Sine Auctore

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?

That depends on a few things. Many blogs (my own included) require you to leave a name and an email address. The email address is not published or seen by anyone but me. (See my privacy policy for specific details). My blog software captures your email address and keeps it hidden inside my blog dashboard. Obviously, if you leave your real email but use Anon I will know it is you.  Even if I don’t know you personally, I could paste the email address you left into Google and see where else that email was used. This could help me trace you.

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

I have two different tracking pages installed on my blog. One is StatCounter and the other is JetPack.

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:

10.255.255.255

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.

 

 

 

23 Thoughts.

  1. ***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. ***

    Exactly Suz! That is the exact reason why I refuse to post Anonymous anywhere. I was anonymous too long, hidden away and unable to have my voice be heard or even considered.

    Today, if I post a comment or reply anywhere, I want to be heard and want it to be known that I am the writer behind my beliefs.

    I will never again allow anyone to make me anonymous in my life.

  2. ***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. ***

    Both you and Cassi have hit it right on the head.

  3. You have techie skillz I don’t have.

    I don’t get the sine reference. Explain?

    • Bad nerdy cryptic latin reference.

      sine = without
      auctore = author, origin i.e,, anonymous.

      Reference to people who post but are anonymous or post without reference to their authorship or name.

  4. You’ve provided a wealth of information here. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for this, Suz. It was really good of you to spell this out for those of us without your tech skills.

    You have shown that the anon option for blog comments is really a sham, and not worth using. I usually use my real name, but have posted anon a few times. Never again. Nor would I advise anyone else, especially those with serious reasons to want to be anonymous, to use this option any more. I think it much more honest to set a blog up as yours is, with no anon option. That may stop some from posting, but it keeps everyone safe.

    • Maryanne – I have always assumed most Anons were trying to hide from other commentors, not me as the blog owner. They want to have a say in the discussion but not be identified or own their words. If that is the case, I believe Anons could continue for it is only with the blog owners involvement that they could be identified.

      It is a curious debate Anon vs Anon. In many environments it is acknowledged that people will not speak freely unless their identity is protected. Valuable information can be gleaned from Anons that normally would not be available. I am not entirely sure where I stand on it , just for me, personally, for blogging, I am not Anon. I believe working in adoption and being anonymous supports the industries vision of wiping away the mother. I will no longer support the industries vision. I am real. I matter. I have a name and a full life. I speak for me now and the me at 18 years old that no one else spoke for (including me).

  6. Yo! thanks for the information. Maryanne directed me here from First Mother Forum where things…can get nasty. Blogger doesn’t seem to have the option of setting up comments like this, and I don’t want to discourage all anons from posting as anons, but it would cut down on the bitchiness that we sometimes get if I could see who they were. I have used Sitemeter, but it doesn’t really do the job and I don’t want to spend a lot of time tracking down IPs and going from there when the person–is still unknown.

    thanks so much for the information!
    call me….Lorraine Dusky from First Mother Forum.

    • Lorraine – I have used sitemeter (both free and paid versions) in the past. I find Statcounter far superior and it is free. Consider checking it out. Blogger is definitely limited and I believe that is by design. it has a reputation of being for the less tech savvy types. I was on it myself years ago and as my needs/knowledge grew I moved around (to typepad, the hosted WordPress, finally self hosted WordPress). Even hosted WordPress is a bit more savvy than blogger. You could consider moving. It is relatively easy to import your existing blog into WordPress. (Okay, I say easy as a pretty tech person but really, it is. I would also be able to help).

      Also, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to me or others if you are trying to track down the source of a nastygram. There are also other tools that can be used.

  7. Sometimes people might wish to comment anon without the blog owners knowing who they are, if they feel that a particular blog owner will discount what they say if they know the source, but might let it stand if they do not know. Not you or your blog, but it does happen. As you well know there are many factions, feuds, and grudges and a few vindictive people in adoption blog land. It is not always a matter of not wanting family members to know what one is saying, or of being deep in the closet or ashamed of having surrendered.

    It is good for people to be reminded never to say anything on the internet that they would not want seen by their child, their mother, whomever, because there are both simple ways (googling a name or email address) and complex ways for the more tech savvy to find just about anything, and you don’t really know how motivated anyone might be to find out.

    I think the explanation you have provided here will be a wake-up call to many who are naive about these things. Again, thanks.

    • Maryanne – Agreed. Particularly on the factions, feuds, grudges. I suspect we all know who, what, how they are. Point noted and agreed to.

    • Thanks, Suz. I’ve installed Statcounter but I don’t see the “details” type page yet but lord, doing this right and figuring it out yourself takes time! Enormous hunks of time.
      You say it is easy to move to WordPress?

      hmm. You have my email address right?

      • Understandable. It can be daunting at first. Happy to help. Yes, I have your email. Will send you a private message.

  8. I don’t feel the need to be anonymous. I’ll take whatever hit for whatever I’ve written. But some people worry about that, because the internet is so public. Okay, fine. As you said, Suz, we can figure out who they are if we are so inclined. Generally, I don’t bother, even though I also have stats.

    Half of my anon commenters simply forgot their password, LOL! Many of them post anon and then sign their names.

  9. I doubt if there are many people around today who continue to believe that there is such a thing as absolute anonymity on the internet, even among the Luddites. Your friend would not have asked the question if she had not already been skeptical.
    I suspect most people who comment anonymously or pseudonymously either don’t care or are willing to take their chances, fully aware that they are identifiable within a range.

    Bloggers who post strong opinions should expect those statements to elicit strong responses, and if the people who run these blogs want to encourage robust and healthy discussion, it is probably a good thing to open up interaction to as many people as possible, including anons and those who use pseudonyms. Using a pseudonym or even commentating anonymously does not equate to fake in practice, nor does it necessarily imply “nefarious” intent. Eric Blair didn’t call himself George Orwell in order to hide his identity. He adopted the name because he was a private man and it enabled him to speak more plainly. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”.
    If blog owners do not want to debate a particular issue openly, they can moderate. As you have laid out here, there are tools which allow them to do this. There is even a script which enables automatic deletion of present and past comments by banned individuals at the page level http://code.google.com/p/blogbanscript/
    Mischievous or offending comments can simply be deleted as they arise.

    A great deal depends upon temperament. Some people who use on-line pseudonyms or comment anonymously are able to talk openly IRL about the things that matter to them. Others prefer to express themselves on their own blogs under their actual names. This might be because they feel it holds them to a higher standard or because they wish to limit their interactions to like-minded people while allowing them to maintain control over the direction of the conversation. There are also those who prefer to blog entirely pseudonymously, and that does not make them or their opinions suspect. Most on-line bloggers and commentators are probably a mix. It takes all sorts.

    http://bastardette.blogspot.com/2008/03/letters-we-get-lettersmothers-react-to.html

    • Kippa – Great comment and you are correct on all the additional features. I use them as well. I have black lists and white lists enables, I have comment moderation for first time posters (like your comment was just held as you were not recognized), I have blocked IPs. I have askimet for spam blocking and much more. I would disagree about people’s general level of knowledge. While it can be stated that the majority of people on the Net or reading blogs realize there is no such thing as privacy, there are (cuz I have met them, taught classes to them, etc.) individuals who have no clue of the technology that can be used to track them until they learn (as a few even commented here). I find this most often in the older generations who are enthralled with technology but have not yet had the benefit of being deeply involved with it. My own mother (soon to be 70) loves the Internet but has no idea what is really behind it. We regulary check her facebook settings for her, update her virus protections, etc. She loves learning it all but is still learning.

  10. Yes, there are anons who feel they cannot even use a fake alias and will say they would prefer to protect themselves.

    But to this I say, if you’ve been around long enough, people will recognize your writing style.

    So to agree, yes, there is no such thing as being truly anonymous…

    • Anon (LOL) and Mei-Ling – Agreed as well however I suspect this is only true for those of us that have been around adoptoblogging for a while. We know stories, tone of voice, personality, etc. whereas newbs would not recognize.

  11. This made me yell out loud! “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.” I totally agree.

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