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Lonely cigarette butt

Jiao is 20 years old and works as an assistant in a small photo studio, having moved to the town from his rural hometown. Although he feels the town is a fairly pleasant place, he only partially ‘fits in’, and this outsider status means that he doesn’t mix much with other young local people. As well as keeping in touch with the few friends that he has in the town, Jiao uses social media to contact people from his hometown. Sometimes he also adds strangers using features such as WeChat’s ‘People Nearby’ or ‘Shake’ feature, and then chats to them. Often Jiao wants to remain anonymous to this group of people – at least when making initial contact and until they know each other better.

Jiao wants to be identifiable to the friends he already knows, while at the same time remaining anonymous to these strangers. Instead of using his real name he chose the poetic alias “Lonely cigarette butt”. Also, instead of using a photo he used one of the cartoon avatars offered by QQ to represent himself. As he pointed out, “If they are good friends, then they will know.” As such, this anonymity also functions as a test of genuine friendship amongst users who already knew each other. Jiao was not the only person to do this, in fact the vast majority of social media users in the town chose anonymised profile pictures.

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