I have a question about personal info privacy concerns on MeFi October 18, 2006 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about personal info privacy concerns on MeFi. [more inside]
posted by Kwine to MetaFilter-Related at 5:47 PM (54 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

As someone who is a future academic and doesn’t want to be Googled into no job offers based on jokey comments on websites, yet also as someone who doesn’t want his every action on the net to be overshadowed by attempting to appear hireable, because he enjoys making jokey comments on websites, I try to keep a low profile on the internet. To that end, I’ve kept my MeFi profile information to something of a minimum. However, I enjoy MetaFilter quite a bit, and I would like to take advantage of some of the neater profile features that would make me more a part of the community, such as location information, latitude/longitude, occupation, email, aim and the like. So, a two part question. (1) What are the views of MeFites, particularly academics, on how much identifying information one feels comfortable put ting in your Metafilter profile? What are the reasons that folks have for putting such information in or leaving it out? (2) The Metafilter amateur detective community loves a challenge. Detectives, am I wasting my damn time by thinking about this, because there’s already enough info on the web that one of you could be waiting for me back at my apartment tonight, poised to reject my academic job application? If so, and you feel like digging it up, please send conformation that I am wasting my time to kwinesnoop@gmail.com rather than posting it in the thread for all to see. (I guess if jesshowie were to take this on, it would be easier for them but that is perhaps cheating and also probably they have neither time nor desire.) Also, I’m about to leave the computer for the night, so I won’t be around the thread until tomorrow. Thanks!
posted by Kwine at 5:47 PM on October 18, 2006

You are worrying about this way to much. Put up a secondary email account if it concerns you that much and don't use your real name.
posted by bigmusic at 5:56 PM on October 18, 2006

I agree with bigmusic. Indeed, making jokey comments I don't want attributed to the 'real me' is my whole reason for being.
posted by Second Account For Making Jokey Comments at 5:58 PM on October 18, 2006

As an academic (ahem), I am totally unconcerned with such matters, and frequently post personal, identifying information wherever (and whenever) appropriate.

This is rooted in the fact that departments that are hiring you are not going to be doing extensive google searches, and then pass you over because of a few jokey comments here and there - they just aren't. If the few departments that I have been involved in are any indication, most wouldn't even think of using this as a decision factor.

Things like publications, successful grant applications, teaching reviews, grades, reference letters, who you know, etc. etc. etc. are infinitely more important in that process.

Secondly, and this is often said - any department that would pass you over for some jokey comments on Metafilter is definitely not a department you would ever want to work in.
posted by Quartermass at 6:02 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

For the most part, I imagine that whoever finds your posts on MeFi will be glad to have been "turned on" to the blue, if they hadn't been already. (This has actually happened to me.) I have since been promoted, but now I can't access the blue from work anymore. Dammit!
posted by snsranch at 6:16 PM on October 18, 2006

I think we're in the same field, Kwine. I'd recommend discretion on issues related to that field, and letting it all hang out otherwise. The key to avoiding uncomfortable google revelations is to bury all the bad stuff in the sixtieth page of results. Heck, I started this account to bury a paper I wrote as an undergraduate on The Matrix. It sucks, and it used to be the first result. So don't make an ass of yourself in a discussion of, say, W. V. O. Quine, because that might show up in a google search of your name associated with him. ("What does Kevin have to say about Quine... hmmm... Kevin C. and Quine... sure, I guess I'm feeling lucky! Umm.... is this a link to goatse?")

Other than that, you've got to figure that anyone cool enough to read your metafilter comments all the way through will be cool enough to get the joke.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:25 PM on October 18, 2006

posted by quonsar at 6:36 PM on October 18, 2006

Well, don't participate in any mefi CD swaps unless you want your real name and your mefi ID forever able to be associated by anyone who uses google...
posted by dersins at 6:46 PM on October 18, 2006

I can't imagine that a few comments on a group blog would affect your job prospects. Think about the time it would take to do extensive Google-based detective work. But check out the following links for some cautionary considerations for those in academia who maintain their own blogs.

"We’ve ‘Googled’ every job candidate to establish whether they are a good ‘fit’ for our institution. Watch what you say."

"How will these blogs affect the academic job prospects of these individuals? My prediction is: by and large, not favorably."

"Mr. Drezner and others are wondering whether the blog may have had an impact on his tenure status.".
posted by jayder at 6:58 PM on October 18, 2006

jayder, that's frightening. But it looks like there are two dangers: if your blog is bad, they think you produce crap, but if your blog is good, they think you can't possibly have time to do a good job for them.
posted by owhydididoit at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2006

In my opinion you are letting out a lot more information by giving your first name and last initial than you would by making public a throwaway email account and geographic location. The first name/last initial makes it very easy to confirm "is that him?" if somebody suspected as such, whereas just using a throwaway gmail account and a lat/long that maps to your state capital pretty much leaves your identity sealed.

Besides, none of that stuff (email, location, etc) is shown to non-members when viewing the profile, which means you can put anything you want there and it won't affect google results.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:42 PM on October 18, 2006

Everything you create on the Internet is:
  1. there forever
  2. able to be read by anyone in the world
  3. able to be linked back to you if someone has the time and resources to join the dots (whether potential employers care to do more than a cursory search is the question).
Consider the above when you put anything out there and you will be fine. If you are concerned enough about how something might affect your future, don't do it.
posted by dg at 7:51 PM on October 18, 2006

I have served on a bunch of academic search committees in the last few years, and I do Google our shortlist candidates. I have never discovered anything that had an influence on our decisions--a few blog posts, membership in community organizations, Amazon reviews.

The best thing you can do to prepare for this is not to censor your activities here, but to create a simple professional website and make sure that it turns up as the first Google hit on your name.

But I would not blog under my real name if I were you, at least not if you were going to write about anything controversial. More important, use standard English. If I found you writing in no-caps leet-speak I would junk your application right there.
posted by LarryC at 7:53 PM on October 18, 2006

I'm an academic, and about the only piece of information that I left out of my profile is my real name. If someone really wanted to connect my username with my real name they could do it, but I assure you that people on academic committees have better things to do with their time. Sure, one of them might be bored one day and google you, but the chances of them doing any real detective work are practically nil. So, as long as your comment about stomping on kittens, or whatnot, is not the first thing that comes up when one googles your real name, I'd say you're fine.

Having said that, I try not to post anything that would embarrass me if it were traced to me. This actually has more to do with my belief that I should hold myself to the same standards of behavior online as off than with any fear for my career.
posted by epimorph at 7:58 PM on October 18, 2006

Don't be any more of an asshole than you'd like future bosses to see and you'll be fine.

For any job worth having, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 8:15 PM on October 18, 2006

I got my current job because of my blog. In fact, most of the people I work with got their jobs because of my blog, too. Not to brag or anything. So it's not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by kindall at 8:33 PM on October 18, 2006

I'm a journalist, and I definitely worry about this.

I've been a member for almost six years, and back when I joined this community dooce hadn't happened yet, the idiotic battle over media bias hadn't escalated and I was a 22-year-old idealist. I said a lot of things -- political things -- that I'd be more circumspect about today. Hell, I've moderated somewhat in the past six years, so I don't even agree with everything I've posted on the web.

It's not on the first google page, but if people try hard enough they can track down my true identity using my user name here, eventually finding cached pages that include both croutonsupafreak and the real C.S. If someone wanted to out me, they could. And that could probably eventually cause damage to my career. Please don't.

If you were googling my real name, though, you'd have to go through a significant number of other pages -- which include my vanity page, my actual work, professionally-relevant online discussions, the page of a high school athlete and the page of a person of a different race who went to an Ivy League university. Only after all of that would you find croutonsupafreak.

It's possible that someone will try to "expose me," but it seems pretty unlikely and weird. Here's hoping.

I enjoy metafilter too much to allow my fears to stop me from posting here. And I like having a history that I can look back on. I like the stupid fact that I have a four-digit user number, since there's not much else special that I can claim about myself.

Hopefully the google cache will expire one of these days and I'll have another three or four decades in this field before I retire. If my metafilter posting -- or some other idiotic move I make -- leads to the end of my journalism career, so be it. There are other adventures I could be living.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2006

I am also an academic in the same field as you. I try to maintain google-anonymity. It's not the same as real anonymity, as someone who actually knows me will be able to piece together enough from my answers to questions to figure out conclusively that it's me. But academic departments won't.

I am not tenured, and feel safer opining off-the-cuff anonymously, especially about my field. In departments I have been associated with there's a feeling of paranoia, that any written work can be judged by the standards of a published peer-reviewed many-drafted article. Maybe I shouldn't have absorbed this paranoia, but I have.

I try not to give away much info about myself online anyway, just on general principles. And I try not to say anything online that I would really, REALLY hate to have linked back to me. (Especially, never badmouth people or institutions by name or identifying description.)

I do know many academics who blog with their real names. They -- the ones I read, anyway -- are usually extremely good writers and thinkers, such that I can only imagine the blog forming a positive impression in people's minds. So you need not be as paranoid as I am.

But remember that in academia, and especially in our field, the subjective impression of strangers as to how brilliant you are, and how professional, how discreet and good a colleague you would be, etc can make or break your career. (Sorry for being a little dark. Others will probably have good thoughts on this. But I think it is very reasonable to try to maintain name-anonymity, especially if you are untenured.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:47 PM on October 18, 2006

How about you use my account for posting? No one ever laughs at the things I say anyway, so maybe I'll get some MeFi cred for your cleverness. Plus, if I ever get in an awkward spot for posting something on MeFi, I can point potential employers to this comment, making them think that it's you.
posted by hoborg at 9:02 PM on October 18, 2006

Besides, none of that stuff (email, location, etc) is shown to non-members when viewing the profile, which means you can put anything you want there and it won't affect google results.

Even if they were shown to non-members, the user pages are NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW, so Google can't see what's on there, period.
posted by crunchland at 10:19 PM on October 18, 2006

I worry about this.

After I wrote, and gave away for free, some software that makes reading Metafilter more convenient, a couple of ax-grinding posters made a point to link my real name to my handle on here, in a way clearly calculated to be easily google-able.

This sort of petty personal revenge, where your livelihood can be threatened by anyone who doesn't like your comments, really soured me on the Metafilter community.

Despite my repeated requests to him, Matt's never been willing to redact my real name from those comments.

The upshot is, I've removed my software from general circulation, and no longer generally release any updates or fixes to it; I don't like "punishing" people who could use the software, but given the risk of abuse I'm very reluctant to give the community good things.
posted by orthogonality at 11:05 PM on October 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I worry that somebody will hunt me down and kill me, sometimes I worry nobody will. As for being hireable, I gave that up long ago: I just can't be mediocre enough, however hard I hope.
posted by davy at 11:07 PM on October 18, 2006

Well, don't participate in any mefi CD swaps unless you want your real name and your mefi ID forever able to be associated by anyone who uses google...

What really? *checks* OK that is not acceptable. *emails Dreama*

While we're not exactly academics where I work we're not in industry either (it's a CRI, we're kind of inbetween) and many of the scientists are lecturers too. I talked to a few people about this issue earlier this week and it was generally accepted that they will google but only for full name and email address. So if you don't have either of those listed you're generally fine. (which would be why I'm pissed at the mefiswap thing). Some professors etc know enough to track down more than that but don't really have time, and one person mentioned that they were only googling because the application seemed off somehow anyway.

That said, I'm always careful to not put stuff on the internet I don't want brought up during a job interview. Anything can be found if someone looks hard enough and who knows how society and technology will evolve in the years to come? I'm too lazy to set up any real alterego, although seperating off an online persona would alleviate some of the need for self-censorship, and I prefer to be open and honest in my dealings with people both online and off. The job interview rule has been known to stop be being a total bitch occasionally or kept me from talking too much shit when I don't have any facts to back it up, neither of which is a bad thing. At the same time I assume anyone hiring me wants someone with personality (since I have it in bundles) so knowing I like to interact with people online isn't something I care about hiding.

- don't slap people in the face with your full name and email address coming up in search engines
- act towards others with integrity even online
- only post stuff about your area of expertise you can back up or truely believe
- have such a good resume / academic record no one ever thinks to look you up anyway
posted by shelleycat at 11:08 PM on October 18, 2006

I believe this worry is rapidly approaching obsolescence. Yes, modern technology has been quickly reversing this period of urban anonymity and privacy. But the oft-overlooked aspect of this is that this is an historical aberration. Most cultures in human history have not had such an environmentally-enforced privacy and yet, nevertheless, have successfully functioned where privacy concerns are important. They've done so via cultural means, through commonly accepted codes of behavior. Just so will our culture rediscover such mores as we realize that being able to know anything about someone does not mean we should know anything about someone.

The more progressive countries will probably illegalize many forms of research of prospective employees by employers, particularly Googling and the like, though I expect the US will lag far behind, supposing it ever enacts such legislation, which it might not. To be sure, business interests will be among the last to adopt a voluntary privacy-enforcing ethos.

Even so, the cultural change I believe is coming will still offer some protection to prospective employees. More importantly for them, however, might simply be an unmanageable glut of useless information which hides the sorts of things you'd not want employers to find. In this thread are mentioned examples of individuals engineering this. I think it will happen in any event.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:08 PM on October 18, 2006

I'm an academic and I try to minimize the obviousness of my real identity, though if you want to figure it out, I am sure the average person here could do so in 10 minutes - if they wanted to. I don't make a secret of my occupation or my hometown and really there aren't too many of us here. And the last point is key -- google my real name and you get hundreds of hits: is anyone going to try to figure out a bunch of aliases unless they ahve real reason to believe they exist?

And I've been on many search committees and yes I do google candidates. But I don't obsessively try to find any aliases they might have -- think of how hard that would be, starting cold, if there was no link between name and handle. I mean, I could spend ages trying to find you on fark or somethingawful when you have no identity there. Metafilter might be way down my list if I didn't already belong.

Frankly I am more worried about my students discovering me online and knowing more about me than I might otherwise want to share than I am the admin finding me. So, Quinn/Quine/Kwinn/Kween, stick to a handle and then just be yourself -- its a big internet and few people are that interested in you.

And, what shelleycat said.
posted by Rumple at 12:19 AM on October 19, 2006

posted by matteo at 2:15 AM on October 19, 2006

Another academic here. People who know me would know this was me. People who are looking for me would find this difficult to find. No real name, and the email in the profile is a frequently checked throwaway. I have been known to reply from my "real" account though, which means that there are people on meta who could "out" me if they chose. I'm pleased that they don't.

If a recruiter knew I used this site and had a copy of my CV they could find me based on comment content. Or more likely geography. But I'm guessing that recruiters have better things to do with their time.
posted by handee at 2:32 AM on October 19, 2006

Secondly, and this is often said - any department that would pass you over for some jokey comments on Metafilter is definitely not a department you would ever want to work in.

Indeed. For fucksakes, people, be proud of who you are. Enough with the masks.

If it wasn't for all the people hiding, trying so hard to look "respectable", the Man would be in a dilemma: hire nobody, because we are all fallible humans, or stop being so concerned that everyone is clean of thoughtcrime.

Rise up!

-Thomas Edward Topham
posted by Meatbomb at 4:15 AM on October 19, 2006

Legally change your last name to smith. There will be no danger of finding anything about you when "Kevin Smith" is googled, unless the person has a few thousand hours of free time on their hands. Case closed.

Also, more important than someone Google Searching you is someone Goodsearching you. This revolutionary new product is something myself and my loved ones are circling the wagons around, if you will, and in a few short years I imagine that Goodsearching will be far more dangerous. So, be careful, or you, too, may find yourself on the business end of a DoublePlusGoodSearch, Mr. Kevin Smith!
posted by The God Complex at 4:33 AM on October 19, 2006

I endeavor to be deliberately circumspect with my comments ("You're talking about your butt, right?" notwithstanding). But there are other Saucy Intruders out there on other forums. As it stands, I attended five different law schools (hey, I got into Harvard, who knew?) and am a guitar aficionado. Still, I know better than to give away personal info or compromise my professional life.

A google of my real name turns up another lawyer - which should confuse the hell out of anyone looking for me - an insurance agent in Georgia, and a lighting tech on "Touched by an Angel."
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:49 AM on October 19, 2006

As someone who is a future academic and doesn’t want to be Googled into no job offers

i am a academic to!
posted by naxosaxur at 5:09 AM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I sometimes wonder if I've been stupid by having my name (not to mention my email, 'phone number, and home address) very closely associated with everything I've ever said online, but only good has come of it - at two job interviews, stuff I'd written on my weblog was mentioned in a positive light, and I've lost count of the number of times people have got in touch with offers of work saying, 'I saw what you wrote something in such-and-such a magazine, and found you via Google...'

(Please feel free to point to this comment when someone comes round my house and beats me to death with a pickaxe handle for calling them a poo-face in a chatroom.)
posted by jack_mo at 5:41 AM on October 19, 2006

I may be wrong to think this way, but it seems to me that the context of your thoughts online is recognized as distinct from the context of the classroom. The thoughts you express here only need to be appropriate here, so a few jokey comments should not complicate your entrance into a department. I dunno, I'm heading toward an academic career as well, and haven't made real efforts to hide my identity (though MeFi usually doesn't come up in searches - the embarrassing stuff for me is old versions of personal web stuff - but - whatever, we were all young once.) I agree with the above sentiment that a department that would turn you down for having a casual personality in a casual situation is not one you'd want to belong to anyway.

I realize you can't always wait for ideal, and maybe some hiring committees will be old-guardy enough to think the teacher should not appear so potentially vulnerable in public, but new-guardy enough to bother googling and following a few links around to find those spots, but it seems unlikely. I've always been more aware of how my students might read my blog, etc, but in the end I've basically decided I don't care. I have a number of different interests in life, and they occasionally cross over in slightly weird ways (an academic student of mine once checked out my dojang, and saw me getting worked over by the sabumnim, e.g.), but I don't think it has to be awkward. Things are only really awkward when both parties agree to feel uncomfortable.
posted by mdn at 6:10 AM on October 19, 2006

I worry a little about this, especially working for the federal government last year, and working for a fairly old-fashioned large law firm now. Periodically I try and connect my real name to my various usernames here and elsewhere, and it's awfully tough to do. If you already know my username, you can work backwards to find my real name, but not the other way around so far as I can tell. But yes, absent extraordinary measures, you should assume that personal information you post on the web will eventually enable somebody to tie your posts to your real name. It may be unlikely, but it's probably not impossible. Especially if, say, you write software for use by other members of the site and release it from a domain that's the same as your real last name. But if you didn't want to be identified, you wouldn't do that. Right?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:32 AM on October 19, 2006

You can probably guess 'karmakaze' isn't my real name. By and large online I try not to use my full name or the full name of anyone I comment about in a personal context. It wouldn't be hard for a determined searcher to track me down, but I don't make my personal commentary easily searchable. Most of what does come up for my real name are weekend hobbies where I got my name in program books (and any employer that would be put off that I play pencil-and-paper rpgs probably doesn't want me anyway), or very old stuff. (I was amused to find this came up as the second result in a vanity search. I doubt it would hurt me any.)

Just don't be an ass under your real name and you should be fine.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:44 AM on October 19, 2006

I round off my lat./long. to the nearest degree. Anyone near me who's looking for people near them will still be able to find me, without my giving out enough information for people to figure out exactly where I live. Now that I think about it, I could probably go down to 1/10 of a degree while still being comfortable with the level of privacy that would afford.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:05 AM on October 19, 2006

As the web becomes an integral part of life, and more and more professionals and academics routinely contribute on various web sites (from a young age), I would imagine this problem will largely evaporate. As Meatbomb says, if everyone is doing it, there won't be any expectation that people ought to hide their humanity and their opinions.

And meanwhile ID searching technology is bound to improve vastly in the next 5-10 years (is anyone offering a Google-your-potencial-employee-for-$ service yet? it won't be long). So the sort of half-assed hiding that has been described here won't work for long.

The more progressive countries will probably illegalize many forms of research of prospective employees by employers, particularly Googling and the like...

This is pretty much the opposite of what I'm expecting; unless there is a cultural sea change toward protecting privacy - online and off (the line will increasingly blur), the trends are distinctly in the other direction. Many others have said it better than I could (elsewhere), but with the rise of the web and improved information discovery tools, I find it hard to believe even the current expectation of privacy will last long.

All that said, I don't put my real name in my profile because I enjoy feeling free to express ignorance here, and not have to try to come off as some kinda smarty pants all the time. Right now it seems like there is a small potencial for future hassle (I too would like to enter academia eventually!), and almost nil potencial for reward, though I hope and expect this will change within the next decade.
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:27 AM on October 19, 2006

Flabdablet is my real name.
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 AM on October 19, 2006

I find it hard to believe even the current expectation of privacy will last long.

I agree. But I don't think that this would be a turn for the worse, particularly if it makes people feel more responsible for what they write online.
posted by smorange at 8:58 AM on October 19, 2006

I accidentally got Florence Henderson added to the terrorist watch list.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:39 AM on October 19, 2006

i'm kinda lucky, because my name is shared by a renowned serial rapist who happens to be in jail, so google searches offer lots of useful press noise...
posted by troybob at 9:39 AM on October 19, 2006

s/a renowned/an infamous/
posted by troybob at 9:57 AM on October 19, 2006

If you're really interested in maintaining anonymity, you could probably adapt the techniques in Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor.

Too late for me, though. I'm completely discoverable, although I don't know why anyone would bother.
posted by timeistight at 10:54 AM on October 19, 2006

For a bit of perspective, for Meatbomb and others who think it's unreasonable to worry about: academics don't have choices about where they get jobs. Or, we don't have anything like the level of choice that other highly-educated professionals have.

The job listings for this year just came out. In my sub-field of my discipline (which I'm guessing might eventually be Kwine's), there are 10 jobs available this year in the US. Many of these are in areas that would not be most people's choice of a good place to live, and with too-heavy teaching loads. For even the worst of these jobs, I am guessing based on my search committee experience, there will be more than 200 applications from candidates who could do the job. The best of them will get 600+ applications.

This means that search committees don't have a lot of time to do extensive digging on any individual -- until the last round of selection. But it also means they have an overabundance of choices. It only takes one real hard-head on the selection committee to say "this person will be a bad colleague, or will not represent our university well, look at this jerky behavior online" to scotch your chance at an interview.

I'm not saying you should be crazy paranoid, but in the kind of job market that we face, with the huge power of hiring committes, I think it's totally reasonable to (a) be on your best behavior especially if you're using an identifiable name, and (b) try to maintain a separation between your name and accounts you use for goofing around.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:32 PM on October 19, 2006

Just make sure every link related to your online persona links directly to kiddie-porn. That way, anyone that tries to "google" you will immediately get fired, and, in many cases, arrested, shunned, and divorced.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:20 PM on October 19, 2006

It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret. In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out. The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did. - William Gibson
posted by crunchland at 3:59 PM on October 19, 2006

LobsterMitten nailed it. Why take the chance? Its hard enough to get a job in academia. Blogger beware, protect yourself.
posted by Rumple at 4:28 PM on October 19, 2006

Google can't see what's on there, period

There are other search engines that are not so compliant with NOFOLLOW-style linkage. I wonder how Goodsearch handles this?

Just live with it. Here's me on Usenet, 1988. Does it make me cringe? Yes. Could it rub some people the wrong way? Maybe. Would I ask Google to remove it? No. Unlike, say, Roger Carasso, who removed his wonderful opus from the public web. I do appreciate concerns of people in a restricted job market but I do think these concerns are over-blown. Unless you're flagrantly endorsing the rogering of infants online, selection committees have far more tangible, immediate ways to write you off. These kinds of networks are so small there's always someone at most one or two people away from getting some back-channel direct dirt on you.
posted by meehawl at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2006

Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson's advice for burgeoning academics on the intarweb:
1) Change your sockpuppet monthly. That thing can begin to stink after awhile, so strip it from your body and let out to air. Only put it on again for jokey, self-referential comments.
2) When purchasing sockpuppet accounts, do not use Paypal. Send Matt $5 CASH in an unmarked envelope that you addressed with your non-dominant hand.
3) Always post from a different IP address, ideally in different cities. Do not buy plane tickets to said cities with a credit card.
3) If you are a famous philosopher, do not "cleverly" conceal your name in your handle, e.g. "dennettrator", "dan the elbowman"
4) Do not sign your posts, Todd Lokken-style. This will both make people want to kill you and give them the means to do so.
5) Do not put your street address and the hours you are home each day on your profile page.
6) Always remember: People are much more clever than you give them credit for. At least someone has probably connected the dots and figured out your true name, which prestigious institution rhyming with "chinston" you work at, and why you don't want it getting out that one of your sockpuppets once accused Peter Singer of wearing a toupee made from nutria, especially now that AOL has publicly posted all of your search engine queries, which seem to bizarrely revolve around rodents.

I would be genuinely curious to know if anyone knows who I am. Email's in the profile.
Really? It's that obvious?

posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 9:44 AM on October 20, 2006

Interesting thoughts from everyone. I decided to remove my name, but post my location and an email address. I think that this is a good compromise, which is to say that it seems to fully resolve neither of my original worries. :)
posted by Kwine at 11:14 AM on October 20, 2006

For even the worst of these jobs ... there will be more than 200 applications... It only takes one real hard-head on the selection committee to ... scotch your chance at an interview. ... [I]n the kind of job market that we face, with the huge power of hiring committees...

To me, these would be reasons to get out of academia post haste, not to hide my light under a bushel. But of course I'm not an academic; we all make our particular deals with the devil.
posted by kindall at 1:50 PM on October 20, 2006

Well, it's not just search engines you have to worry about; crazy people get grudges and decide they want to mess with you irl, by contacting your boss or family. Some of those crazy people have been members, and some of those grudges have been completely off the wall (in other words, something relatively minor could set someone off), so if you want to be absolutely sure, pretty good privacy probably isn't good enough.
posted by taz at 5:33 AM on October 21, 2006

We've seen it happen on these very pages, taz.
posted by crunchland at 5:46 AM on October 21, 2006

posted by taz at 6:03 AM on October 21, 2006

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