UAE: 36% of social media users escape pandemic reality by following influencers

Ismail Sebugwaawo /Abu Dhabi Filed on October 11, 2021

(Photo for illustrative purposes: Reuters)

More than a quarter say they are dependent on influencer content

More than 3 in 10 social media users in the UAE escaped the Covid-19 pandemic reality by following influencers, a new survey by a cyber security firm has revealed.

According to Kaspersky’s latest research, one-sided relationships, also known as parasocial relationships, blossomed worldwide amid social distancing and national Covid-19 lockdowns.

Kaspersky's global study of more than 15,000 people in 25 countries found that just under half (36 per cent) of social media users in the UAE believe that the influencers they follow provide them with ‘an escape from reality’.

The latest survey shows that parasocial relationships are no longer a novelty or a quirk.

More than one in five (22 per cent) believe they ‘could be friends’ with the influencers they follow, and around the same proportion (26 per cent) have gone as far as sending a private message to an influencer.

Despite the largely virtual nature of these relationships, almost half (49 per cent) of social media users have even met some of the influencers that they follow in real life.

During successive global lockdowns, many people spent long periods at home and turned instead to virtual companions to replace our social lives. This type of one-sided relationship has a strong pull over many.

More than 7 in 10 (75 per cent) say that they learn from the influencers they follow in areas such as health, hobbies, style and news. More than a quarter (32 per cent) say they are ‘dependent’ on influencer content and 1 in 10 (18 per cent) even say they feel a sense of absence if they do not engage with influencers.

Many have sought out direct contact with online influencers, most commonly by commenting on their posts (28 per cent) or reacting to their posts or stories (33 per cent).

However, social media has been important for many people during the pandemic, with 7 in 10 (77 per cent) in the UAE saying social media has provided a vital connection for them during the pandemic. This figure was highest among younger people aged between 18 and 34 (79 per cent), who re­­­ly on social media for connectivity.

People in Vietnam (94 per cent) and South Africa (79 per cent) are the most likely to say social media is a vital connection for them, although half of the people in the UAE (50 per cent) say they have become less tolerant to people on social media during the pandemic.

“Although more than half (56 per cent) of people in the UAE have been on active on social media for more than a decade, many of us are still figuring out how to balance the positives of social media with the negatives,” said David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky.


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“Now, we’ve moved into a new era where virtual relationships are becoming the norm. These one-sided relationships can often lead to oversharing on social media, as people look to develop these relationships. However, this can lead to a huge range of negative and unforeseen consequences – hacking and phishing attempts, doxing and bullying, online shaming – the list goes on.”

Emm added: “It is understandable with the lockdowns we've all experienced over the past year that people will have gravitated towards online and parasocial relationships to stave off loneliness and boredom, but it's crucial that people are aware of the consequences of oversharing online and are able to take a more balanced approach.”

Kaspersky says it has also launched its ‘ShareAware Hub’, where people can find handy tips to help them enjoy social media safely.


Ismail Sebugwaawo

A professional journalist originating from Kampala, Uganda, Ismail is a happy father with strong attachment to family and great values for humanity. He has practiced journalism in UAE for the past 13 years, covering the country's parliament (FNC) and crimes, including Abu Dhabi Police, public prosecution and courts. He also reports about important issues in education, public health and the environment, with a keen interest in human interest stories. When out of reporting duties, he serves the Ugandan community in Abu Dhabi as he wants to see his countrymen happy. Exercising and reading are part of his free time.

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