When the topic of internet anonymity came up yesterday, I knew that there was no one better to ask than The Daver. If I live in the computer, he’s the one who built it for me.
Now, I’ve never been anonymous. In fact, the first blog I wrote was read (at first) only by people who knew me by first, middle, and last name, which has helped dispel any feelings of anonymity.
I’m happy that I’m not anonymous. Truly. It’s kept me from putting stuff out in public that shouldn’t have been there anyway.
So, here’s what A Nerd has to say about being anonymous online:
If you have a bone to pick, or an itch to scratch, or have bottled it all up too long and you feel that writing it all out on your own (a third-party blog like Band Back Together or Mushroom Printing is the best way to go for this type of thing) weblog is the best way to just let it all out, I have a little piece of advice for you: don’t.
Aside from the myriad personal histories of folks who have been fired for writing on blogs (see: Dooce, Queen of Sky, or Troutgirl), the more important issue in my mind is that whomever you didn’t think would read your tirade…will.
And as Aunt Becky’s resident nerd, I’m beholden to share some of the most significant reasons why.
Let’s start with some geeky ones. So, you registered that fancy-schmancy domain name, right? Mommywantsvodka.com! Type that puppy in over at whois.net and guess what? You can see that it’s MY FAULT that Aunt Becky is online. Even if she didn’t blog under her own name, it wouldn’t be too much of a jump to take the “Registered By” name listed there, pop open Facebook, and find out that we were married.
Sure, some registrars will let you pay them to register under their name – registering a domain by proxy – but upon inquiry they are just as likely to share that name to someone who would take the time to ask.
Okay, so let’s say you don’t have a fancy-schmancy domain name, just a blog that you think no one reads. Except…if it’s on any of the major blogging sites (Blogger/Blogspot/Google, WordPress.com, Facebook, so on), then it’s very search-engine optimized (SEO) already.
So if your rant happens to mention anything obscure about the situation (things that have fairly few high-ranked pages on Google)(see also: the John C. Mayer Prank for more information on Google SEO), such as the horrible burned Marston Family Chicken, then when your mother-in-law -who the rant focused on – searches for ways to make it better, whoops! What’s this? It’s irrelevant that you don’t have your name on the site: how many people were over at M-I-L’s house yesterday? How many have the same interests and family size and location as you? Same first name?
Oh, and don’t think that if you post it just for a day and then take it down that it’s gone for good. See, Google keeps a copy of all the pages that it indexes — so if the page just disappears, Google hangs on to it for a good while, in case it went away accidentally. This is incredibly handy if you’re searching for something that happens to be on a site that crashed. Not so handy if you want the Internet’s elephant ears to forget.
There are others, too, involving looking at the Page Source to see breadcrumbs like the IP Address of the poster, or tracking who posted a comment via their IP address…but I’ll save those for a more geeky post. The important thing to remember, folks, is that it is a safe assumption that sooner or later, anything you write on the Internet will be read by whomever you’re writing about, or their friends, or their family, or someone that knows them at work, or their priest or their favorite hooker or the guy who makes them their sandwich at Subway.
Someone will read it.
And even though the feelings behind those rants fade over time, the magic of the digital world ensures that those words won’t. Are you ready for those words to be brought back to live when you least expect it? Ready to face the truth that yes, you did say those things, and in public, no less?
If so, and if you still thing it’s a good idea, then more power to you: this is free speech, after all.
But remember that just because the speech is free, doesn’t mean it is without consequence.