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the winter blog

Privacy and Anonymity Online: 10 Inarguable Reasons Why and 5 Ways How (and why I chose neither!)

“When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Malala Yousafzai

Privacy and anonymity in the online world seems nearly impossible in 2023. Even the great grandmas of the world know how to use Facebook wrong and politely ask Google questions. Some of those among us have literally never lived in a world where putting a photo of yourself online for the whole world to see is actually not all that normal.

Privacy and anonymity online are not exactly the same things and both are very much valid choices when it comes to these choppy seas that are the World Wide Web. Privacy is the ability to choose what you share and what you don’t. Anonymity is when you open up, but don’t want anyone to know who you are. People often make the choice to keep their private lives separate from their online lives and for various different reasons.

10 Reasons Why You Should Maintain Privacy or Anonymity

Online privacy and anonymity

When I first started The Winter Of My Discontent, I had this internal mental battle…should I use a pseudonym for the blog? There were plenty of reasons why I wouldn’t want to write in a hopelessly honest way about my brain disorders and darkest moments for a worldwide audience. The usuals — what if a future employer finds it, what if a future romantic partner/friend finds it and ends things, what if people who know me or my family see it?

I’ll explain my decision later, but for now, let me give you a more extensive list of reasons why you may want to draw a strict online privacy system for yourself and even consider complete anonymity.

1. To avoid isolation from the outside world.

This goes doubly if you work from home. I’ve always been one to trend toward self-isolation. For a long time, I had an active social life only because everyone always just hung out at my house. It was perfect. As my support system online has grown and become stronger, my connection to the outside world does the opposite. It even becomes scary for some of us, the idea of going out and being social face to face.

Giving up your privacy and identify online can cause trouble for you in many ways. It has for me. My walk through this world of online advocacy and blogging has been vast majority positive, but there are drawbacks and they have most definitely caused conflict in my life.

You can create your own little vacuum online where you exist with all these people who have the same ideas, beliefs, or experiences as you. It starts to feel like the world is changing and becoming kinder, more accepting, more nurturing. Then you go outside and…it’s none of those things. Eventually, you start to prefer understanding over fighting to be understood.

2. To protect your personal safety.

Quite often it seems that we’re “safe” on the internet. The people we’re interacting with can’t see us and don’t know us; we can project whatever image we want…and so can they. The issue at hand is that the more powerful the internet becomes, the easier it becomes to find out extremely personal information about people, especially their phone number and address.

Doxing is often seen in news headlines, often with tragic results. Though we’ve gone from the early internet, in which the internet was like a bogeyman — filled with scary stories about stranger danger — to 2023 internet, in which we “hook-up” with people we’ve just matched with on a dating app. Some of my very best friends are people that I met on the internet. One time, I fooled around and fell head-over-heels in love on the internet (it turned out just how you’d think). But the internet is still churning out (and uniting) the most depraved of the depraved.

People still get tricked. We trust the wrong people. If we’ve given up our privacy, we’re easy to find and suddenly it’s not just us in danger, but our families and loved ones too. Protecting your privacy, and even choosing full anonymity, will help you avoid this all together.

3. It will push you to be more present in your daily life.

When you set clear boundaries between your personal and online lives, you automatically are more focused and engaged by what is happening in your daily life; work, family, parenting, hobbies, pets, etc. Not only that, it can even help you feel more satisfaction out of your every day routine. You hear a lot about “mindfulness,” in 2023 — so much so that it seems to have lost any meaning.

Mindfulness, true mindfulness, is just being aware of your present moment. I never understood what that really meant until I got my coaching certifications. During one of the courses, they said:

“The present moment is the only thing that exists. The past doesn’t exist ANYMORE. It’s the past, it’s already happened. What we’re left with are memories, ghosts. The future doesn’t exist YET. It’s only worries and expectations and we have no real way of knowing what will happen from second to second, let alone in the future. It doesn’t exist. By the time we get there, it’s transformed into the present moment. Because the present moment is the only thing that exists.”

– extremely paraphrased by me, but you get the idea

It seems like such a simple perspective. Absolutely factual and science-based. And idea that simply can’t be argued with. Yet, it had never occurred to me until that moment. Since that moment, there have been times that I’ve been in an amazing moment and think, “Oh no, it’s almost over,” and immediately corrected myself, “But it’s not over yet, so don’t ruin this amazing time by worrying about a moment that hasn’t happened yet.” I just remind myself to be present in this moment. With my brain, it can’t always be done, but it really does snap me back into the moment when I need it.

4. You can’t take it back once it’s out there.

I regularly and often thank my lucky stars that smartphones with all their video and photo capabilities were not a thing until I was in my late 20s. I’ve still posted plenty of regrettable moments, mostly through the written word in a classic mixed drink I like to call, “I’m Drunk and Emo Again. Sit Down And Let Me Vomit Some Overshare All Over Your Face.”

But, video? The night I vomited in the Taco Bell drive-thru, cried because someone asked if I was okay and I was convinced they were making fun of me, wept like an old-timey Southern widow the entire car ride home (convinced that I was managing to silently cry), and was crying because, “my mom and dad hate me and are so disappointed in who I am?” That night on video? No thanks!

Even if you manage to delete it from the original source, there are archiving websites in every corner of the website. People screen shot and share and things spread. It’s very hard to get rid of. You should always go into with the assumption that it will be there for the WHOLE world to see for the rest of eternity. If you are sure to keep the details of your life private or anon, this is an avoidable foil.

5. To retain your freedom of thought and your independence of speech.

So, I’m making a distinction here for a reason. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people misunderstand the First Amendment, who, and what it protects you from. So, I look at this two ways:

1) Anonymity and personal privacy on the internet actually give you more freedom of thought; to explore more new ideas, beliefs, people, cultures, etc., without the judgement and expectant eye of others. I often allow myself to get sucked into a rabbit hole in some weird corner of the internet. I’ll search for one thing and while reading an article on that, I’ll see a word, phrase, or idea that starts me on a whole new search. Are that curiosity and desire to consider more are a pleasant side effects of the freedom from prying/knowing eyes or are they what drive us to remain anon in the first place?

2) Independence of speech I think is a little bit different. When you hear, “freedom of speech,” these days, it’s eye-twitchingly common to hear it used as an excuse why someone should get away with saying or promoting something awful. “Freedom of speech,” is freedom…from government punishment, not social and career consequences from your peers and communities. You *can* say whatever the hell you want to, provided it doesn’t fall under specific categories of unprotected speech, and your right is exercised. In that moment. Unless the government then arrests or punishes you for it, no one has violated your right.

This is where independence of speech comes in. To me, independence implies a keen decision making ability which you are then free to use your good sense to decide for or against. That’s what speech should be about, individually (not mandated by the government: THEME!)…yes, you have the absolute right to protected speech, but that doesn’t mean you should exercise it at all times. Be an honest, authentic, productive voice while using your independence of speech in a meaningful way.

That was a tangent…sorry. Protecting your privacy and anonymity can help you to speak more freely and openly and to be a strong, resounding voice for your community. It can also help assholes be more asshole-ish. I guess what I’m trying to say is, use this one mindfully; protect yourself from things that haven’t happened yet.

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6. Your openness can often lead to new connections from all over the world.

We live in an incredible time. We can make connections with people who normally would have only been an idea to use before. No matter how obscure an interest or hobby, there is most likely a community to be found that centers around it. You can, quite literally, find *your* people. The ones who get you, who can help you, who will make you feel understood and accepted.

Two of my closest friends I met through the internet and one of my oldest friends, as well! On top of that, as my real life connections scatter on the path of life, we are able to maintain those close relationships because of the internet and our openness to learning new ways to use it.

7. Not everyone is your friend — people can, and will, use it against you.

There will be those who will use your words, beliefs, and choices and twist them out of context to make them something different. There have been times where the meaning behind what I said was so contorted and gnarled from it’s original intent that I was shocked because I never dreamed that would be the tone anyone picked up. The thing is, is someone is committed to misunderstanding you, they’re always going to find a way to use your own words and experiences against you.

I had my own words read back to me in open court. They tried to use it against me in a court of law, y’all! It didn’t work, but they tried it! Being mindful of your personal privacy online is one way to be sure that this doesn’t happen.

8. Anonymity allows you to speak more authentically and freely.

A lot of people in the mental health space choose to post anonymously because they fear the blowback from stigma. It allows them to tell their story in a way that can’t be connected to their personal lives and careers.

9. To protect the people in your life.

Let’s be honest, some people are not going to like seeing their role in your story from your perspective. Sometimes there truly is a bad guy and sometimes it’s someone that you love and want to spare. Locking down your personal privacy and identity can help protect them so they can’t be identified through their connection to you.

Always do keep in mind, though…you are generally protecting their feelings and egos than protecting them in any meaningful way. Not only do you deserve to tell your side of the story, but they should be open to accepting and acknowledging their part so that you can mend and heal. But, still, I get it.

10. By being more private and anonymous, you are allowed to stop living up to your own or other’s expectations for how you should behave, think, or communicate.

You can let go of what you’ve been told to believe, how to behave, or to think. The anonymity of the internet allows people to express themselves free from “should.”

5 Ways to Protect Your Personal Privacy and Anonymity Online

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There are a lot of reasons why you might want to stay private online. For one thing, it’s never been more important to look after your own personal data, with so many people and companies vying for that information in order to sell to you or use it against you in some way or another. Beyond that, however, it’s also a matter of trying to keep your finances secure, as well as generally making sure that you are looking after your overall privacy. So how can you actually stay private online?

1. Ditch Your Smartphone

If you are really serious about being anonymous online, you need to make sure you avoid using a smartphone. Your smartphone, while certainly a useful device, is also one of the primary ways in which people are able to keep surveillance on you. If you want to be truly private, then you will only achieve that by ditching your smartphone altogether. If you like, you can replace it with a burner phone, although even then your location can be triangulated and your call records recorded. However, it will be a much more private existence altogether.

2. Remember Your Passwords The Old Fashioned Way

Nowadays it is very common for people to say yes to that option for their browsers to remember their passwords for them. While this might seem like a useful function, it is obviously not all that private or secure, and you are going to find that you are much safer if you simply remember your passwords the old-fashioned way – by remembering them! As long as you choose something memorable, this is not all that hard, and it will mean that you are genuinely going to be a lot more private and secure online.

3. Use A VPN, Always

For many people, a VPN is only useful when they are trying to get on to a streaming network for another country, or other situations like that. However, it is actually primarily a very important, even essential, privacy tool. How does a VPN work? Well, essentially it means that your connection to the internet happens via a number of bounced connections to different IP addresses. This masks your actual IP address, meaning that it is not possible – or practically impossible, anyway – to track and trace you. So make sure you use a VPN whenever you are online if you want to be completely private.

4. Anonymize Your Email

Even someone who rarely uses the internet will probably have cause to use email from time to time. So you need to have a way to make sure that your email is private as well. And as it happens, there are quite a few ways to do this too. You might, for instance, wish to anonymize your email, so that nobody can use it to find you or trace you down. This is easier to do than ever, you just need to use the right email provider. And it’s a great way to make your online existence so much more private.

5. Use an encrypted messenger app.

Don’t trust your online communications to Facebook messenger, Twitter DMs, or Snapchat. Make sure that you’re using a legit and secured encrypted messaging app to protect your identity, financial information, and personal info.

Why do you constantly overshare then?

When I first started advocating and putting my opinions, knowledge, and experiences out for the world to consume, I struggled with whether or not I wanted to use my own name…for all the reasons listed above.

At the end of the day, I don’t use my full name, generally. I also don’t make it very hard to figure out who I am. There were several reasons for my decision, all very personal. As it should be. Firstly, I was starting from nothing, so I needed the help of my loved ones to get things off the ground. But also, by talking about it in my own voice, I’m taking my power back. I’m healing myself by helping others heal themselves. Mostly, though, I’m proud of my talents, knowledge, and HARD WORK and I deserve to have my real name attached to that.

I really started it all out of a hope that I could make a difference. That I could be loud enough to educate more people so that people like me could finally feel understood and seen on a level they’d never experienced before. A hope and desire born out of the fact that my people never understood or saw me and that is a travesty for them…because I am awesome.

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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