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I've been musing on a couple of posts elsewhere about on-line anonymity and its virtues or vices. This reflection is not especially explicitly related to those posts.

I've been very fortunate. My various employers have not only understood and accepted, but even to a certain extend expected that I have an intellectual life of my own apart from the day job. So when I decided to start blogging, I also decided that I would not take particular steps to conceal my identity. (Indeed, I recently renamed this journal from nhw to nwhyte in order to make it even clearer who I am.) And, perhaps surprisingly given the number of people who hate the work I do, I have never had any serious blowback from it at all. Of course, I'm not posting slash (or even het) fics here, and if I am doing so elsewhere I am certainly not going to link to it in any visible way from this account.

I am also restricted what I can say in a public forum even on non-pornographic topics. By the nature of my work, I am privy to a lot of stuff that needs to stay off-line. I have professional relationships which I cannot put at risk by posting about them here. Though I have to say that I think most people with jobs are in a similar position, including, say, the guy who blogged about how crap his temping job was at company X (and named the company), or the barmaid who blogged about how badly her celebrity customer behaved. That strikes me as stupid behaviour, and the fact that they both got sacked is pretty inevitable.

There are ways around it. Livejournal's locking and filtering can be a useful mechanism for venting about the shitty day you've had at work (which in my case, I'm glad to say, are not very frequent.) La Petite Anglaise famously got sacked although she had discreetly maintained her own anonymity and that of her employer; she won substantial compensation for unfair dismissal. Others seem to get away with more.

One of the reasons I keep adding to my own on-line presence in my own name is to try and drown out the occasional hostile commentary I have picked up (and which I also link to in embittered, locked, filtered entries) by ensuring that most of the stuff that comes up when you google me is stuff I've written or consented to.

I have of course set up google alerts on myself; the other week an Irish blogger completely misquoted me on a sensitive issue, and I picked it up and demanded (successfully) that he delete the inaccurate paragraph. I was probably the only person who actually read the entry in question, but I felt it worth putting energy into; once it's online it's in the public domain.

Online anonymity is going to become increasingly difficult to maintain. I routinely google shortlisted candidates whose CVs hit my desk, looking for evidence of political activism (which, from where I'm sitting, is a Good Thing). Is that an invasion of privacy? I think it's due diligence, as long as you treat the results of your googling with a serious reliability filter. If a candidate isn't on Facebook these days, I tend to wonder why not - indicates a lack of interest in new technology and networking which is rather surprising for someone looking for a job in my line of work. (There is a Facebook group for my growing number of ex-interns.)

But I entirely understand why many people whose personal or professional circumstances are less favourable than my own choose to try and maintain on-line anonymity. (And, as stated above, I recognise that my own choice cuts me off from certain topics, at least using the identity of nwhyte.) I won't add people whose real names I don't know to my most private LJ entry filters, but otherwise I don't really care what degree of anonymity you choose. I may mildly regret some choices - thinking of one person in particular whose friends-locked list of livejournal entry tags is in itself tremendously entertaining reading! - but I respect the fact that they are made for reasons which I have no right to inquire into. edited to add: And if you are an pseudonymous user who annoys me or my friends, I promise I will not devote any energy to exposing your real identity, because two wrongs do not make a right.

We all have choices to make; and they are new choices that previous generations did not have to make.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
I have this weird space I'm in, where I have every desire and reason to make C.E. Murphy a public and visible persona. But my blog is kept at mizkit, which is probably counter-intuitive. I just have too much emotional attachment to being "mizkit" to give it up--I've been using that name online since 1994--and I suppose it makes me feel as though the Public Author Persona and the person are slightly different. Not different enough, mind you, that I'm likely to go off on the publishing industry if I'm having a bad day, or anything, but different enough. :)
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
should be 'nhw' to 'nwhyte', I presume - is that LJ being too clever and correcting non-mistakes?
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
It auto-redirects renamed journals. Which is a pain when you want to use both names, but quite handy when you can never quite remember which name is currently in use and absent-mindedly type the old one. ;-)
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
Or if your touch typing 'remembers' where the letters are.

Or if someone daft changes their name to something with lots of underscores.

Still, you can always do the new title trick nhw. I likes the new title trick.
Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
This all sounds very clear and sensible. Given the choice I would rather be "dc", but obviously you have to get into a site early to get a name like that. :)

DC's not something I have ever thought of as a pseudonym since most people IRL know me as DC. (And using it avoids having to say my full name, which is good since a mild and normally not troublesome speech impediment can make it hard to pronounce for me.)

Some sites I do use a version of my name. Sometimes I use "tanngrisnir". Sometimes I manage to be "dc". I don't actually consider any of those to be more or less anonymous than the others. I filter more here than I used to at first. Maybe that will change.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
I barged onto USENET in 1997 using my own name. By the time that I realized I'd left traces I resigned myself to the fact that it was too late and continued on mostly as before.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 09:23 am (UTC)
"If a candidate isn't on Facebook these days, I tend to wonder why not - indicates a lack of interest in new technology and networking which is rather surprising for someone looking for a job in my line of work."

I'm not on Facebook. In fact I'm no longer blogging here, either. This account exists for the sole purpose of reading the output of the people who do, and perhaps make the occasional comment.

I got rather disgusted with public networking sites in general and LJ in particular over a year ago. This was when some "OMG Think Of The Childrenn!" group complained about the heinous crime that is Harry Potter slashfic and the Regime, fearing for the loyalty of their advertisers, rolled over and kicked off lots of people. Add this to LJ's habit of adding all kinds of new junk Useful Features and Interesting Information to the site that you then have to disable somehow, to keep your journal in statu quo.

I did open an account at InsaneJournal, but I'd be surprised if it still existed because I did come to my senses afterwards. LJ, as could IJ, or AnyOtherJ could, tomorrow, remove your account and everything you've ever written, and you wouldn't have any way of stopping them. They can decide tomorrow to post ads for Neo-Nazi organisations under every one of your posts and there's nothing you could do about it. Because you are putting your stuff on their website. One can complain loudly about the Evil T&Cs, and begods, they do. However in the end, this is not your place. It's theirs. They can do to whatever's on here what they like. Root? God? What is difference?

So the reason I am not blogging here anymore is not that I'm not interested in new technology. Nobody is of course as interested in networking as a politician is, but I'm not a hermit. I have retreated to the kind and quiet backwater of my own webserver which sits in my home, safe behind the ADSL connection's NAT gateway, and which I have full and complete control over. I can write there, kelvix, can write there, and nobody else can. Information you care about does not belong on someone else's machine. It should be on your own servers. The URL is handed out on a person-by-person basis, I tell search engines to sod off, and I have made the LJ feed not work anymore.

The likes of Microsoft and Google, of course, are fully aware of this. Their current job is to convince the Public that putting your company information on their servers and paying them to access it, is actually a good idea. O dear, o dear. If only more people would realise what Google could do with your email, rather than what they've promised not to do...

And that's why I'm not on Facebook.

(Sodeju! LJ's preview is worthless! Maybe a useful preview is a paid extra.)
Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:06 pm (UTC)
I'm not on Facebook because I tried it and it was tedious and spammy and I hated it and it was really hard to find anything interesting on there that was worth the spam.

On the other hand, a really good friend introduced me to Google Reader and its sharing ability and now we pass each other cool things to read all the time.

I may yet get onto Twitter, but I'm alarmed by how much it sucks up fanf's spare time.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 10:08 am (UTC)
I was sure that my Facebook was private until I discovered of my colleagues (who I've not added as a friend) was able to look at it the other day. There was some setting about being in someone's "network" or something, which I didn't realise I had set. It's all Friends-only now! I don't want to get in trouble at work!

As for my LJ, I've been making almost everything Friends-only lately which I'm torn about. On the one hand, I like publishing my writing, on the other, it's pretty personal stuff and I don't want just anyone coming across it like my family, my employers, my flatmate, etc. Ideally I'd have keep anonymity, it's not as if 'minny' relates to my name, but too many of my RL friends know about my LJ now so I can't really do that.

Then there's the fact I'd love to share my current writing with my boyfriend but I don't want him to read stuff I wrote last year etc. I don't want to go back and filter old entries, but there doesn't seem to be a way around it!
Mar. 3rd, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
Yeah, the question of what you want to keep from friends and family is one I didn't address above; it's a bit different because the stakes are personal rather than professional. Good luck with your current navigation through this tricky question!
Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
Get another account, specifically for your writings. Stick them on there but do not link that journal to Minny. Or (it bears repeating) get your own website. It's not that hard.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
No, it's not. I'd just rather not.

Nicholas, the other thing to remember is about LiveJournal is remembering who can read your comments, I suppose. I don't mind writing naive or misguided witterings in my own LJ because I can easily de-friend anyone as patronising as this chappy here, but clearly I need to be more careful when commenting in others' journals!
Mar. 6th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
I have forgotten that fact and said things I would prefer not think about now - Still, I learn slowly and, hopefully, steadily.

But you are right that it needs remembering!
Mar. 3rd, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
"One of the reasons I keep adding to my own on-line presence in my own name is to try and drown out the occasional hostile commentary I have picked up (and which I also link to in embittered, locked, filtered entries) by ensuring that most of the stuff that comes up when you google me is stuff I've written or consented to."

This is a very good point, and part of the reason why I'm starting blogging under my real name.

The point about googling is interesting, because I do wonder about the fact that, if a prospective employer googles me, the vast majority of stuff that they get is about my novel, rather than anything work-related, and I fret sometimes that this affects me adversely: I have been outright asked in job interviews, "but surely in the end you want to be a full-time writer, don't you?"; I worry that people think I will be uncommitted to the job in hand, no matter how much I protest. I've considered removing it from my CV, but then I'd end up with unexplained employment breaks which I would think looks worse - and even without the novel being explicitly mentioned, it's very easy to link my CV with my writing (my wiki entry mentions my academic background and some of my work background).
Mar. 3rd, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)
Online anonymity, and more especially pseudonymity and privacy, are real but very limited. They work only to the extent that nobody really cares who you are or what you are saying. You absolutely should not use them to protect anything with any great value.

Consider my locked LJ posts, for instance, or the f-locked LJ posts on my more pseudonymous other account. A number of people can access those and connect them to my true identity. Certainly: anyone who works at LJ, or at any hosting or service provider used by LJ, or at my ISP, or at a peering provider. Some unlocked posts contain hints as to my identity. Some replies to unlocked posts contain more hints.

Some people (including quite possibly you or some of your friends) use the same pseudonyms on more than one online service. Some of those services then lead back to email, photos, phone numbers, and so on.

Someone pseudonymous on LJ friended me a couple of years ago. By reading her unlocked entries and replies, and following the breadcrumbs, I had her name, email address, employer's information, [Paris] postal address, phone number, and Google Maps satellite photo within a couple of hours.

And this is not even getting into how much Google knows about you.

My general advice is: don't take it too seriously, and try not to have anything to hide.

I lock entries and use pseudonyms for two reasons: (a) to prevent my ex-wife from complaining about some of the things I post, and (b) to prevent my children from reading some of the things I post.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
They work only to the extent that nobody really cares who you are or what you are saying. You absolutely should not use them to protect anything with any great value.

This is me, pretty much. I use a handle on LJ partly because nearly everyone seemed to and partly to keep my journal from turning up on my being casually googled. I'm still careful about what I say as I work in a fairly conservative field. I find it makes my journal anodyne, though.

I'm not on Facebook as I fear the waste of time it might involve. I already have too many ways to procrastinate.
Mar. 6th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
If a candidate isn't on Facebook these days, I tend to wonder why not - indicates a lack of interest in new technology and networking which is rather surprising for someone looking for a job in my line of work.

I have a facebook but I don't do anything with it. I also have a linked-in but again, I rarely do anything with it. I try to keep my online identity away from my offline identity.

But I have to say that even though I spend at least 45% of my life in the vacinity of a computer which is hooked up to the world wide web, I think that it's rather annoying that people look for you online instead of letting your professional credentials speak for themselves.

I mean, what happens if you find something that someone else has linked with my name, that is 'of me' but is not something that you would have put up there, i.e. drunked nights out, hen parties, beach holidays where you're prancing around in a bikini? Should that affect an interview potential?

And yes, I know one person whose husband posted their nude holiday snaps (they went to a naturist resort) and shortly afterwards the entire office that she worked in knew exactly how she got rid of her tan lines...

It's a hopefully extreme case, but with the growing need to post about your life (and yes, I know I do it too) where does censorship come in? You can't moderate what other people put on their webspaces even if you find it inappropriate. You can ask them to take it down, but with google caching, is there anyway to get it safely off the net once it's made it up there once?

Luckily enough, I have a famous name and it was at least 110 entries before I found something that was even vaguely related to me on the internet. And even then it was a Linked-In page with 15 other people. I consider that a huge achievement in this day and age. But that's because I hide under a username. But given that the email address that I give when making applications is my professional one, I think I'm safe enough.

But something to think on...
Mar. 6th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)
As you know, since I emailed you both to sort out my address book, you have the same name as one of my professional contacts! (And I was in the same year in the same college as my near namesake.)
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
*grin * Yeah, it's one of those nice famous names, it gets reused quite a bit. :)
Mar. 6th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
> Is that an invasion of privacy? I think it's due diligence

My opinion also - but I rarely interview people. It may be that in the IT field such things are more acceptable.

However I would ignore Facebook/MySpace and possibly even LJ.

I would only really be interested in confirming that the person described in the CV actually existed and that the CV wasnt made up..
Mar. 6th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
I completely believe in not outing people who choose to have an online identity separate from their RL identity - though a quick google of the current hot topic outee shows their full name including middle name if you just google their LJ identity - they self outed as it were. The rest of the fuss is about other things really.

However I keep everything friend locked because I bitch and moan here - a fact which started a family fight one year before everything was locked down tight- I also learn here, which means I say things that are not right, get called on it and try to argue til I know better (or have won my point) - and I have learned to keep that to within a group of people who will give me the time to BE wrong and learn, rather that slam me.

So I use irishkate here - mostly cause it never dawned on me to use my RL name when I started- and my RL name on Facebook, twitter and Linkedin. But even there those are two/three different names, since I am more formal at work.

I have a couple of other blogs for family only or opinion only. You could figure out they are me but I don't think there is anything there I would be afraid for you to know - they have different identities only so I can remember what I am posting to and why.

There are hundreds of people with all versions of my name. Google any of them and some of what you see is me eventually, but not actually very much. No employer should be able to use a quick google search to be sure they are looking at my information. About the only information I know I want to keep secret from an employer is that I suffer from depression. That could impact on my job hunts. But my last bosses know so it is out there anyway - and always in my employment medical. And to be fair I don't keep it very secret - I just don't put it in black and white and easily findable.

And I check google from time to time.

But I think it is always worth remembering - If you put it on the internet you make it public whether you intended to or not. Somehow someday it may be possible to unlock it or find it or make it public. If you want to make it harder, then be consistent and careful. Otherwise be prepared.

(As usual all opinions by me are subject to revision, editing and the like. Call me on it if I am wrong, agree if I am right.)
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
I've been using wyvernfriend in a lot of places since about 1990, there are enough people with my real name to smudge the issue and I'm relatively careful about stuff I say here that's about work. Not that anyone IN work could find out much about me. If you scratch the surface of some of what I have up you can find me pretty easily and find who I am but you have to scratch it a little. I do google myself at least once a year to make sure I'm happy enough with what's out there with my name and really me.

The muddle is helped by the fact that a room used for clubs in UCD is in the name of someone who shares my name.

I've come out and told people (we had a web 2.0 lecture where I was asked why I bothered by some people there and one of the places they visited was LibraryThing, he asked if anyone used it, I asked him to go to the Zeitgeist page and to the top reviewers and pointed at my username) but people don't tend to remember it, sometimes if they see it they remember.

I have been using this identity so long I did rant about the fact that although it is ME I don't have the same rights to it that I have to my "real" name although I think I'm better known by my online identity and it's a real part of me.
Mar. 8th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
Is that an invasion of privacy? I think it's due diligence, as long as you treat the results of your googling with a serious reliability filter.

I think it depends and 'its more complicated than that'. It is almost instinctive to do it these days because it is so easy but the fact of this is good reason to use a handle online (apart from being traditional in some quarters). Using it as a speedy way to vet people's claims about publications etc is one thing. Using it to 'sound people out' is very unreliable IME. I do find it hard not to wonder if the public poster of certain types of immensely personal information involving third parties will be discrete in other areas. It can be with obvious reason where they are posting on an issue to share (the 'almost pregnant' type blogs spring to mind) but the kind of road kill some people post about their nearest and dearest in public leaves me cold. (Julie Myerson and thingy-journalist who wrote in public about her messy relationship and divorce and children spring to mind).

If a candidate isn't on Facebook these days, I tend to wonder why not - indicates a lack of interest in new technology and networking which is rather surprising for someone looking for a job in my line of work.

It might well indicate an expertise in new technology and networking (sufficient to protect their privacy or regard Facebook etc as trivial timesuckers of time which could be better spent elsewhere). It also might lead you to undervalue whole segments of population for whom living in public is not the culture. Very few of my peergroup (in terms of age and gender) are actively visible online (although some are on usenet, more are likely to communicate in private arenas or direct email) but this does not prevent effective use of the medium for research and activism. Slightly echoing the latest round of road crash on LJ, I think its easy to slip into unintending discrimination by taking a behaviour of our gender/race/class/creed/age/economic/disability status as the norm.

I have dual identities because I've been nicknamed since I was a student found it a convenient handle when most people used them and when 'the world' online was a small minority of people with academic or commercial access in the 80s. Most men my age were not online then, let alone most women. I also have a personality with strong feelings about privacy and don't make public posts about personal stuff because its noone else's business unless i choose to make it so. I have no time for the argument that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Mind you I also have no time to post regularly :-)

I felt some of the attacks on 'anonymous posters' made in the great road crash were sheer nonsense and quite passive-aggressive. Yes its cowardly to use a pseudonym to hide nasty comments, that is not remotely the same as people using 'nicks' to seperate public life from personal life or professional life. It wouldn't take a genius to link my nick, my family name, my professional name but I don't intend to make it easy and I certainly wouldn't let someone hector me into posting everything under one real name, just because 'person x' was a git to 'person y'. If they choose not ignore me for that, rather than because they disagree with what I write - well I think it says more about them than about me.
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