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.
I signed up for gmail under a pseudonym and got a notice that my profile has been suspended. Any suggestions?
@ZabetReading Did you also have a Google+ account? From what I understand you can’t have a pseudonym with Google+. You have to use your real name or Google will suspend ALL accounts under that Google account. In some cases you CAN request the use of a pseudonym for your Google+ account, but they have to review it looks like an involved process. Apparently, you are only allowed to remain anonymous if you’re as famous as Beyoncé or 50 Cent. This is also why we don’t have Google+ accounts.
@Stephanie Sinclair @ZabetReading I actually have a google+ account and it doesn’t feature my real name. My usual avatar is Lisa Simpson so I basically just use Lisa as my first name and a random letter from the alphabet as my last name. It works. I believe it’s suspended when you try maybe use something like ZabetReading as an actual name, but a Stephanie Sinclair or Kat Kennedy or Stephanie S/Kat K would be accepted. I don’t know if that helps any?
@Lisa FicTalk @ZabetReading Yeah, if it sounds real, it will pass. But if they find out it’s not your real name they will freeze your account. And if you use your blog name to create a page, I hear they have been known to delete blogs (Blogger blogs).
@Stephanie Sinclair @ZabetReading Really? How do they find out though? Ad why delete the blogger blogs? Just because they aren’t registered to your real name?
@Lisa FicTalk @ZabetReading I’m not sure how they find out. Maybe someone reports them? But they delete the blogger blog only because everything is usually registered under the same gmail account. They just freeze the gmail account and everything else goes with it.
@ZabetReading Here is a great article on it. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/violetblue/googles-pseudonym-problem-new-implementation-revealed/992
it’s own email – should be its own email 🙂
@Nola Thanks! Fixed! 🙂
You can use pictures you have taken yourself as long as you run them through an editing program and save them as a new file first, as this removes all the time and location data and replaces it with the time you saved the new image.
I am excited for the next post, and especially to see how to avoid having your name and full address show up on a Whois search when you own your own domain!:)
So does that mean I am an idiot that I use my REAL NAME. for everything? I believe in transparency and admittedly do not usually participate in incendiary arguments. I use my real name b/c if I don’t want Kristen Liberty to say it then maybe Kirstin Freedom shouldn’t be saying it either.
@kristenliberty Frankly, yes. I do. I have seen sweet bloggers who don’t involve themselves get attacked. Some bloggers are blogging from a country that doesn’t allow free speech. Some are whistleblowers. Anonymity is more than just protecting your family from crazies. For some people, it’s a matter of life or death. I want to stand up for what I think is right – but I would prefer not to have to worry about death threats while I do it.
@kristenliberty I think it’s important to remember that the internet is a very public place. Unlike saying something in real life, your thoughts are not easily accessible to the world with one click of the mouse. Your thoughts are limited to whoever is near you or by word of mouth. Neither of those come close to the internet, where anyone, including psychos, can find you for whatever reason.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you participate in incendiary arguments. Some people are just crazy and do crazy things. I wouldn’t call you an idiot because it all depends on how much info you feel comfortable with sharing. If you feel comfortable with total strangers knowing your real name, city and state with the ability to pay a small fee of $2-5 to find out your address and pay you a visit if they so desire, then I suppose this information is unnecessary for you.
You made a good point! I would add that depending on what you are creating your online presence for, you might use your first name only, but choose a pseudonym for your last name. But again, it is your call, and it depends entirely on why you are creating your online presence for.
Just wanted to say that having a P.O box shipping address is the best way to go. I’ve been using one for years now. Probably less than a handful of people have my actual home address. You can’t be too careful these days.
@Lisa FicTalk What do you do for publishers that send books via UPS? I know they don’t deliver to PO boxes and some publishers have sent books that way instead of USPS.
@Stephanie Sinclair I’m trying to remember whether I’ve gotten any books in the mail via UPS from any publishers… and I don’t think have, but my P.O box address isn’t at the post office. It’s a private company that usually has people on hand to accept my mail. Have you ever heard of Skybox? It’s similar to that. Either way, when it comes to publishers, I don’t have any problem with them having my real mailing address if they wanted it really.
@Lisa FicTalk I have never heard of Skybox. But that looks interesting! I’ve never seen a service like that. That would really be beneficial for international bloggers. So far S&S and Macmillan have both used UPS. I don’t particularly have a problem with the publisher having my address either, but I wouldn’t give it to an individual author.
I have a love-hate relationship with these posts. I’m learning lots (and apparently have so much information publicly available online!) but it’s also making me a wee bit paranoid.
You’ve definitely given me much to think about, if nothing else!
Buzz Worthy News 17th September 2012 | *Cuddlebuggery Book Blog*
[…] or crossover online to real life harassment, check out our Blogging Anonymously 1, 2, and 3 […]
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Thank you for this helpful and very informative blog. I really appreciate this. I want an anonymous blog for the following reasons, none of which are harmful.
1. I feel that I could and would be more honest and therefore the writing would be more interesting.
2. I live in a small town. I might want to tell analogies without revealing who is really the subject, not because it is mean or spiteful but just because it is probably applicable to others in small towns and may be insightful or even funny but not something I want to call out about an acquaintance.
3. I want to protect my privacy in terms of some things I want to write about and not expose what might be interesting publically to those that it might be way too interesting to in my private life.
4. And this is the big one for me. I might actually publish what I write. I have written some blogs that I think are pretty good, but I have not published them because of all of the above. I want to receive feedback and see if there is response from strangers, not friends.
5. I work for a very large company. This role has nothing to do with writing.
6. This is not to say that I don’t also want to start publishing and being braver with my own blogs that are not of a sensitive nature. I do, part of me thinks this will help me get there.
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Hi! Thanks for this very useful article! I use a pseudonym on the internet because I’ve had some really bad experiences online (though luckily not related to blogging or reviewing) and so i think it’s better not to say my real name if possible. My question is, when I request for a book arc, should I say my real name? Or wait for the prublishers to contact me?
I’ve never requested arcs before, so sorry if this is a silly question!
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This is a great blog. But If we can anonymously send an email to someone then we do not need to prefer Pseudonym. What do you think?