The VICE Guide to Right Now

More Indians are Choosing to Hide Their Real Identities on Social Media

More than half the respondents of a new study said that they use anonymous profiles to exercise their freedom of speech.
December 14, 2020, 1:50pm
man on computer social media
Photo: tookapic, courtesy of Pixabay 

As someone who practically lives on social media, I come across anonymous nameless, faceless profiles every day. Be it a creepy DM on Instagram or baseless arguments over a politically-tinged tweet, the sender almost always carries a generic silhouette with a follower count ranging from zero to ten—with no way of knowing whether there’s a real person operating the account. Turns out, this is not an isolated observation.

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A new report has found that there has been a substantial increase in social media profiles by Indians who hide their real names, photos, and personally identifiable information (PII). The platform that Indians use the most to maintain such profiles is Facebook (76 percent), followed by YouTube (60 percent), Instagram (47 percent), and Twitter (28 percent), according to the data provided by global cybersecurity company Kaspersky.

While the first reaction to coming across these anonymous profiles is probably always negative, the purposes they potentially serve are more than just that. “The results unmasked how this reality allows individuals to chase their passions and to harness free speech but at the same time to conduct malicious and harmful activities,” the report said.

Conducted in November 2020 with 1,240 respondents from across the Asia Pacific (APAC), the "Digital Reputation" research showed that this element of anonymity is being used the most in Southeast Asia at 35 percent, followed by India at 28 percent and Australia at 20 percent. Almost three in ten social media users in the APAC region have an anonymous profile that lets them keep their real identity under wraps. This trend is a result of the increasing awareness among people of the tangible impact social media can have on their lives. 

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A 2019 study also found that 40 percent of Indians fear that they could lose their job because of the content they share online. Indians also expressed fears of being socially ostracised or defamed if they shared controversial views or pictures that might be considered inappropriate. And they have good reasons, considering the repercussions people have had to face because of their social media behaviour in recent years.

As early as 2012, two girls were arrested in Mumbai for a Facebook post questioning the shutdown in the city over Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray’s funeral. More recently, in 2020, several Indian expatriates in the UAE lost their jobs for “Islamophobic” posts on social media. The fear of being the next to get arrested or fired has caused people to slink behind nameless profiles. But mind you, these aren’t just well-intentioned people looking to share controversial hot takes without facing any real consequences. Anonymous social media profiles have also turned into a way for trolls and bots to unload a barrage of abuse directed towards anyone they don’t agree with, all while hiding behind a silhouette.

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“From the initial purpose of finding and connecting with friends and families, social media has evolved and will continue to evolve in unprecedented ways,” said Dipesh Kaura, General Manager for South Asia, Kaspersky. “It has played a key role on how we socialise and identify with each other, but now, we have arrived at a fork in the road where virtual profiles of both individuals and companies are being used as a parameter for judgment.”

Just like companies are likely to judge potential employees based on their digital footprint, 49 percent of the respondents make use of social media to judge a brand or company before buying their product, according to the report. They also asserted that they would avoid buying from brands that were embroiled in a scandal or had received negative media coverage.

"The consumers now hold companies accountable for their online reputation, in the same way that individuals' behaviour on social media is now being used to determine one's credit score, to screen one's employability, and even to either reject or approve one's Visa request," Kaura explained. 

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