give life to the otherwise sulky rooms" by pointing out some hilarious double meanings to messages posted. Don't users tire of his antics? "Not always," he says. "Some actually enjoy my presence".
Other pests, like Leslie D'Mello, enjoy watching the way different people react to taunts. Les gets "a tremendous kick out of posing the same irritating question to several users and gauging their varied responses".
But these guys are run-of-the-mill pests. There are experts like Mohan Naicker, whose area of interest is the 'celebrity chat' -- sessions which enable users to interact with celebs and professionals.
When such chats are in progress, Mohan can be counted on to log in as the guest, or in the name of his or her spouse, answer questions addressed to the guest, flirt with others in the room, or ask extremely unrelated questions. There is an unmistakable twinkle in his eye as he recounts logging in once as 'baal' and asking a hairstylist what colour she would recommend for his greying hair: "She got annoyed and said 'try saffron', to which I said 'I'd rather keep it green as I have to cut it regularly'".
Mohan's stay in that chat room ended abruptly thereafter, as the moderator kicked him out.
How do you tackle people like him if there isn't a moderator to do the needful? Here's a simple tip: The 'Ignore' button.
Those who assume pests are always male haven't met Flavia. In person, she has an angelic smile and exudes an aura of innocence. In a chat room, she undergoes a metamorphosis into a femme fatale, showing users she has quite a few tricks up her sleeve. As a general rule though, she only annoys "jerks who irritate me in the first place".
Frequent visitors at the RoltaNet site may also remember 'Rodeo_girl'. This woman mainly chats with people she knows (without revealing who she is) and surprises them with personal information about themselves. "This completely unnerves them," she says, matter-of-factly. Since it's all for a few laughs, she always reveals her identity at the end "to those who haven't already guessed".
The million-dollar question is, what prompts people like Mohan and Flavia? Is it only the kicks they get out of teasing people? Rodeo_girl and Flavia point out that it can be a means of venting frustration. The latter admits: "When I am really angry with someone, I let it all out on a random jerk online. This helps my anger subside and spares me an unpleasant confrontation with the person in real life".
And how does the person at the receiving end take this venting? Some leave; others make half-hearted protests; still others complain to all and sundry. 18-year-old Jer says: "When they do that, I just turn the tables and harass them too".
The battles continue…
More Like This
-- There is a pest in my chat room
-- A Chatter's Guide