Dear Lifehacker, After the Violentacrez debacle, I've realised that it's easy for people to find out who I am online. I'm not doing anything too egregious, but I'd just rather people on Reddit and other forums not know who I am. Is there any way I can be anonymous while still being a part of a community?
Title image remixed from Gwoeii (Shutterstock).
Being anonymous online means different things to different people. A lot of people are just worried about advertisers and other companies tracking them. Extensions like Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and Do Not Track Plus, can help with that. But if you're part of an online forum, you're facing a different kind of problem: anonymity from other users. That's a lot harder to keep.
Go Anonymous With Secure Browsing And Fake Names
We've talked about creating a fake identity to stay anonymous online before and the process is pretty simple. First off, start with all the anonymous browsing tips above. You also want to use a VPN to create a private network, proxy server, or browse the internet with Tor to completely anonymize your browsing. You can also take it a step further and use an operating system specifically designed for anonymous browsing. Image: orangeandmilk.
Once that's set up, you need to create a fake identity for every web site you go to. If you use the same handle across multiple places, someone is bound to figure you out. To do this, create a disposable email address for every site you sign up for, and never log into those services without taking the steps mentioned above.
Being anonymous also means you can't really share that much information about your real life. To a point, this is great -- but that means you have to always watch what you're sharing with others. Revealing your work, hometown, voice, or accomplishments means you're opening yourself up for someone to figure out who you are. Even a simple picture might reveal where you live or work, so be careful.
What You're Missing When You Go Anonymous In A Community
Even with fake IDs, VPNs and disposable email addresses, there's always the chance you'll slip up and be found. But more so than that, going anonymous means you're missing out on some of the best parts of online communities: actually meeting people in real life and sharing anything you've done.
Most major online communities have meetups of some kind (we've been known to do it once and a while too), and it's part of the allure of being in an online community. At some point, you're bound to meet someone at a convention, meetup, or even just talk on the phone. Personally, I've played countless games online with people from the Something Awful forums, and it's always incredibly interesting to hear them interact with each other. They're not even my friends and I could still recognise them on the street if I heard them talking.
Anonymity also means you miss out on some of the benefits of using your real identity. As we've mentioned before, writing reviews of products can net you free stuff, but you have to use your real name to benefit. Being anonymous also makes it difficult to share anything you've made -- whether it's a DIY project on Instructables, a video on YouTube, a song on Bandcamp, or whatever else.
It ends up boiling down to figuring out exactly what you want from an online community. If you're simply looking for a sounding board to unleash all your thoughts without worrying about judgement, anonymous is probably the way to go, and it's not hard to do. However, if you want to build something larger from an online community, it might be best to be somewhat transparent with your identity, and practice the same restraint for conversations as you do in real life.
That said, just because you want anonymity on one forum doesn't mean you can't use your real identity elsewhere. Just make sure you choose to represent yourself accordingly, and follow the precautions above every time you sign on.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.