Remaining anonymous will never be a sure thing. As I’ve said previously, it is a three part process of removing as much real information about yourself as possible, masking your real name with a pseudonym, and maintaining internet habits that protect your data. There are no guarantees that you will remain anonymous. If someone skilled enough truly wishes to find you then you can be found. But the idea is to make finding your real identity beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of people.
In part two, I’ll be discussing ways to set up a pseudonym – with tips and tricks, from my own experience, that you may find helpful.
One of the most secure ways to protect your identity is to ensure your real name is never associated with you because this is the easiest way for most people to find you. For this purpose, a pseudonym is your best friend – or more accurately, is you. Now, to be clear, a pseudonym is not for the express purpose of being an unrepentant bastard. My pseudonym, for example, is used in the book blogging community. So I use it for my blog, my Goodreads, my twitter, my facebook and my Amazon accounts. Everything to do with this community is handled through that pseudonym which means I am responsible for my words and actions throughout the community. A pseudonym is not a sock puppet – which is an account you use outside of your identity and online presence for one express purpose and that you take no responsibility for.
The best kind of pseudonym is one you fully embrace over a period of time and that never touches your real world identity. There should never be any interaction between your real identity and your online one.
Part 2 – Creating a Pseudonym
A pseudonym starts with its own email address and most of that information should be incorrect or as vague as possible. Hotmail and Yahoo are email providers to avoid. People can see your IP address on a Yahoo email and may be able to use it to track you. Hushmail is an encrypted email service that comes highly recommended.
If you host your own blog then your server will provide you with a free email address though these are not always convenient to access. You can connect your server’s email address to your anonymous, free, easier to use and access email. The mail can be received and sent from your gmail account but is routed through your server and arrives to recipients under your own @domain name – which gives the added bonus of appearing more professional. This makes it harder for people to know which email carrier you actually use.
If you don’t host your own blog but still want to keep your email hidden, there are multiple services that provide fake email addresses and hides your real one behind layers of fake addresses. Here’s a post with a graph comparing different anonymous email services you can use.
The information you provide across your accounts attached to your pseudonym should be consistent and purposely vague. Try to leave out details about your life, work, family situation, etc. All accounts should be started by the same email (or a trash email service connected to the email registered under your pseudonym).
Whichever cultural name you use, try to find a very generic one in that culture. Smith, Kaminski, Chin, Takemoto, McGregor. Try using a random name generator to give you inspiration. This may also be able to provide you with a fake location if you’re feeling lazy. Jane Smith is a lot harder to track down than Imerhoppen Tyorplayse.
Find an icon to serve as your avatar. Something unique but that doesn’t identify. You could buy a stock photo of something iconic or search the web for free avatars.
Business and Pleasure
Some people use their online personas to attract clients and drum up business. This is not something I would personally choose to do. It is far too easy to track one through their business. Weigh it up on its own merits. There ARE ways to do so, but they would require the use of people you trust inexplicably and a good lawyer to aid you.
Avoid using real photos of yourself or posting them in connection to your pseudonym. Face finding programs are becoming more popular with one even being bought and integrated into Facebook. If you have a personal Facebook under your real name, and post a real picture of yourself for your pseudonym, then this could lead people to finding you. With that comes the pressure of updating your photo and allowing for people to recognize you in real life, or for real life friends to recognize you if they stumble upon you on the internet.
Also, don’t post any photos that you’ve personally taken – particularly with a phone’s camera. These have a time and location stamp that can be used to find you.
If you are blogging, especially if you are a book blogger, you may need to receive mail somewhat regularly. Purchasing a PO Box seems like a big deal for some, but it gives you a piece of mind and ease. Look up PO Boxes at a Post Office near you. Don’t worry about getting large ones. Most post offices will hold the parcels and leave a pick up slip in your box for you. This makes it relatively cheap to hire a small PO Box over a year.
Trusting people with your real identity
What I would suggest is that you reveal your real identity to precious few people and absolutely no one online. Ever. Once the information is out, it can’t be hidden again. When you first begin blogging, your real identity seems like a non-issue. You’re just one tiny blog in a massively huge internet. But the longer you blog, the more valuable that information becomes to you. Especially if your reach grows large enough to the point at which journalists are trying to dig up your real identity. Whilst it’s unlikely that will ever happen to the vast majority of bloggers, you should always be aware that it could happen and prepare yourself. The world isn’t like it once was and blogging is much more serious than it was even five years ago. Bloggers have had their real identities released in the press (Diary of a Call Girl, NightJack and Girl With a One-Track Mind), others have been tracked down and assaulted or even killed, and still more have had to deal with the repercussions of real life stalking that has crossed over from the cyber world.
Keeping that in mind, and preparing against even the slimmest odds that your blogger life will escalate to that point, will help you down the track in the event that you ever find yourself in the center of furious speculation about your real identity.
Coming up next week:
Finally, in the last post on Blogging Anonymously next week, we’ll be covering a range of technical details on how to keep yourself hidden on the internet. This includes protecting your IP address, taking steps to prevent yourself from getting hacked, what browsers to use, what servers if you host your blog and the variety of different ways technology can expose your real identity. etc.
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