A Luddite friend of mine recently asked me about the practice of posting anonymously on blogs. She expressed concern over the concept and if one could really be anonymous. My answer to her was “for the most part, no, not really”. I then explained a few things to her as they relate to how I manage my blog and told her others may do similarly things.
This should not be construed as an endorsement for any of the tools or options I use rather it is intended to be a bit of an education for individuals who may post here or in the case of my friend, on other adoption blogs. I am by no means a security expert and ask that before making a decision on your own blog or site you do your own research and consult with a subject matter expert.
Leaving Your Real Name versus Anon. Are you really Anon?
If you are being sneaky or have some legit reason to post as Anon you probably don’t want to put your real email if it is required. You may also want to check to insure you are not logged into your blogger/Google accounts, and that your gravatar is not following you around.
Be warned leaving your name as Anon and a bogus email doing that will NOT stop the blog owner from being able to identify you. Here is where IP addresses and stat counters come into play.
Stat Counters and Trackers
StatCounter is a free web tracker that provides a configurable hit counter and real- time detailed web stats. By installing it on my blog (see the little blue box on the bottom left) I am able to track and review popular pages, entry pages, exit pages, came from, keyword analysis, recent keyword activity, search engine wars, visitor paths, visit length, returning visits, recent page load activity, recent visitor activity, country/state/city stats, recent visitor Google map, ISP stats, browser stats, and even operating system stats. To be a little less technical, this means I can generally tell where you came from (city, state, country), how you got here (via Google search, using what keywords, what site referred you, etc), how long you stayed, what pages you looked at, what kind of computer and browser you use, how many times you have been here and your IP address.
StatCounter provides a lot of information and is pretty easy to use. I have had it installed on nearly all blogs for many years. In my early days of blogging I used to check my stats like crazy. Back then, when the internet was new (LOL), I was interested in creating a following, obsessed with who found me and how, and worked to get my hits/views/etc. up. Today? Not so much. I don’t really blog anymore for a following, not sure if I ever did. Back then I was uber paranoid about WHO was reading me, why, and if they were people I knew. (I had some issues caused by my daughter’s father and his wife reading here, my daughters adoptive parents, etc.). Today? I rarely think about who is reading or even why. I don’t check StatCounter as much but I do continue to find it highly useful. Checking StatCounter requires me to log into that site and mull through reams of information. I love the tool but reviewing it can be time consuming.
WordPress (the blog platform I am on) offers the plug-in called JetPack. JetPack is really easy to install to self-hosted WordPress sites. Once it is installed it’ll begin collecting information about your page views, which posts and pages are the most popular, where your traffic is coming from, and what people click on when they leave. The stats are easily viewed from within your WordPress dashboard. Since I am more often inside my blog dashboard, I tend to refer to JetPack stats more frequently. They give me a quick snapshot of what is happening on my blog. If something catches my eye (like a huge spike in readership) I will click over to StatCounter for more information. Visit this page on StatCounter for a description of their features.
Now back to that IP address
Every device connected to the Internet is assigned a unique number known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Since these numbers are usually assigned to internet service providers within region-based blocks, an IP address can be used to identify the region or country from which a computer is connecting to the Internet. An IP address can sometimes be used to show the user’s general location. I say usually and sometimes because there are networks that make this a bit more challenging but again, geeky stuff for another time. Let me put it this way; it is sort of like your house # and address. It is where you live on the internet. They look like this:
Every where you go, with every internet device you use, stat packages (like StatCounter referenced above) are grabbing that IP address and logging it (along with lots of other information about you as noted above). Via the use of this IP address, I (and others) can track who came to our blog and when. StatCounter, like many other packages, even allows me to label known addresses. So when my husband visits my blog from his work computer (which shows as the IP, the town, state, and his company URL) I label that as Hubby – Work. A quick review of my stats will tell me when a particular visit is my husband. I have also done this for blog readers resident in OH, CA, FL, IL and Europe. If I know where you live, I tend to label your IP.
If a troll from Europe were to post on my blog as Anon and leave a bogus email, I could scroll through my stats to see if their IP registered and if so, if it had ever registered before under a different name. This way I could match up a troll with a person I might actually know. (What a bummer that would be). IP addresses can also be blocked. Therefore, if I was getting harassed by someone (and I have been) I could enter a specific address in my blog software and block them from posting. Because their IP address has been marked as spam or held for comment moderation. (I should note that the very first time a person posts here, their comment is held until I approve it. After you have been approved, it stays that way until I block you, if ever, in the future). IP addresses can also be shared – well, via email anyway. I and other blog readers have compared IP’s appearing on our blogs. Through this comparing, another mother and I were able to confirm her now adult child was reading my blog.
With all this in mind (and more) I told my Luddite friend that no, you aren’t ever really anonymous. (I realize I sound rather vague but there is this thing called IP masking that allows you to hide the IP address of your computer. There are also services that you can go to that will allow you to surf anonymously through them. Recall that person that visited me from hidemyass.com?
Now before you go assuming I am some sort of hacker or IP asshider myself, let me tell you my personal policy.
If I don’t want someone to know I was on a site, I don’t go there. Seriously, it is that easy. My belief is that if I need to hide myself or what I am doing or saying, I am probably thinking of saying or doing something nefarious. Why else would I want to hide my identity? I own my words and my beliefs. I stand behind them. I am not going to hide. I realize there are individuals who feel different, mothers who are still in the adoption closet, adoptees who want to talk about reunions without adoptive parents or first parents knowing. To those individuals, I would offer the cautionary statement that even your “story” or tone of voice can be identified by those of us who have been around adoption blogs. Even the words you use can give you away. Just something to think about.
Probably more important, haven’t all of us negatively impacted by adoption had our identity hidden long enough? I just don’t work that way – at least not anymore. I never asked for anonymity in 1986. I certainly don’t want it now.