On Friday, a big story broke out in India’s thrumming startup ecosystem. Chennai startup mentor Vijay Anand appeared to have answered the oft-repeated question: Who is Unicon Baba? The widely-followed yet anonymous Twitter user is loved and hated in equal measure by the startup ecosystem.
Much of Unicon Baba’s (@uni_con1) popularity came from the fact that the handle would call out bullshit, like only a true insider could do. But many a time, the handle has been abusive and crass. When FactorDaily wrote the story about Vijay’s exposé, tying Unicon Baba’s email address to Delhi entrepreneur Rajan Gupta (he denies operating the handle), it was a polarising moment in the startup ecosystem: did Vijay really have to do that? The question was directed to FactorDaily, as well. Yet, some celebrated it: The ecosystem could do with one less troll.
Anonymity on the internet cuts both ways. It’s a big help for whistleblowers, but it also fuels abusive behaviour online. We decided to interview Unicon Baba to figure out why he does what he does and why anonymity is important to him. Edited excerpts from an email interview where the answers are brief but telling:
“Imagine how difficult it would be for someone to call out the bullshit that is going on in the ecosystem without being anonymous. Fear of court cases, losing relationships etc”
Why is anonymity is important to you?
Imagine how difficult it would be for someone to call out the bullshit that is going on in the ecosystem without being anonymous. Fear of court cases, losing relationships etc.
Is the Unicon Baba (UB) account operated by multiple people?
Nobody knows who is UB and (it) is operated by me single-handedly.
When the internet was born, it was the promised land for many, especially the misfits. A place for people to express without fear as J P Barlow talks about in his Declaration of Independence on cyberspace. But then, the darker side of the internet started taking over: online abuse, bullying and so on. Anonymity plays a role here and some would say even encourages such behaviour. What is your take?
Anonymity is a nuisance if it is not used responsibly. (The) ground rules are reasonably verify whatever you are saying about people (mind I am not saying companies). Although you might not need a solid proof because you are an anonymous handle, not a journalist. Also, have strength to apologise when things go wrong.
“My future course of action doesn’t change at all. I am totally unaffected by this episode. I feel sorry for Rajan but I can’t help it”
It’s really a tough debate. Anonymity gives whistleblowers the opportunity to expose corruption and shine the light on darkness. Sometimes it gives them the cloak to ask the tough questions. What’s your take?
Anonymous whistleblowing vs rights or privacy of people being called out is a delicate balance.
For instance, in this case, you’ve been abusive. Perhaps your intent was to merely call out bullshit when you see it. But, you will perhaps agree that it’s tough on the recipient. How do reconcile with this?
If anonymous whistleblowing, or trolling as some might wish to call it, is good for the startup ecosystem, (it) depends on the maturity of the people involved in it.
India’s startup ecosystem has dirt. There are disingenuous people and many anonymous handles including yours have played a role in exposing some of the dirt. But, much of what you’ve done is open to interpretation. Some will support you and some won’t. Your comments?
If they are following ground rules and have genuine intentions, it might be very positive and progressive.
What is your future course of action? Does (Friday’s) episode change anything for you?
My future course of action doesn’t change at all. I am totally unaffected by this episode. I feel sorry for Rajan but I can’t help it. The only way to defend him is to reveal my identity which I can’t do for obvious reasons.
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.