Better Blogging / Blogging Tips / netiquette / online presence / Reputation management / Social networks

Identity Exposure: A Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

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I have met many bloggers who assumed they could use pseudonyms to avoid being tracked online. But that expectation proved unrealistic as we all leave digital footprints and can be easily tracked. Realistically, somebody’s software is always watching us and taking note of our activities for marketing purposes.

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Some pseudonymous bloggers will identify themselves on different blogging platforms and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. by using the same account name; others will not. Most are great people who are authentic no matter which moniker they are using, but there are creeps who stalk others, and creepier still is the software that tracks us everywhere we go to harass us with advertising.

The way bloggers communicate and present themselves and their opinions online is important, but even more important than online presence is “to thine own self be true”. Authenticity is the character trait of being genuine, honest with oneself as well as others. It’s more than that too. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite the demands of society or one’s conditioning. – Blogging: Online presence and authenticity

Blogging is built on relationships and netiquette is expected online. However, it`s important to recognize that not everyone we meet online will like us or what we have to say, and some people may even leap to conclusions and read emotions and motives into what we say that don’t exist at our end. That’s why it’s important to know how to present yourself online and to avoid getting into altercations with bad actors online.

Online communication is a powerful and convenient medium but researchers have identified three major problems with it. Firstly, we lack cues like facial expression and tone of voice so decoding meaning and authenticity is difficult. Secondly, online communication creates an urgency to sort people quickly into groups, rather than getting to know them as individuals. Thirdly, online communication doesn’t  always lead to developing the kind of trust that sustains relationship bonds when differences of opinion arise. It`s up to each of us to take care of ourselves and that means keeping our personal business offline, keeping our blogging cool and failing to engage with trolls.

Don Miguel Ruiz Five Agreements are universal guides for communicating authentically without deliberately causing harm.

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.
  5. Be skeptical but learn to listen.

Taking away anonymity is definitely a double edged sword but Google is willing to take that chance. If Google+ is truly going to be the backbone to the majority of Google’s products, then it needs to stretch this social layer way beyond the Google Plus homepage. – Google is trolling us all with its mandatory Google+ YouTube logins

Google uses your search history to target advertisements in search results and uses information from your search history to target an advertisement to you in YouTube, Google Maps, and Gmail. Facebook likewise uses your personal information to target advertisements.

Online authenticity is an important  issue and Facebook profiles Google + IDs are linked actual names so connections and activities like buying behavior and brand preferences in cyberspace can be easily tracked, as those who share via Publicize and link to their Google + profiles have discovered.

My public name is not the name being displayed as “Author” of my blog posts. I would like to get my last name off these posts.

If you connected your blog to Google+ Publicize, your “real name” from Google is what will show up on your posts.

Further reading:

Facebook Is Tracking When You Write Something… And Then Decide To Delete It Rather Than Post It  from the your-thoughts-belong-to-facebook dept

Here are Five Ways to Reduce Identity Tracking Online

Discussion question:

TPTB at Facebook and Google + have decided the benefits of requiring authentic identity outweighs the costs.  But many resent the fact that their online behavior is being tracked and consider that action by Google and Facebook to be akin to being stalked by a troll. What’s your position on the issue?

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81 thoughts on “Identity Exposure: A Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

  1. Fascinating post. Thank you as always. I choose to use my real name as it feels simpler and my online life is complicated enough!

  2. The possible consequences of revealing too much of ourselves is always a concern, but I think that it’s difficult to be active online while maintaining anonymity. I’ve never tried to write under a pseudonym, but I suspect that pulling it off successfully involves a good amount of care.

    • Hi there,
      I agree. If one wants to remain unknown online that means knowing exactly which tactics to use so they aren’t so self revealing that they can be tracked and exposed.

  3. I hate data mining and all the ads– the digital equivalent of phone solicitations. On the other hand, I think people always behave better when they’re using their real name, rather than a pseudonym. So I vote in favor of using real names, and a magic firewall app that prevents anyone from tracking your digital movements and then spamming you with ads and/or worse.

    Try to invent the latter and have it available for me by next week, wouldja?? : )

  4. Great advice, timethief. I’ve had a couple of commenters who left remarks that appeared to be trying to provoke an argument. If I do not know who the person is, I still try to be polite in my response. But I do not post their link as I’m concerned about spam. I just refer to them by the handle they gave. They did not write back. Thankfully, I do have many articulate, thoughtful and funny people who respond to my posts for the right reasons. ;-)

    On a personal note, I have FB friends who post with a pseudonym because they do not want their employer or advertisers to track them.

    • Hi Judy,

      If I do not know who the person is, I still try to be polite in my response. But I do not post their link as I’m concerned about spam.

      That’s exactly what to do.

      On a personal note, I have FB friends who post with a pseudonym because they do not want their employer or advertisers to track them.

      Well, IMNHO they are foolish to rely only on use of a pseudonym and then post to the biggest datamining operation social media site there is. Know that most people don’t have a clue about how to remain untraceable online. So unless they are using Tor or a VPN network then they are traceable without any doubt at all.

  5. Great blog post. Most people do not know or understand how they are tracked. It is good netiquette to know. This blog breaks down the technology of it. It is actually easier to track someone who visits a site than is written in this blog. Every time a computer goes to a website, the IP address is stored on the server. From an IP address the computers physical location can be ascertained.

    [link removed by timethief as the site linked to is heavily embedded with advertising]

  6. Dear Timethief,
    I think I have a transparency hangover right now. Good food for thought. I always appreciate the useful information, I mean really useful, and well linked information you have on your site. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: What’s in a name? | The Lettersea

  8. I instinctively don’t like being tracked, but I actually buy very little on-line, so the cost benefits of following me, if there are any costs are very very small. I read that super markets are starting to record images of faces as they enter the malls at certain times of the day or week, so they can make surer stocking decisions based on age and sex. I may not like it, but they are not going to let that influence them,

  9. Since many people have identical names, an across the board online identity is useful to keep you “safe” from bad stuff posted by someone else with the same legal name. It’s bound to be an imperfect system as a missing dot or something can make a difference, but it does help if you can achieve it.

    Regarding mining my information, insofar as what’s there, they can have it.

    Regarding cell phones (Europeans call them “mobiles” because they are mobile web access), may I respectfully suggest you explore the “pre-paid” kind even if you never expect to use it? They aren’t expensive. I have a little thing that cost US $20 at the drug store, and I usually buy six months service for $75 — I think $100 is good for a year if I recall correctly. It takes good pictures and has an alarm clock. When the computer dies I still have access to the day’s news, my email, etc., via the mobile aspect. It does cost 99 cents to get online and telephone calls have time charges, but it’s well worth it. I don’t even have a landline, although I do have access to one if needed. :-)

    • You are right. Many people do have the same names or very similar names. I hadn’t considered that and I’m so glad you brought that into the discussion. I may get a mobile one day but at this point in time I have no need for one. When the power lines go down due to high winds blowing trees over them I welcome the break from the internet. Rather than fretting about not being able to be online I celebrate the lack of connection by reading a book, usually a mystery. :)

  10. I agree that it is almost impossible to hide one’s digital footprint. As a fellow pseudonymous blogger, I decided to limit my social media involvement to limit my “signal”. I have a google email, but fortunately I registered it under my pseudonym as well. All my sites are under the same name too.

    • The consistent use of a pseudonym across platforms works for me too not that I frequent more than 2 of them. The only social network I spend much time on is Twitter. In the summer I may be spending more time on Pinterest as I have container gardening board there but I have no time for any other social media sites.

  11. I’m often left with a nagging thought after I finish a lengthy online session. Just what does this machine world want from me? I learned a long time ago not to try and hide completely behind a pseudonym, it doesn’t work. I always leave clues and pointers as to my true identity as this gives a project authenticity and credibility. I enjoy reading your blog posts, they are entertaining and helpful. Thanks :)

    • Hello there,
      I’m pleased to meet you and to know you appreciate this post and my blog too. I think many of those who blog under pseudonyms don’t intend to leave a trail behind and are unaware of the digital tracks they leave. It’s interesting to read that you deliberately leave clues to your true identity. That’s unusual.

  12. Timethief, your post is spot on. As a writer and a blogger myself, I have experimented with anonymous accounts to try and hide my real identity. At the end of the day, if you’re saying something online that you wouldn’t want someone tracing back to you, should you really be posting it at all? That’s just my opinion. Love your writing and I look forward to reading your future posts.

    • Hi there,
      It’s good to meet you and visit your blog. On this it seems we agree. Sometimes I think the 48 hour rule (don’t reply until you think it through) that I apply responding to negative comments is a valuable one to apply when creating posts too. Without doubt we can all benefit by asking ourselves they question you pose. Thanks for the compliment on my writing and most of all thanks for being patient while waiting for me to reply to this comment.

  13. I resent the intrusion and tracking by Facebook and Google+. I don’t use my real name on either nor supply information beyond the minimum name and email (a special address for anyone likely to send me junk mail or spam) or anywhere else online if I can possibly avoid it. I provide my city or state when that’s relevant. I use social media only to publicize my blog. Yes, I know a determined, knowledgeable person can find all my information somewhere, but I’m not about to make it any easier for them!

      • You and I much the same. I snorted when I read that Facebook has software sifting through trashed drafts. The Sauvik Da and Adam Kramer study revealed that. Now they are sending cutesy messages to Facebook friends to ask their friends to let them see who all their friends are ie. it’s the opposite of sorting friends into groups and sending them only what’s relevant.

        The Facebook business is a we are the world – we are one big family datamining operation. We siphon you and your friends’ thoughts (trashed or published) to our advertisers and marketers so they can offer you all custom tailored ads. We have the personal data of 1 out of every 6 adults with internet access and if you think we will delete it on request then you are really, really stupid.

  14. Wasn’t aware about Google and FB. One thing for certain, it’s never a good thing to give the impression that one is alone in the world.

  15. We go by the nana rule. Dont say anything you don’t want your nana to read. The internet and social media platforms are exploding at an amazing rate. At the moment we have plenty of choices and I just want to make knitting and crochet patterns plus make aa mini mee here and there and run the odd craft course. I have learned (from you LOL) that the important thing is to make the online time serve ME and not the other way around. If I needed google or facebook, i would have them, but I don’t need so don’t have. :-D

  16. Another well-examined, reminding, alerting article. Thank you. I have been sitting here for 20 minutes reflecting on it and my choices which follow a reserved approach (such as no Facebook presence, apart from an account). The drive to share and connect is strong, however, so here I am on WordPress. Even so, my preference to keep eyes on what I post, and not on me, is still a delicate thing that has to be intentionally measured.

    My ideal had been to upload posts like a kite flyer, thinking all eyes would stay on the kite. That would allow me to bring attention to writings that share insights into living in cultures and languages other than my own. It would allow me to post art for people to contemplate on a personal level, rather than wondering about the artist.

    However, the same curiosity that brings notice to a kite tends to bring notice to the person holding its line. I’ve learned it’s not enough to talk about the sky, wind, flight and the beauty of kites. People want to see the line and holder of the line. That’s how I confirmed my wish to keep a pseudonym (which is not, as you point out, a firewall, just a folding screen). It’s good for artists who don’t want to distract from their art by stepping into the frame.

    • Hi Marso,
      Please accept my apology for taking so long to visit your blog and reply to this comment. I had work to do in our business and I am working on a contracted job that’s keeping me busy.

      The kite analogy is such a wonderful one. I’m treasuring it.

      • No need for apology—I have a sense of how busy you are—it’s a wonder how you keep up with replies to all the comments you generate!

        Thanks for tuning in to see what I do. I’m glad you like the kite analogy. Your article inspired it!

  17. I suspect this goes a long way toward explaining my aversion to social media or networking. Though I can certainly see a plus side in some situations, personally I find it annoying.

    • I jumped into social networking way back when and spent hours every day digging, stumbling, posting to forums, commenting, tweeting, etc. It was crazymaking because the internet never sleeps and one becomes addicted so easily. I smartened up, created a limited timeline strategy and reclaimed my life back after I got smart.

  18. My online activity is mostly targeted for building my brand for my art career, which requires using my name. I ignore all the ads, so I really don’t care what they think I like. And I have a rule: never say anything online that I couldn’t let my mom read!

  19. I visited an online store that sells camera equipment. I then visited Facebook – and there in the sidebar was an advertisement from the camera store for the thing I had looked for on their site. How could this happen other than with Facebook sharing my identity with the camera store?

    Since the first time this happened a few months ago I have seen several advertisements from the camera store in the FB sidebar.

    OK, so this is happening to everyone. But here’s the thing – As time goes on I am becoming desensitised to the intrusion of the cross communication that is taking place behind the scenes. And that’s a bad sign.

    • Hi David,
      Oh yeah … the same thing is happening to all of us. Of course we are being tracked, scoped and pigeonholed as well as targeted ie. harassed by advertisements.

      You nailed it all in your last sentence. I wondered if anyone would and you did. We are all becoming desensitized and I’m with you because that’s not a good thing.

      • Coming of age in the 60’s and 70’s I gave up thinking that there was anything really “private.” But then it was only the government that was prying. Now it all seems to be about advertising and keeping us all tied into the consumerist culture that masquerades as reality for most people. What scares me the most is the reality of Davis’s last sentence, and that the intrusion into all of our on-line activity is taken as the normal way of life instead of something to be alarmed about.

  20. Writers are are looking to “brand” themselves online have no choice but to authenticate and work with their true identity. I believe we’ve reached the point where anonymity online is a thing of the past. This is also true for offline activity. Once you put a cellphone in your name – you are fair game.

    I thought the quote “decoding meaning and authenticity is difficult” was interesting. If you read an opinion article on an online news site or magazine – how do you know that is the author’s true opinion? Many writers take jobs writing for publications and websites where they are asked to write opinions that differ from their own.

    I detest the fact that every click I make online is stored somewhere. The same goes for my comments and likes on all the social media platforms. But if you want to be “out there,” do you really expect to accomplish that and cloak yourself at the same time? i don’t see how that is possible.

    For people who simply want to surf the web, purchase merchandise and FB their friends, I think they should do everything possible to keep their personal info off the web. The sharks are out there…and they have a healthy appetite!

    • Hi Joseph,
      I don’t own a cell phone and neither does hubby. People are always shocked to find that out but we don’t need one. I’m a work at home person ie. a techncial writer so I’m available most hours of the day and after hours there’s a message phone.

      When it comes to “decoding meaning and authenticity is difficult” I was referring primarily to comments, forums and social media exchanges. I have had people on a forum I used to visit years ago leap to conclusions about me based on misinterpreting what I stated. What I stated was clear but they assumed I was being mean when I was simply telling it like it was and is. It’s my firm belief that they were projecting a negative image of me that would never have existed if they I had said the same words face to face while making eye contact.

      I detest the fact that every click I make online is stored somewhere. The same goes for my comments and likes on all the social media platforms.

      Me too.

      As far as sharks go most goldfish don’t have a clue they have been swallowed by a shark until they have been digested.

  21. Fascinating stuff. I don’t care if folks know who I am, but it is weird to think about how we leave digital foot prints. Frankly, I hadn’t given that much thought. Feels a bit like Big Brother. Hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day, timethief! And stay warm!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  22. Much of life trades this for that. Most often the good outweighs the bad, or so it has been in my life and my use of the internet. I use both my personal name and my business name here, there, and every where. I refuse to worry about identity theft and people who spy. Sometimes the resulting ads are good for a laugh, but worrying not worth the effort; makes me too cranky.

    • It’s always best not to choose to be cranky and when I see sites that have have messages telling me my adblocker is harming the the site I LOL :D.

  23. When I was on Facebook, I constantly heard people say how they trusted the internet, their photos and information. I’m like, are you kidding me! I gave several social media workshops here locally and informed people that’s far from the truth. Once online, your digital footprint is there, period.

    • Are they all intellectually challenged or what? Facebook is the largest datamining operation there is online when it comes to social networks the whole site siphons personal data to advertisers and marketers.

      I gave several social media workshops here locally and informed people that’s far from the truth. Once online, your digital footprint is there, period.


        • It’s hard to accept that intelligent people can become addicted to that place. Ddi your see the from the your-thoughts-belong-to-facebook dept link in the post? Facebook is even ghosting what you write and choose not to publish and if that isn’t wake up and vacate callthen what is?

          • You just stated the problem. I live in an area where intelligence does not exist, except for hubby and myself…LOL
            I think I saw that post.

  24. I’ll hide under the pseudonym of “Dark Knight of the Storm”.. just kidding haha! I do not worry about publishing my profile on the internet, and after some… bad experiencies, I totally agree with the 5 rules/tips for comunicating authentically. Thanks for the article!

    • Hi Joaquin,
      I’m glad you like my spin of the 5 Agreements. I too have had bad experiences years ago online and I never say anything online I will regret later but plenty of people do that at their own peril.

  25. Interested to read that comment above, timethief: I was about to write something along the lines of “I don’t know why anyone bothers to use a pseudonym” – and now I know. Never too old to learn, eh? ;-)

    • Hi M.R.
      Without doubt there are hordes of people who think they can hide their true identity behind pseudonyms and the exploits they post here and there online will not be detected as being authored by them – ha! I have always known that isn’t the case.

  26. As far as I’m concerned, the pseudonym I use serves a good purpose for me. I’m not so concerned about the digital footprint. I blog in a different genre altogether using my real name. Since I handle drug addiction and recovery, my personal struggles, and most of all since I’m from Maldives where talking about addiction is taboo, it is important for me to be anonymous. I mean if somebody is onto me, it’s all good!

    Thanks for the informative post :)

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