React: On Identity, Anonymity and Social Inclusion


React: On Identity, Anonymity and Social Inclusion

How people identify online has changed as the way we communicate inches towards maturity.

Back in the day, you were only as good as your domain name – and perhaps a ‘made by Dave’ gif underneath a hit counter.

Next, forums allowed people to express themselves with 50×50 pixel avatars, and freshly-photoshopped signatures.

Their identities became tied to ‘join dates’ and post counts. Veteran forum users were exalted and ‘newbs’ were pilloried.

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When ‘Web 2.0’ came along, you didn’t really need to have an identity. You were judged on what you said, not who you were. It had become effortless to publish content and leave comments online.

This was the 4chan generation of internet users, where anonymity was the default and any attempt to carve out an identity was laughed at.

Now we’re past ‘Web 2.0’, but no-one’s quite sure if this is ‘Web 3.0’ yet. Our identities are back, and they’re tied to our real-life passport names (not usernames like xXxWeed-killa420xXx).

Some say disappearing anonymity is a bad thing – the internet used to provide us with a level (worthless) playing field. Now, Facebook’s insistence on real-world identities introduces the same bias and prejudices that exist offline.

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However, real-world identities help curb online harassment (to a small degree). Where kids used to get away with gross and threatening comment in online spaces, now people can literally go and tell their mother.

Even though Facebook (and increasingly, Twitter) ties us to who we really are, people identify in lots of different ways online.

We’ve done some light research into how people refer to themselves. By looking specifically for the phrase “as a ____ myself” we found over 5,000 unique authors from the past three months.

We found that parental status trumps all other identifiers online, that Twitter brings out the niche in people, and that – for some reason – paladins populate forums.

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The Story of Us

Running the analysis from raw mentions, we found lots of phrases which resembled “as a present for myself,” or “as a treat for myself”. We scrubbed these out along with any retweets, as they tend to skew data related to individuals.

By far, being a ‘parent’ is the most common identity online. It took the top spot in our web-wide analysis, with ‘father’ and ‘mother’ also placing very highly.

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Why? Identifying as a parent says a lot of thing about a person.

It implies a great deal of maturity and experience. Also, it communicates a sense of sincerity and authority when talking about things that effect young people (“please won’t someone think of the children?”).

Religion also featured highly, which is to be expected. Associating with a specific world view, wildly different from other world views, can help clarify and guide the nature of the discourse.

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“As a Christian myself” appeared many more times than “Hindu” and “Catholic”. Identifying a “gun owner” was more common than identifying as a Catholic.

I Know Places

Most people act differently when they’re with different people. Maybe they’re the serious one in the family, but the kooky one at work. They’re known as the Taylor Swift fan in their theatre group, but their spin class sees them as the gym nut.

Similar norms carry across social media – and they’re even more fluid.

Comparing Facebook, Twitter and Forums with the general conversations reveals the different identities people assume in different online spaces.

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As with the overall analysis, the parenting identities are most common. Interestingly, “father” places highly on Twitter, but “mother” places highly on Facebook.

The most common identities on Twitter related to hobbies-come-professions. Terms like “writer”, “musician” and “photographer” reinforce the stereotype that Twitter is full of tech-savvy creative types, looking to push their new edgy drone-core installation.

Facebook is a place where you identify as who really are, where Twitter you’re defined by what you do.

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Forums, on the other hand, are where people with niche interests go.

Your IRL friend circle on Twitter or Facebook might not be able to offer support in quitting smoking, or advice on coding your next webapp. Forums, though, are full of people with niche specialities that aren’t afraid to admit it.

Can you imagine admitting you’re a “human paladin” on Facebook? Unless you’ve got some very nerdy and like-minded friends, it’s only something people feel comfortable doing in the safe spaces of forums.

Speaking of safe spaces, forums allow people to make aliases that aren’t traceable back to real life. Hence, the abundance of self-described “dealers”.

Everything Has Changed

Our gender analysis is admittedly crude at the moment. As we have to analyze every web mention, we can’t rely on platform-specific user inputs. So, we check the author name against a massive database of names: it makes the name “Jamie” hard to sort.

Of the 5,000 mentions, only about 20% were successfully categorized by gender, but here’s the top 15 from each.

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Obviously, the “mother” and “father” identities are much more common attached to their respective gender.

Strangely, we did find that “father” appearing (not shown) on the list for female authors. Also “liberal muslim woman” appeared on the list for male authors. Kinks in the system.

As social media continues to grow and mature, we might see people being open with more niche identities. Perhaps Twitter and Facebook will grow so large that users break off into forum-like sub-conversation.

To some extent, that’s already happening.

Certainly, millions more people will be joining social networks over the next few years. Like bees in a hive, or grains of rice in a burrito, each additional individual will make the whole more beautiful and more diverse.

And we’ll be there. Making a chart or two about it.

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How Facebook Users React to Lost Phones, and How Brands Should


How do Facebook users react when they lose their mobile phones, and how can marketers react, in turn? Facebook IQ has the numbers.

According to the social network’s insights arm, in an average month, more than 51 million posts, comments, likes and shares are related to users discussing lost phones, and Facebook IQ added:

The volume is not only significant, but it’s also consistent—people are posting regularly, every day of the week. Facebook is, in a sense, “lost phone central.”


Facebook IQ also pointed out that more than 75 percent of posts about lost phones are composed on other mobile devices, such as second phones, tablets, phones belonging to friends or strangers or their own new phones. That figure jumps to more than 85 percent for millennials.


Posts about lost phones receive more than double the comments of average posts, and Facebook IQ discussed how the social network functions as a support group for users undergoing this experience:

When people post about losing their phone, the posts are overwhelmingly (and understandably) negative. But the comments that people post in response are primarily positive. This implies that people are coming to Facebook to express their frustration, but the support they get from their friends on Facebook often transforms the conversation into a more positive one, as the newly #phoneless find they are much less alone than they feel.

Most of the “lost phone” conversation is driven by words that describe where and how it all happened and what device is being considered next. However, one word stands out from the rest. Somewhere between “ughhh” and “phoneless,” the word “Samaritan” appears. Separate from the discussion of logistics, devices and retailers, “Samaritan” hints at stories of desperation transformed into elation—all thanks to a stranger’s kindness.


How should marketers react? Facebook IQ offered the following takeaways:

  • Be a constant beacon: While people do visit Facebook throughout their “lost phone” moment, they also tend to move quickly once the loss is discovered. And because the “lost phone” moment is ongoing (people are always losing and talking about their phones), brands may want to take an “always on” approach to fully leverage it. For example, by creating an online resource for the newly phoneless and messaging around the ongoing “lost phone” conversation, brands can build up the goodwill that will lead to advocacy the next time someone asks their friends and family which phone or carrier to consider next.
  • Be a modern-day Samaritan: Moments that nearly everyone experiences—such as losing a phone or moving—are opportunities for brands to connect with a broad range of audiences in personally meaningful ways. The key is identifying the moments in which a brand can authentically help and uplift people—whether that means showing empathy, making light of the situation or offering practical solutions.
  • Be as mobile-first as your audience: The fact that most people find a way to post about their lost phones from another mobile device is perhaps the ultimate insight into how essential mobile has become to people today. For many, mobile is the primary and preferred means for connecting with the world. Brands intent on staying relevant will want to plan to leverage mobile in a way that reflects the mindset and behaviors of a mobile-first society.

Readers: Have you ever shared your “lost phone” experiences on Facebook?

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