As a blogger, or if you are thinking about taking up blogging, it pays to protect your real identity. Now that unmasking and revealing the real life identities of book bloggers has become something that actually happens, some people have been asking how to protect their identities in the event that someone attempts to reveal their personal information as a revenge tactic.
It’s not fun looking over your shoulder and worrying about what information is going to be released about you – which is why you can and should take steps to control what information can be found and linked back to your real life and location. This is a three part series showing you simple ways to prevent yourself from having your phone called, your movements tracked, identifying information posted without your consent – or even worse.
Nobody should have to live this way as a consequence of free speech, however the sad fact is that these simple steps may save you a great deal of aggravation in the future if you follow them now.
To successfully hide an online identity, it pays to be paranoid. Consider yourself like a Crouching George Hidden Clooney.
Staying anonymous ensures you never have to fear for yourself, your family, your property, or being relentlessly bullied. It means you can escape targeted bullying by dropping that identity. This is not a free pass to perform illegal acts nor is it bulletproof. There are some incredibly sophisticated ways to track people, so if you post online, you’re never 100% certain to be safe.
The best method to stay anonymous is to remove as much extraneous information about yourself as possible before you even start – and then monitor what you make available on the internet after that. Once information is on the internet, it can sometimes be difficult or even impossible to remove. You may be scared to find just how much information is out there to find right now. Protecting yourself is a multipronged approach. It includes limiting/isolating your real online presence, removing extraneous or identifying information and controlling your online alias or identity.
I would advise that, as a blogger, you create an identity to be known by and not to ever tie that identity to your real name.
Removing identifying personal information
What information is out there?
Here’s a test of your Internet Ninja Skills.
Visit each of the following sites. Search using your real name and see what they bring up:
Also search for yourself on Google Street View to ensure that yourself, your car or anything identifying is shown.
If searching for yourself revealed an uncomfortable amount of information, then many of those sites allow you to opt out and have it removed. But you also need to remove the source of information or the information will reappear on the sites.
Search engine results:
Do a basic search of your full name to see what appears. Remember to search multiple search engines like: Google, Yahoo and Bing. You can have mentions of yourself removed from search engines if you think it’s necessary, but otherwise these results often go away with time as they become outdated.
Social Media Sites:
Most of the information that people finder sites have on you comes from social media sites. Consider every social networking site you have ever been a member of, especially ones that you haven’t used for a long time. Here is a comprehensive list of social networking sites. Go through the link and make a list of all the sites listed there and any blogs or communities (ie. Yahoo communities) that you have been a member. Remove yourself from mailing list communities as well.
Remember, if you’ve been on the web for a long time, you may have social media pages that have been abandoned. Particularly for once-popular sites like Myspace and Livejournal. It is very possible that you may not even have access to the email account you used to open these sites. For Myspace, you can fill out a Declaration of Ownership to try and reclaim the account under a new email address.
Websites you’ve joined:
Try to remember any passions or interests you’ve had that would lead you to join a community about for example: Movies (IMDB, Rottentomatoes), Books (Goodreads, Amazon, LibraryThing), Parenting, fanbases, online writing communities, horse riding, armour making, pottery, music, cars, tattoos, architectual etc. These may have included forums, fan sites, fanfiction communities etc.
Some sites won’t allow you to delete your account. Log in and remove all the data you can and obscure the information that can’t be deleted.
Contact forum moderators and have your account and posts deleted – many are willing to help you do this. You would be surprised how much information can show up over time on a forum.
Delete any unused social media accounts and check the privacy settings on the ones you want to keep.
Try not to have yourself tagged in many photos as this could be used to track your real identity.
These steps are vitally important to take before someone finds your identity. It minimizes the impact of what information they can access and use against you. But there are other steps to protect yourself as we’ll see in Blogging Anonymously Parts 2 & 3. The most important thing is to ensure your real name and an accurate location isn’t found in the first place and this is the best place to start.