One of the most common questions I get by email these days is how to write a blog while staying completely anonymous, given that I did it successfully for nearly three years. (And maybe also because there was that whole thing about a CIA-trained military intelligence officer not being able to figure out who I was. Because I’m super stealth, y’all.)
A few years ago, I wrote about the topic, but I’ve learned even more since then, and have included all those tips here. Whether you’re interested in blogging anonymously yourself, or are just curious what goes on behind the scenes, read on!
The Obvious Stuff
There are some incredibly basic rules of anonymous blogging that almost don’t warrant mentioning. But let’s go over them anyway, because if you’re serious about not getting found out, you’ll take nothing for granted.
Don’t share your picture.
Don’t share your name.
Don’t share the names or pictures of anyone you’re ever talking about.
Don’t share the names or pictures of your pets.
Don’t share where you live, even approximately.
Some people may choose to blog semi-anonymously, using first names or photos but no names, and of course that’s your choice. But if your goal is to stay anonymous, stay vigilant about sharing identifying details. It’s pretty interesting what people can put together if motivated to do so, and if you’re determined not to get found out, you must be careful not to leave any breadcrumbs for someone to follow.
Keep the Backend Anonymous
A decent number of anonymous bloggers who’ve been outed across the internet have been found out by being sloppy on the technical side of things. So don’t repeat their mistakes!
URL DNS registration — When you register your blog URL, select private registration. It’s still possible to get found out, but anyone looking for info on who you are will have to work quite a bit harder to find you. If you can use a P.O. box address and a company name to register your URL, and then do private registration on top of that, even better.
Email — Never, ever, ever use your personal email, or any email address that can be tracked back to you. It’s free to get a Gmail account, so get one for your blog that you’ll use for everything blog-related, including registering your URL.
Linkable accounts — Rumor has it that the most common way of all that anonymous bloggers online get found out is by using a Google Analytics account for their blog that they also use for a personal website. Don’t do it! Get a separate Google Analytics account for your blog using your blog email, and with any other service online that requires a sign-in, never use the same sign-in for personal and blog purposes.
Keep Photos Anonymous
Photos are another huge potential giveaway, but there are steps you can take to protect your privacy.
Disable or remove location tags — When you take photos with a smartphone or GPS-enabled camera, a GPS location tag gets stored in the photo’s metadata, in what’s known as the EXIF tag. These tags can give you away quickly to those who know to look at the photos’ properties, especially if you take photos at or near your house. (To be honest, I was not careful with these when I was anonymous, and some alert readers figured out that we live in Tahoe.) You can prevent this location info from being logged on your photos by turning locations services off entirely on your phone, and for photos already tagged, you can take these steps to remove the metadata.
Images you’ve used elsewhere — Another dead giveaway is to use photos you also have up on your personal Facebook profile, a personal website or pretty much anywhere else on the internet. A reverse image search of your pics will quickly give you away. If you don’t want to get found out, only use new photos you’ve never used anywhere else online, EXIF tags stripped out of course.
Recognizable locations or objects — On the low-tech side of things, be careful with what you depict in your images. Many places are more recognizable than you might imagine. I was careful to never show Lake Tahoe, and to show white Sierra granite only every once in a while (mixed in with lots of photos of volcanic rock and Utah red sandstone), but I still got an email every now and then telling me that the tree bark of our Jeffrey pines was a dead giveaway that we live in California.
Recognizable people — Facial recognition technology is moving along quickly, so showing your face but no name will shortly be little protection. But beyond shielding yourself, make sure you don’t show anyone in your pictures who could be in any way tied back to you, because facial recognition doesn’t have to be on only your own face.
Keep Your Writing Anonymous
If you’ve done everything up to this point, you’re in pretty good shape and run a good chance of never being found out. But a little sloppiness can still unmask you unintentionally.
Personal details — Sharing personal details is where it’s incredibly easy to slip up. Anything you do to shrink the universe of people who might be you makes it that much easier for someone to find you out. So think hard before sharing where you went to college, what your profession is and even what breed of dog you might have. Your experiences are what readers are interested in anyway, so you don’t need that level of specificity to make the story interesting. Focus on the emotions and stay broad with the details.
Off-hand remarks — Getting a freak hailstorm and mention that on Twitter? Heading out to vote in your primary and feel like saying so on your blog? At a work conference and share info about that? All of these give those who feel like digging things up about you data to go on, sometimes much more specific than you’d imagine. I once tweeted something about loving our mortgage escrow account because it did the savings for us, and because we earned interest on that money. But then I quickly realized my potential mistake and looked up whether escrow accounts earn interest in all states. Lo and behold, they do not! Only a few states require lenders to pay interest on escrow accounts, and the states we wanted readers to think we lived in were not on that list. I deleted the tweet and hoped no one had noticed. Be careful about sharing anything that might give away where you live, what you do and anything else you don’t want to seep out.
Keep Numbers Anonymous
Never doubt readers’ ability to extrapolate things based on a spare breadcrumb here, an off-hand comment there. If you care about keeping your numbers anonymous — and you might not — then follow these suggestions:
No real numbers, ever — Sharing numbers or not is an entirely personal choice, and often has to do with whether you plan to stop being anonymous one day. But if you don’t want your numbers out there, don’t share any numbers. You took algebra, right? So you recall that if you know the value of one variable, you can determine the value of a whole bunch of other variables. Don’t give away any of your variables if you don’t want to give away all of them.
Be Wary of Social Media
There’s something about social media that doesn’t feel like the “real” internet. Maybe it’s the ephemeral-feeling nature of tweets, but they don’t feel quite as carved in stone as blog posts do. But don’t fool yourself. Social posts are there forever, too, and sharing too much can come back to bite you.
Don’t connect blog accounts to your personal email — The backend on social media is pretty mysterious, so to be safe, use your anonymous blog email address if you sign up for blog Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts. Facebook is tricky and requires you to either make up a convincing fake name, or to set up a page that’s tied to your real life personal profile. Decide how comfortable you are doing this. When I was still anonymous, I used Facebook very little, because I was so freaked out about accidentally liking something as me and having it show up in people’s feed, and I still think that was the right call.
Don’t follow yourself or like your content — Another way some bloggers have been outed to friends and family is by following their own accounts or clicking like on their own content. And when you’re just starting and have no followers, it’s tempting to want to follow your blog Instagram or Twitter with your personal account. But don’t do it! Instagram will suggest to your personal account followers that they follow your blog account because real life you follows it, and Twitter shares who you follow and what you like in your followers’ timelines and recommendations.
Don’t break any of the other rules — If you aren’t using a photo on both your personal Facebook and on your anonymous blog, don’t use the same photo on a personal and an anonymous social account. There’s one anonymous blogger who was found out by some because he or she posted pics of an incredibly cute dog that also featured in a personal social account. Don’t show your pets, no matter how cute they are, if they also appear on your personal accounts in any form.
Keep Them Guessing
So far we’ve talked about all the precautions to take, but you can also have a little fun as an anonymous blogger. Keeping readers guessing is absolutely part of the fun of it.
Use misdirection with photos — I loved using photos from anywhere but where we live, and felt proud when a large percentage of readers — including those in California! — guessed that we live in Colorado or Utah when it was reveal time. Much of that was because I deliberately chose photos that gave that impression, along with describing where we live as a “ski town,” which isn’t a term widely associated with California. If we actually did live in Colorado, I probably would have used a lot more pictures of the ocean and described our town as a “resort community” instead of as a ski town.
Make the vagueness funny — When people would tweet at me that we must be spies, I never denied it. (Just as I never denied it when people assumed “consultant” meant management consultant for a big five firm, which it didn’t.) I leaned into those jokes hard, which made it funny, and kept readers’ focus on the joke instead of trying to figure out our real details.
But Share Your Real Story Anyway
If your takeaway from all of this so far is that you can’t share anything about yourself and still blog anonymously, keep reading! Because that’s not the case at all.
No one reads someone’s blog because of that person’s demographic facts, unless you happen to have a connection to that person’s profession, or they live close to you. The blogs that keep you coming back do so by sharing their thought processes, their emotions and their perspective on the world, none of which requires sharing anything we’ve discussed so far. I could share that I was motivated to hurry up and retire early because of my dad’s disability without giving anything away (and for those who’ve asked, I don’t share what his disability is in part because it’s rare and could be traced back, but more importantly because that’s his story to share, not mine). Just as I could share why we’re generally more conservative financially than the general FIRE party line without giving anything away. There’s still so much you can do to give your readers a rich sense of who you are as a person on the inside, and how you process information and see the world, without giving away the bits of info that might compromise you.
More tips on sharing your story without giving away who you are: The Non-Science of Blogging Anonymously // Sharing Your Real Story Without Sharing Your Identity
Do you blog anonymously? What other tips would you offer folks who want to join the anonymous bloggers club? Have you thought about blogging anonymously? What other questions do you have? For those who read anonymous blogs, have you noticed bloggers slip up in any ways you suspect they don’t intend? Let’s discuss it all in the comments!