Ever been on a blog and had difficulty figuring out who is writing it? That might be intentional, especially if the topic of the blog is sensitive. Many bloggers who want to be heard in a public forum prefer to do so without using their real names.
Perhaps you are thinking about blogging about politics but hold a position where your political views shouldn’t be common knowledge. Maybe you’re a survivor of childhood abuse who wants to contribute to current discussion and help other adults but without having your identity become common knowledge.
You might work for an employer that you believe is engaging in unsafe business practices and feel ethically obligated to share that information; getting fired would mean you don’t have access to office information any longer. Or perhaps you have a personal journal that details your essentially mundane life, but would just prefer for others not to know who you are.
Many bloggers rely on (perceived) anonymity to keep one aspect of their lives from becoming attached to the others. However, the nature of the Internet and digital identity means that it can be surprisingly easy to connect the dots from one Internet service to another. As potential employers, family members, potential relationship partners, and others research you, they may find information you want them to have mixed right in with information that isn’t appropriate. An Internet search on your name might return your over-the-top Instagram pics in the same list of results as your professional resume. Anonymity seems like the answer.
Please regard this article as a resource, guideline, and starting point, and not a recipe for guaranteed anonymity. Technology and laws change, and although what I say here may help protect your identity, it should not take the place of you doing your own research and of making your own decisions about what to publish. Basically, I make no guarantees that following this advice means your identity will remain unknown.
Also, this is not meant to protect you from being caught for doing anything illegal. Don’t break any laws, and if you do, don’t post anything about it on the Internet. Seriously.
Decide How Much Anonymity You Need For Your Blog
The reasons for a decision to blog anonymously may be widely varied, and so are the potential consequences of being found out. What this means is that not every blogger needs the same level of identity protection. A teenager sharing tales of teenage exploits might not want to be identified, but if he is, he’s unlikely to face the risk of criminal prosecution (or worse) as would, say, a political activist in a country where free speech is not protected.
Much has changed for teenagers living in the online world since the advent of blogging and social media. Be aware of state cyberbullying legislation in your home state. Content viewed as bullying can land the author in very real hot water!
Give some thought to the level of protection you need as well as to what might happen if your identity is exposed. If speaking your mind on your blog puts you at risk for jail time, physical harm, or prosecution, you clearly need to take the utmost levels of precautions as you go about setting up and publishing to your blog. You may even want to seriously rethink joining the blogging world.
Don’t need to blog anonymously, but don’t want readers to have easy access to identifying information such as your mailing address, phone number, and even just your last name? Register your domain using private registration so that your contact information will not appear in a WHOIS domain ownership database search. For just a few dollars more at the time you purchase your URL, you can also buy a little peace of mind.
Those who choose to blog about topics their employers might object to, or even to blog about their employers, clearly also need to be very careful, although the consequences of being identified here are likely to involve finances rather than physical or criminal safety.
The next question is whether anyone is going to pursue discovering your identity. There are also those who might simply prefer to keep some facets of their lives separate from others. A soccer mom might prefer that her kids don’t stumble across her personal musings on sexuality, for example, or rather that their friends’ parents don’t stumble upon such a blog and connect the dots.
Do you plan to blog anonymously yet still interact with the blogging community at events and conferences? Create social media accounts matching your pseudonym so that your blogging friends don’t accidentally tag your personal account when posting pictures of you together.
While you’re thinking about risks, consequences, and who might put two and two together, pause and give some thought to others who might be harmed if your identity was revealed. If you can be identified, and you’ve blogged about friends, family, former relationships, employers, and others in unflattering ways, or revealed sensitive information about them, you’re creating the possibility of consequences affecting their lives, too. Risks that might be acceptable for you may not be so for others, particularly if they are put in harm’s way unknowingly.
I recommend that you read through this whole article before taking any of these steps, because I move from low- to high-level precautions; if you decide you need to set yourself up at the highest level, some steps described later need to be done first.
How To Blog Anonymously
Clearly, you shouldn’t use your own name or photo on your anonymous blog. Beyond that, there are still other basic precautions you should take while setting up protections for your identity. Most of them are based on good common sense.
Although this article outlines steps to take to blog anonymously, I cannot stress enough that there is no way to guarantee anonymity. If you are not willing to risk having your identity discovered, do not pursue blogging anonymously.
1. Establish a pseudonym
It’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: No matter who you are, what your blog is about, or what might happen, every single anonymous blogger needs a pseudonym. A pseudonym is a fake name, preferably one that doesn’t cleverly suggest your real name or provide any clues to who you really are. For example, “CEOsecretary” isn’t a good pseudonym for that blog you write about how much your employer irritates you, but “Fed Up Worker” will do just fine.
If you plan to use a pen name but also plan to monetize your blog, you will need to provide real, identifying information in order to receive payment and submit tax forms to the payment provider.
If you have created an account on a social networking service, or really any sort of membership website, you may have been asked to create a username to use on that site. It might be tempting to use that nickname on your anonymous blog, but don’t do so. You’re much better off to choose a new pseudonym, one you’ve never used before.
2. Set up a new email address
The next step in anonymity is to set up a new email address using your pseudonym. Regardless of the blogging service you decide to use, they all require you to have an email address to get started, and you can’t use an email address that is associated with any of your real identifying information.
Create an entirely new email account (and don’t use any identifying information in the account settings). As well, don’t import your contacts.
You can find many free webmail services out there. Ideally, you want to choose a service that offers a secure connection, such as Gmail (www.gmail.com) or RiseUp (www.riseup.net). A secure connection means that your visit to the email website can’t be spied on by technical snoopers. You have a secure connection if you can get to the email website prefaced by https:// instead of http://.
3. Choose a strong password
How many times have you used the same password when signing up for a new web service? If you’re like me, it’s a bunch! Most people I talk to admit that they have one or two passwords they use in rotation, one that might be a little more secure than the other, or one that they use whenever there is a credit card involved.
Let me tell you a little story: Ravelry is a very popular knitting social network. Now, Ravelry is a great site for knitters — hardly a high-value target. The site also doesn’t ask for much personal information and doesn’t store financial data or other important records. But in June 2011, the site was targeted by hackers who managed to break into a server and capture many of the Ravelry community usernames and passwords. Although the passwords were encrypted, Ravelry was concerned that the hackers might be able to crack them. Ravelry recommended that all Ravelry members change their passwords on the site and stepped up security precautions.
But there are larger implications for any Ravelry community member who might have used the same username and password on another site. If a hacker tried those usernames and passwords on another, more sensitive site, such as a bank site or a photo sharing site, some of those usernames and passwords would probably work. Long story short, choose unique usernames and passwords for any service that you really want to protect — like an anonymous blog.
Ideally, you should choose passwords that contain a variety of lower- and uppercase characters, as well as numbers and special characters, such as punctuation. Don’t choose a password that spells out a word, even if you replace some of the letters with characters or numbers, and definitely don’t use a password that is the name or birth date of a family member or pet.
It’s a good idea to change your passwords frequently. It’s also a good idea not to write down your passwords or record them anywhere (especially on your computer). Of course, none of this does you any good if you can’t remember your passwords as a result, so experiment with some set of good password practices that still lets you log into your services.
I’m a fan of the Norton Identity Safe Password Generator, which lets you generate a random set of characters to create a truly strong password.
4. Choose hosted blogging software that doesn’t require a domain
Your safest bet to maintain your anonymity is to choose hosted blogging software that doesn’t require you to have a domain, web hosting, or buy a license.
Two popular and time-tested options are
The site WPBeginner provides a WordPress-specific tutorial for those looking to blog anonymously on WordPress.
Be sure to sign up using your anonymous email address and to leave out any identifying information in the account information, name of the blog, and so on.
Be cautious about any outgoing links you include in blog posts or blogrolls; linking to any of your friends or linking to your own non-anonymous blog is a quick trip to outing yourself.
5. Being time and location-aware
One way you might inadvertently give clues about who you are is to suggest what time zone you are in based on when you post to your blog. Consider changing the times and dates of your posts so that they go live at times when you might be asleep or otherwise occupied, but don’t go so far as to never post at a time that would be appropriate for your time zone.
Changing the time and date also divorces when you’re online and posting from when the post is published, which makes it a little harder to correlate Internet access to a specific person. This can help if someone is trying to track down your identity by accessing log files of when your computer is on the Internet, or when your blog software was accessed.
6. Don’t mention any details that might provide clues to your identity in blog content
You are far more likely to be identified because of what you are writing or posting than anything else. Be extremely careful about details that provide clues to who you are, where you are, what you do, and so on.
Be very cautious about giving specifics. Here are six examples:
- The number of employees in your workplace
- Your geographic location
- Your profession
- The stores you commonly shop at
- The names, numbers, breeds, and descriptions of your pets
- The names of friends and colleagues
Any single detail likely won’t be enough to identify you, but cumulatively they may paint the picture for a savvy reader. This becomes a bigger issue over time: The longer you blog, the more information about yourself you provide.
Remember that photos are records of a particular time and location, so if you put one on your blog that you took, you’re telling the world that you were at that location at that time. It’s a good idea to remove that photo from your computer and your camera card, and certainly you shouldn’t post it anywhere else on the Internet. You also want to scrub any meta information out of the image itself.
When it comes to your subject material, you should be especially careful to understand whether you are violating any laws in what you say. For bloggers, the main concern is libel. Libel is any seemingly factual statement that is both false and damaging to a person’s reputation.
Publishing harmful information about another individual is a good way to get him interested in figuring out who you are so that he can stop you or pursue legal action.
7. Access the Internet via an Internet Service Provider (ISP)
The primary technical consideration for maintaining anonymity online has to do with your IP address. An IP address, or Internet Protocol address, is a numeric identifying number assigned to every single device that connects to the Internet, from your computer to your smartphone. An IP address identifies the device uniquely and works like a mailing address to tell other computers how to find that device.
Every time you go online, you leave a history that includes this IP address, whether all you do is send an email or post a comment on a blog. This means that if you set up an anonymous blog and the IP address of the device you use to post to the blog can be traced to you, the blog can be attributed to you as well. In fact, some webmail services even include the IP address as part of the header in email messages you send.
An IP address can be permanent — a web server is typically always located at the same IP address — or it can be dynamic, which is the case for most home computers on the Internet. If you access the Internet via an Internet Service Provider, sometimes the IP address is assigned at the time you actually connect to the service. That means your IP address changes, but it can still be traced to the ISP and the right legal pressure can force an ISP to give up the records of which customers used what IP addresses when.
8. Be cautious with any software you use
Even after you implement a good IP address strategy, there are some other important technical ways of protecting yourself. You may not need to do all of these, but remember that every additional precaution lessens your chances of being identified. Here are seven recommendations:
- Use a web browser that is up to date and known to be conscientious about security holes. Mozilla Firefox is a good choice; Internet Explorer is not.
- Run your browser in Privacy Mode (Private Browsing in Safari).
- Install and regularly run antivirus software on your computer.
- If you write your posts on your computer, delete them from your computer and use software intended to permanently remove files from your computer. The Mac makes this easy — simply choose Secure Empty Trash from the Finder menu. On the PC, look into installing software such as Ccleaner (www.piriform.com/CCLEANER).
- After you go online to post to your blog, make sure to clear your cookies, passwords, and browser history. The technique for doing this will vary depending on which browser you are using, so be sure to read through the documentation provided to make sure you know how to accomplish these tasks. Clearing your history means that your computer is clean if others use it or it is lost. You should also do this if you use a public computer.
- Be cautious in how you participate in commenting on blogs, using forums, or signing up for services using your anonymous identity. Many of these services collect IP addresses when you post to them, or when you sign up.
- Blogging in public is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, using a publicly available computer — in a library or Internet cafe — means muddying the waters in terms of who posted to a blog from that computer. On the other hand, if you’re in public, others can likely view your screen, you yourself can be seen, and you don’t know what software might be on the computer you are using.
Keep up to date on the technical issues involved. Don’t assume that you’ve set things up that will protect you permanently. The Internet is a very fluid place: Technology and tools change constantly, and having all your bases covered today is no guarantee that you will be safe tomorrow. For instance, simply upgrading your browser to the latest version has implications for security!
This goes for legal issues around anonymity as well. Know the laws in your country, or those that apply to you, so that you can be deliberate about what laws you violate (if any) or what the consequences might be if you are identified.
Above all, don’t take my word for any of this! You should do your own research so that you can blog anonymously with confidence.