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Ask HN: How to ditch an established online identity and start over?
62 points by throwaway250618 on June 27, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments
I am active and known in a certain small industry in my home country ("developing world" kinda place) after 15+ years of online presence.

Over the past years I've been feeling constrained and unhappy with that identity. I also felt very alien in my home country and culture, both afk and online. Even my mother tongue and given name are not something I like. They all associate with the world I don't enjoy nor support.

While I'm obviously not a native English speaker, I feel more "at home" while communicating in and consuming English and living in the Western society.

I moved to a western country, but online I was still "there". Now I want to ditch my established identity and start afresh, under a new name. Distance myself from the culture I grew up in.

Of course, I could do all that without changing my name, but I feel like the old world would leak and haunt me.

Recently I came across the "ex Muslim" subreddit, and felt a weird familiarity. My troubles are nothing compared to those who grew up in a religious world and found the courage to leave and be vocal about it. But I could relate in a way. They feel like "the old life" is constantly trying to leak in and poke them.

It worries me, and I thought maybe we could discuss this type of cyber-rebirth, its caveats. Maybe someone has relevant experience and wouldn't mind sharing.

- How do you make sure the old identity doesn't leak into the new one? (apart from obvious technical non-contamination policy)

- Feels like starting from scratch in 2018 is harder than it was 15 years ago. Maybe it's the other way around. I guess I'm getting cold feet.

- I want to write and create, but I'm worried that being this weird person who magically appeared on the internet just a few months ago would make people wary. Google my new name: the guy never existed before 2018. Where the hell was he?

- Will changing full legal name (first and last) bring lots of problems for years to come?

- Am I being silly?




I cut ties with my old identity in two stages. First I rejected the country of my birth, and then the gender I was assigned at birth. There are similarities between that and what you’re trying to achieve.

Unfortunately, I found no reliable way to ensure the old identity doesn’t “leak” into the new one, because I’m still the same person, and because the changes I made were gradual rather than timed to appear as a single event.

I just had to learn to accept that if someone were to look, they’d still find my old name etc. Luckily most people don’t care, and just accept what you tell them about yourself. That’s to say that I found a way to be fine with it not being a secret that a change has occurred, because it rarely matters to anyone.


I would be interested in hearing more about how your online identity had to change during your transition. I know it would help a lot of young trans people.


I bet that was both exciting and extremely hard. Glad to hear you did it.


I'm semi-anonymous: if you look hard enough you could find out, but the public at large doesn't care. So I think if you change your accounts, you can keep your viewpoints (keep expressing them) -- most won't make the connection.


I can relate, I'm almost at the end of the same "process". Originally from eastern Europe, moved to UK 8 years ago, acquired UK citizenship (kept my original one too), changed my full name in UK to a western sounding one. Currently at the stage of getting UK passport with UK name and keeping old name on original passport - the process is not exactly straight forward, but possible due to certain "loophole" in the law. This way I will (hopefully) effectively have two official identities, won't look like a weirdo when I'm back in my homeland and won't have to spell out my original name for the thousandth time on the phone when I'm in UK. Despite of what some people will tell you, prejudice is real, so if you feel like a cosmopolitan - change your name, it's not a big deal. Don't worry about absence of history if someone "googles you", in the end you will win more than you loose.


>Despite of what some people will tell you, prejudice is real

I’m constantly going back and forth between “nah, people are generally sane and good, they don’t just think in stereotypes and names don’t matter” and “oh, god, they all have a strong impression even before they meet me, and it’s probably negative”.

But in the end, I’m sure prejudice is real.


I like my identity, but somehow I wanted to erase my online presence. I like to write, draw and also want to create a youtube channel, but i don't want to associate with it in the physical world.

So, I think I can relate to this question.

What I did? 1) I went ahead and deleted all possible accounts I could which appeared in the google search. 2) I am looking for a new online name now. I will then create content and be active on social media (not facebook) through that name. I'd be happy if my friends and colleagues don't know about it.

P.S my first ever comment on HN since 2008. I would just read HN before without login.


Thanks for your reply.

Good luck! I hope your new name and online identity will be a pleasant adventure.


You seem to have several problems that shouldn't be confused.

1) You dislike your home country and culture, for reasons you keep private but can be assumed to be very unpleasant. This is a concrete and objective issue (uncomfortable life in a "developing" country, enemies, etc.) and moving to a western country solves the problem quite effectively.

2)You abhor your native culture, even your mother tongue and your name, as ties to your disliked country. This is a psychological issue, and your main strategy should be not allowing it to have a negative impact on your happiness. Which brings us to…

3) You are allowing your online ties to pull you back to the country you have left. These ties need to be cut as extensively as possible, but not with dramatic means like changing your name.

Abandon social media account, possibly email addresses, personal sites, forums and the like; people disappear online all the time, and everybody will simply do without you. Of course you could easily keep a few trusted friends.

4) Stubborn and enterprising unwanted people could ask themselves whether you have new sites, accounts etc. and look for you; hiding identifying details (no photos, using pseudonyms rigorously, no addresses, date of birth etc.) can protect you from casual identification attempts.

5) Regarding less casual identification attempts, what's the worst thing that can happen if you are identified? A warrant to arrest you? Hated relatives at your door? Debt collection? Embarrassment for something you cannot undo? Traveling to your present location should be a useful barrier to entry for anyone who wants to bother you in person instead of being ignored online.


Thank you, this is very helpful.

1) Yes, this was one of the best things that happened to me.

2) Again, thank you for formulating that in such a clear way.

5) Yeah, nothing like that, luckily. No enemies I know of, no debts or hated relatives.

Your comment made me think in a refreshing manner.


From an external point of view you are just an emigrant with new personal and professional interests. Your old online acquaintances are not likely to care about your "retirement" except to wish you well or as a small loss; if there are exceptions deal with them individually.


>I'm worried that being this weird person who magically appeared on the internet just a few months ago would make people wary. Google my new name: the guy never existed before 2018.

I am continually surprised by the number of people I meet/know who are highly accomplished in their careers yet have no discernible online presence — no Twitter, no Facebook, no (discoverable) forum comments, no blog, etc.

I have occasionally tried to look up old classmates and found that they have no online presence. They're on no social media. You can't even find a photo of them in Google images. I hear through the grapevine that they have families, own businesses, etc., but you'd barely be able to tell they exist via the Internet.

I guess that might be less common in technical fields, e.g., software development, but in general there are many such people.

I wouldn't think anything was weird if one of these highly accomplished people suddenly started blogging and Twittering and such. So I wouldn't worry about that part of it.


I've been looking for a job and when I talk to some executive I'll look them up and like you noted... nothing but a LinkedIn profile and a short one at that.


You talk about establishing a new _online_ identity, but also about changing your legal name. For an online identity, do you intend for it to be easily connected to your (new) legal name?

If you were using a pseudonym not clearly tied to any legal name you have or have had, I am not sure why people would think it odd that the pseudonym arrived all of a sudden.

I have been fairly sloppy in keeping my different pseudonyms separate, (though I personally don't have much reason to work particularly hard to keep them separate) so this might be less informative, but I've never really had an issue with people thinking it odd that a pseudonym of mine appeared suddenly. On the other hand, I haven't published much of note, so that might be part of why.

If you intend to use a pseudonym, but one which is clearly connected to your new legal name, perhaps you could introduce the pseudonym without connecting it to your new legal name, and then after a bit, once the amount of recognition and/or time that you think is appropriate has been obtained/has passed, start connecting the pseudonym to your new legal name?


>For an online identity, do you intend for it to be easily connected to your (new) legal name?

I'm not going to change my legal name any time soon, sorry for a somewhat confusing explanation. I was just thinking if that new online identity is alive and successful (subjectively), then, in the future, I might consider changing my legal name accordingly.


I don't have any advice but...

> While I'm obviously not a native English speaker...

This is absolutely not obvious from your posts - don't be so hard on yourself!


I second this. Seriously my friend, I know native English speakers who don't write nearly as well as you do!


Thank you both, this made me smile and feel really good. One of those warm moments.


don't worry, delete what you can, create new content that flushes the old to page 2 of Google, be honest about having a different past if confronted (people that can't accept that are not worth your time anyways)

enjoy reinventing yourself!

I'd only be worried if you e.g. would do political journalism on somewhat Muslim related topics. in that case a full disclosure would be better or it might be used against you.

as for disliking your name: maybe you can find an additional nickname. I'd think twice about throwing out your "real name". I hope your relationship to your origin will relax over time. over time you hopefully can fully identify yourself with who you became and who you are and the past doesn't even matter so much anymore and than there is no reason to cut any ties anymore either.


I do have a feeling this might be an overreaction of sorts, so yes, you're probably right and my relationship to the origin will relax over time.

Another issue is hidden discrimination or just stereotypes. Continuing with the Muslim analogy, imagine a caucasian non-religious western dude named Muhammad with a weird last name that doesn't sound like anything familiar anywhere on the planet except for one country. This is something I had to live with. When people hear my full name, they usually think of a certain culture and religion, and it has nothing to do with neither me nor my appearance.


I'm a white western male I really shouldn't give any advice on the problems with racism...

I of course hope it would be OK to be honest and simply ignore those who are racist, but maybe being pragmatic the sad truth is that hiding it avoids racist prejudices... Still a nickname might work fine for anything but official things like applications.


> magically appeared on the internet just a few months ago

You mean like everyone else just after they join reddit or HN? Same for blogging - there's plenty blogging and YouTubing under some cute handle rather than their given name. Plenty change names from marriage or other reasons such as abuse, witness protection or gender reassignment. More than a few have chosen to disappear, including Why the Lucky Stiff who was quite famous for a while.

All you have to do is establish a few karma points, i.e. gain a little credibility online, and vanishingly few will care what you're called or if you've always been throwaway250618.

If you go on to instigate a huge scam then people will put some effort into history and doxxing.


I think you’re right, but the importance of some history to the credibility is higher in certain areas. If I write an article and post it on HN, then yes, I don’t think people here care too much about my public history, procided that the article is interesting.

But if I decide to write and sell a book or produce a paid course, then having no history related to the field I’m trying to be an expert in feels pretty sketchy.

I can say for myself: when I’m considering buying a book or a course, I research the author.


I would too for a technical book or course, to a point. Mainly as so many have managed to successfully sell garbage. ;)

A refund policy and giving away a couple of random lessons or chapters should cover credibility there. Some months blogging in that niche and some reasonably written code over on github should be enough background for casual searching. Build the rest as you go. I don't think it's too hard to stand apart from the Internet Marketer types.

You probably don't need much background for a $29 ebook or video course to sell, you probably do for a $1,999 on site course.


There are two separate questions here: the one on online identity, and the one on changing a "legal name" (whatever that means). Using a pseudonym online is perfectly normal, in my opinion. I seem to recall that the British police and British school teachers advise people to use a "false" name online, unless there's a good reason not to, as a basic safety tip. So schoolchildren need a good memory to remember all the different names their friends use for different social media accounts. The different names people use could easily be linked by a police investigator, and perhaps by a determined private investigator but it's all rather opaque for the casual googler.


I've started the process and, except for a few places like Twitter, many online services and communities make it pretty hard to use a pseudonym. Especially when it comes to restoring a lost or hacked account, when you have to confirm your identity.


This is true and unfortunately hard to solve. Thankfully, you can prevent losing an account in the first place by replicating your passwords/secrets to more than one place (that you trust not to explode together) and being diligent about fixing failures in that system. For every account where I have done so, I have not lost credentials in over ten years.

As for having your accounts "hacked", the only advice to be given is digital sanitation: Regularly scan your machine, don't give information to places you don't know, don't download shady executables (or if you do, definitely don't execute them outside of a sandbox). These are all good practices regardless, it's just that for you they have become essential practices to keep your accounts.


It should be relatively easy to ditch an online identity. Start with changing your email (no mail forwarding either), then set up new accounts for the services you care about.

I changed my identity on HN and reddit all the time -- just create a new account. Of course these services could probably connect new with old just by IP address, but I don't care about that. What I'm actually doing is gaurding against something coming back to bite me in the ass years later (an unpopular opinion, lapse in judgement, etc).

Cahnging legal stuff, that depends on your country.



I think it's fine. It's just probably 10x easier to get 80% of what you want if you aren't as strict about doing away with your old one. You can do a name change and all that without completely vanishing. Does the odd obsessed fan or hater really matter?


You can refer to this book[1] which lists links to delete your accounts

[1]https://inteltechniques.com/data/workbook.pdf


I had several other pseudonyms that I use to use. One of them had half a million youtube views and thousands of subs associated with a game I used to play and I used to make guides read my hundreds of thousands of people and translated in multiple languages, I ended up deleting any association I had with it since I moved on with my life.

I had another pseudonym where I was one of the most richest players in a mmo with several million players. I used to post guides on how to make virtual money. I long since parted with that one too.

I also had another pseudonym account where I partially managed one of the largest online collaborations ever done, ironically I don't even tell people about that either. I look up that username and I see it referenced in the major news outlets.

I had another pseudonym that had too much namespace tech buzzwords associated with it, it was my github account, so I had to rename all my accounts to this one.

In another pseudonym, I had some batshit crazy moments in my life. It mostly stemmed from never talking about anything I did in the above, among other things. Because of some social stigmas at the time I couldn't really go see a psychiatrist. I ended up writing a 100,000 word post to myself, so I could learn more about why I have these insecurities. I learned about the things holding me back in my life, my regrets, etc. It mostly had to deal with superiority complex because I did lots of crazy impressive shit that no one knew in high school. I realized that growing up as well I maintained dual personalities (online and real life) from elementary to high school. Also, it was because I had multiple hidden disabilities that not even my family knew about. For the longest time I never accepted that fact. I ended up deleting that pseudonym one out too.

I don't know why but I've always had issues with attaching my name to a pseudonym. Maybe I'm paranoid, I don't know. I just have never been the type of person to showcase my work. I actually took some pride in that. I learned the hardway at my first job I ever had when I got fired from it, how its not what you do but how you showcase it

But, I made this pseudonym with the intent purpose that anyone who dug far enough can find my real name if they wanted too. But I also have insecurities about publishing things about my life, work, etc and I started as of last week to publish it openly. Mostly because I recently also decided to go to local tech meetups. I didn't realize that random people found things I do actually interesting. I have tons of interesting things I want to blog about but I don't know if it might haunt me later legally. My writing sometimes suffers as a result of privacy paranoia. I grew up dealing with legal issues my entire life so I'm always thinking of worst case scenarios.

I also intend on making youtube / DIY tutorials as well, am strongly considering setting away this pseudonym so I can have something more marketable. With my face on every video, etc. I feel like a lot of my potential is wasted if no one knows about it.

I don't know if that helps you out or not. Truthfully, online identities and whatever is just whitehat and blackhat SEO at the end of the day.

What has helped me is accepting and appreciating the old identity(s) for what it was. So long that I accept it is what matters the most. Also, accepting the fact that no one is truthfully going to dig that far deep, unless its the government,SO, an internet troll, someone that really hates you, or a recruiter. My name is considered fairly common so even if I hit the news nothings going to change.

I don't think your being silly here. Also this was very painful for me to write too. Just be grateful you aren't caught doing stupid stuff in public that went viral, etc. Or incarcerated, wrong place at wrong time in the eyes of the law, etc. That could seriously hurt your prospects in life.




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