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.

Comments = full of the awesome. Like gravy. I can haz an RSS RSS feed .

43 Responses to Anonymity On The Internet

  • Kathy says:

    So very true. This especially: “But remember that just because the speech is free, doesn’t mean it is without consequence.”

    <3

  • jael says:

    And that’s it in a nutshell… write as if the person you’re writing about will read it … or such that your kids wouldn’t be horrified if it were plastered on the windshield of all the cars in the faculty and student car lots of their schools…

    Good advice, thanks, Becky!

  • dufmanno says:

    I try to prevent people reading me by using my lack of talent and atrocious grammar and spelling figuring they run screaming by the end of the second dangling modifier and third run on sentence.
    Now I’ve got the heebie jeebies and want to go hide in a cave. I’m changing my name and moving to a new state because if people actually see this I might cry.

  • Question: How safe are password protected posts and blogs? Can my grandmother still find my wordpress post if it is protected?

    I try to write it as if I am writing it to the person I’m writing about. Would I say it to their face? If not, then I shouldn’t write it “behind their back”…but blog venting is just so cathartic…sigh

    • The Daver says:

      Password-protected posts are more secure (google can’t index them, for one), but only as secure as the password. And there are quite a few programs out there for having computers guess passwords, so if it’s a word out of the dictionary, then a determined person could get in. BUT! How likely is your grandmother to hire a hacker to get at your posts? It’s kinda like locking your car — it doesn’t stop a determined person from getting in, but casual intruders are kept out.

  • I have a proxy domain registration, a proxy IP that my ISP gives everyone & I use aliases on my blog & lie about where I live. People who know me still find me. DH ran into someone in the grocery store who says “I see you have Havoc & Mayhem with you!” I had no idea she read my blog.

    Mostly I just want to keep the unknown nutjobs away & what I do is generally sufficient for that. But I am 95% certain any babbling I do about my probably soon to be ex SIL’s parenting skills will get back to her. So I have yet to even mention her & never will.

  • If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk. My credo is that if you don’t have the balls to say it to their face, don’t say it! But … That’s just me

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Anonymity and Writing Anonymously The Internet - Mommy Wants Vodka | Mommy Wants Vodka -- Topsy.com

  • AmberLaShell says:

    I am not anonymous, but i don’t really say anything bad about anyone.(except my sorta aunt, but that’s not something I wouldn’t say to her face) I never mention work, and try not to bad mouth anyone. I have my blog because I just love to write, not to “let anything out”

  • All it takes is for one family member to find out about it and you’re sunk if there is any familial ranting.

    I posted some very personal stuff on my “It Gets Better” post, and lo and behold, my BF’s family found out about it and actually discussed it with different people and emailed me about it.

    I am also dumb enough to post video and pictures of myself.

    But I figured, what’s out there is out there. I try not to embarass other known people. I usually mock myself, so it is generally safe.

    Would I want a future employer to read it? Hells no, not with the language I use on there, but hopefully that day won’t come.

    If it does, I will have to assume they have a great sense of humour for reading my blog. HA!

  • Kristin
    Twitter: dragondream
    says:

    Well said The Daver!

  • Tom G. says:

    I agree, the best you can expect is pseudo-anonymity, like wearing a costume to a Halloween party. People generally understand that your “assumed name” is just a thin disguise, so they’re prepared to give you a pass for exaggeration, humor, and language. However, be prepared to stand behind whatever you write. Assume that the person you are writing about will read it.

    Hi Mom!

    XOXO

  • steph gas says:

    see i talk enough about being certifiably crazy (with paperwork to back it up) on my blog that if a potential employer were to be like, ‘um your blog? not so good, you don’t get this job’ i can be all like DISCRIMINATION BITCHES! and either a) get the job or b) sue them and become a woman of leisure.

    or just keep owning my own business and working for myself and not giving a flying fuck of what everyone else thinks.

  • a says:

    Nice job, the Daver…

    I don’t get to write about much, because while I don’t write anything I’d be embarrassed for anyone to read, my husband feels uncomfortable with my writing about anyone he knows. So that kind of limits things.

  • Gretchen says:

    COMPLETELY unrelated, but have you heard about this?? Sorry if I’m late to the party and you have a case in your garage for the apocalypse.

    http://bacontoday.com/bacon-flavored-diet-coke/

  • andygirl says:

    I am lucky that my dad doesn’t really get the Grand Internet. he’s the only person I don’t want reading. it’s not because I rant about him. I love my dad. it’s because I write about things that would give the poor man a heart attack. but I think I’m pretty safe. he goes online to play games and that’s it. man doesn’t really get how google works, let alone how to sneakily search for my blog. also, he knows I blog and that he probably doesn’t want to read it. I think he doesn’t really want to know. because he’s a smart man.

    I’m not exactly anonymous. all my friends and some fam read my blog. but I also don’t have it connected to my last name AND I never blog about work, which is easy because I’m freelance now. I’m not anonymous, but I am private. stalkers can be scary, yo.

  • Lauren Elyse says:

    Oh the internets… speaking of the internets… I gave your blog a stylish blogger award! http://nonavigation.blogspot.com/2011/01/stylish-blogger-award.html

  • Cainus says:

    This is why I only rant about stuff that no one cares about, like vampires, or about myself.
    Or my dogs. If they ever take issue with it I will be very impressed.

  • Crystal says:

    What great info!!! Thanks!

  • Courtney says:

    Thank you Aunt Becky and The Daver for this post! Little did I know that my own domain wasn’t on lockdown and when I searched myself on whois.net, I was terrified to see my name and address out there for any internet troll to see.

    Lesson learned.

  • jillsmo says:

    Well, now I’m all paranoid about that rant I wrote about my mom on Band Back Together. Oh, except she doesn’t really know how to use a computer, so I’m probably okay.

  • karen says:

    That’s just great, The Daver.

    Here’s a great example of the unexpected. I posted a blog about my school bully (linked above) who was somebody I hadn’t been in contact with since. By some weird connection, she found the post! and posted her own reply. I mean, I didn’t use ANY names, but she knew exactly who I was talking about.

    In this case, it turned out more-or-less okay. But it just goes to show …

  • Mrslala says:

    Ha, funny because DH and I were JUST talking about this very thing. It seems as though I have a stalker all of a sudden and for about 12 hours I was so FREAKED that I wanted to pull the plug on all of it: the blog, the Twitter, the Facebook, ALL of it. But then I realized that doing all of those things isn’t going to help – if someone wants to stalk me they can still find me on my work’s website, on things I posted 10 years ago!

    On the other hand, bloging does invite salkers. Sure, you might get them either way, but if you put yourself out there it’s pretty much a sure thing. It’s a trade off. I guess everyone has to decide what they are comfortable with.

  • mumma boo says:

    Well said, Daver. I’m going to have to remember to save the MIL rants for the telephone. Darn it.

  • I am waiting for that lady that said I didn’t take being a parent seriously to find me. Other than that I don’t write anything that I care if anyone in my family or friends read. And if the devil I mean son’s biological mother reads bring it on.

  • Jayme says:

    I’m open about who I am on my blog. I suck at remembering little details like my kids real names, so I’d totally fail at using pseudonyms.

  • This is all so very true. I wrote vaguely about a few relationships that were falling apart. Different people, but all similar themes, so I lumped them all together. Well, one person read it, took it to heart, and haven’t heard from that person since. (As said yesterday in Ask Aunt Becky, people look for themselves in your blog). To be truthful, it’s nothing I wouldn’t have said to their faces if given a real chance to discuss. So, yes, nothing is secret on The Internet Machine.

  • Karen says:

    I do have a blog, on blogger, which is set to ‘author only’ for reading purposes (I changed it from public about a week ago). Do I need to feel paranoid about someone getting in there? Shoot. On the other hand, I did only have about 18 readers, and I doubt if any of them is tech savvy enough to crack my blogger account. Or would want to take the time. Plus I’m so mouthy anyway, I don’t think there would be much surprise amongst the crowd. C’est la vie.

  • katrina says:

    I really liked your basic rule, Aunt Becky: Don’t say anything on the internet you wouldn’t wear on a shirt. That pretty much says it all.

  • SharleneT says:

    That’s the bottom line. The idea that you can say whatever, whenever, however, to whomever, without dealing with the consequences, is simply not true. Frankness is endearing only in those under the age of seven — everyone else has to bear the responsibility of their actions and their words. That was true in the old days and the same goes for today. If you really have to vent about someone, do it in a private journal or in therapy but not on the information highway. It’s that simple.

    I’m always amazed at the people I discover reading my blog. Karen, above, said she only had about 18 followers but how many subscribers do you have? how many read regularly without publicly acknowledge they follow? You never really know. Listen to The Daver. The Daver is cool and The Great Mo’Gur!

    • Karen says:

      Hi! The only reason I even knew ANYONE was reading my blog was that blogger has a STATS tab now, so I could watch my readership bob up and down like a coke bottle in a bathtub. Plus I had feedburner. I was kinda bragging, as 18 was my highest ever number, the average was more like, Uhhm…6. And that included family. I guess follower was the wrong word to use…I actually had, well, 6 followers, including family. Just call me SUPERBLOGGER!

  • karen says:

    Hey! It was suggested in Italics that my beloved Aunt Becky thought I was a ‘bot! Should I take that as a compliment? … or did I use a key word to flag myself.

    Anyway, the gist of it was … I agree, The Daver, I agree Aunt Becky.

    My schoolyard bully found a post I’d written about her, some 30 years after the long years, and commented. I didn’t use her name and nobody knows I have a blog. Freaky! The comment was reasonably benign, so, whatever, but still! Anon …

  • Kenya says:

    My mom gave me a great piece of advice back in the day. Con’t say anything behind someone’s back that you aren’t willing to say to their face. Applies to all things in life, blogging, gossip etc. If you’re not willing to repeat your word to the person concerned, keep your mouth shut

  • Tershbango says:

    Scary, but true.

    Luckily, I was too dumb to try to come up with a pseudonym of any sort, so the whole world (or all five readers) know my real name. So much for my presidential campaign.

  • Kathykate says:

    Can I you and The Daver ever split up, can I have him? Oh, but then there’s my nerd; and the 4 kids, and the dog. Okay, you keep him, and I’ll just keep reading the sage advice here. Thanks for choosing wisely!

  • Desi says:

    I feel like this post was specific to me. Thanks for all the great information.

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