Disabled Teens: Protect Your Anonymity Online

I have the privilege to talk to plenty of autistic teens who follow me as they discuss their lives with me. Few things are more wonderful than watching them learn and grow and become confident in who they are.

And as they delightedly embrace who they are, sometimes I feel a bit of worry.

Because while I smile when I’m hearing a girl tell me about her first date with a cute girl, a nonbinary teen delightedly embracing their new pronouns, or a teen sharing his thoughts on atheism and the nature of the universe… not everyone feels the way I do.

And I hope that these kids will never have the misfortune of some judgmental relative or school bully or future would-be employer happening across these comments and identifying who they are.

That’s why I strongly encourage autistic/disabled teens, and possibly adults too, to protect their privacy online.

Identifying information

It’s easy to leave clues online about your true identity, including:

  • Your real name (first and/or last)
    • Email addresses can share this
  • Your birthday
  • The names of your family members
    • And ages, birthdays, and appearances
  • The name of your school or workplace
  • Your city or state
  • Your appearance (such as a photo or a detailed accurate drawing)
  • Detailed family history (which family members might recognize if they saw it)

This means that anything you type can be traced back to who you really are.

Obfuscating misinformation

Doodle of an overbearing granny smiling at her uncomfortable teen granddaughter
If Granny uses knowledge
like a weapon, let’s disarm
her a little.

Sometimes people might want to be extra cautious, like if they have family that snoops around or if they reveal a lot about the degree of their impairments (e.g. “I still wear diapers at night”).

In my opinion, it’s OK to make up inconsequential details so that you have deniability if your cranky uncle shoves a laptop in your face someday and asks “IS THIS YOU?”

I think it’s okay to make up superficial details like:

  • Your hair color, eye color, or general appearance
  • Your siblings’ names (e.g. calling your brother “Noah” when his name is actually “Ron”)
  • Inventing an extra sibling who’s off in college or living abroad
  • Pretending you still live in a region you no longer live in (e.g. saying “I live on the East Coast” when you moved away two years ago)
  • Changing a detail of major family history (e.g. saying “My mom is disabled from a car accident” instead of “My mom is disabled from a motorcycle accident”)

Make this fake info easy to see, so if anyone from real life asks, you can say “Really? You think that girl with blue hair and a nose piercing is me? As if my mom would ever let me do that!”

But I don’t recommend doing things like:

  • Using a stock photo and pretending it’s you
    • You could get caught if someone does a reverse image search or recognizes the photo
    • Instead, use a drawing, either drawn by yourself or a loved one, or made with a creator like Picrew
  • Pretending to be a member of a minority group you aren’t a part of
    • This can be insulting/upsetting to members of that group if they find out you lied
    • You could get into hot water for doing this too

Said too much? It’s not necessarily too late

I know you’ve been told many times “Once you put something on the internet, it’s out there forever.” And that’s usually true, especially if it’s something people are looking for.

But sometimes you can erase (or nearly erase) things that nobody actually cares that much about.

So if you haven’t written much on a subject, it may be possible to do things like:

  • Switching to a pseudonym
    • You can say “Oh, I don’t really like my old pseudonym so I invented a new one” even if you were actually using your real name before
  • Switching to a sibling pseudonym
    • You can say that your sibling didn’t like their “old pseudonym” so you offered to let them pick a new one of their own
  • Making a change to things that sometimes change naturally in life, like
    • Where you live (but make sure it’s a place you know about so you can be realistic about it)
    • Your hair color
    • Your major at school or career plan
  • “Retconning” details that you wrote little or nothing about
    • I’ve done this and nobody has said anything so far
      • Most people have more important things to think about
    • But if someone does ask, you can say “I’d rather not talk about it” or “I’m being more careful about what I reveal online”

If someone does ask, you can even link them to this post to help them understand.

I change some personal details too

I’ve taken a few steps to camouflage my identity online. I keep certain details private and I do change a few potentially identifying details.

My sister, Stella, means so much to me. If potential employers knew I’m autistic, it might affect my ability to provide for her during adulthood.

So I’ve changed a few details and been selectively vague. It helps me be more honest about the things that matter. And so far, basically everyone has been kind and understanding.

Other potential leaks

Sometimes “harmless” things could accidentally give away info that’s best kept private.

  • Siblings and friends, while amazing, can be security risks.
    • Don’t share your username with younger kids or people who tend to violate your privacy (by accident, when upset, or under any circumstances).
    • Even well-meaning people (especially kids) can comment thoughtless things like “Have fun at UCLA, Moesha, and don’t let Professor Hayes get you down!” on a post from your supposed-to-be-secret identity.
      • Stella once left me a comment like this. Yikes.
  • Be very careful about posting photos under your fake name. Look closely and crop judiciously. And seriously consider posting zero pictures of yourself online.
    • Photo metadata includes info about your phone/camera brand and model.
    • Even generic outdoor photos could be recognized by a neighbor.
    • Avoid landmarks or identifying indoor furniture.
    • This goes double if you post photos under your real name online too.
  • Doxxing is a risk. Most teens are at low risk, but it can happen.
    • Online stinkers target people they don’t like.
    • Doxxers may target people who act confrontational, post strong opinions, or get into arguments with trolls.
      • Women and minorities are at even higher risk.
      • Being polite, wording things delicately, and ignoring trolls can help reduce your risk, though there are no guarantees.
      • And doxxing is the doxxer’s fault, not the victim’s.
    • Use a VPN to help conceal your location if you’d like.
      • Seriously consider using a VPN if you use WordPress, because when you comment on other people’s blogs, the blog owner can find out your location and email address.

Am I overcautious? Maybe. (According to most of my family members, I am overcautious about everything.) But I am acutely aware of the reality of disability discrimination and I really need stable employment.

You rarely regret being too careful. But you can easily regret not being careful enough.

What if people ask about it?

A doodle of two cheerful girls sending each other messages online
Hey, I’m trying to protect
my privacy online.” “Oh, OK!”

Mostly I find that people are pretty easygoing, but it is possible that someone will get curious and ask questions.

Most of these people mean well. They might just want to get to know you better or they might be feeling confused because they remember you saying something else.

Don’t know how to respond? That’s okay! I’ve spent years studying assertiveness skills and I have a few ideas for you.

General tips

When someone asks about a detail you don’t want to reveal, it can help to:

  • Briefly explain your motives
    • You can say outright that you want to be cautious about privacy
    • Or say that you aren’t comfortable answering a question due to safety concerns
    • You don’t have to elaborate at length
  • Don’t pretend to be consistent if you’re not
    • Everyone is inconsistent sometimes; it’s not a sin
    • Intentionally lying about what you’ve said in the past is sometimes called “gaslighting.” While it’s not always meant in a bad way, it’s not nice and it can negatively affect the other person
  • Model positivity (optional)
    • Say that you’re happy about it or it helps you feel safe
    • Encourage them to respond positively

You can totally set a boundary in a positive, pro-social way. And don’t worry, I’ll totally share examples.

Examples of answering questions

  • “Why does your profile say you have brown eyes? I thought you said earlier that your eyes are green.”
    • “I make up some personal details to for online safety reasons. I thought brown eyes might be fun!”
    • “An anti-LGBT relative has been trying to spy on all my accounts. I’m changing some personal details so I can have peace of mind.”
  • “You said you live in southeast Japan, but you also said it’s a sunny day and the radar shows heavy cloud cover all over.”
    • “Sorry for the confusion. I try to keep details about my location a little vague for online safety reasons. Thanks for understanding.”
    • “You caught me. I change some personal details online to help protect my identity. This helps me be more open and honest about the things that really matter to me.”
  • “Why are you changing your pseudonym?”
    • “My old one didn’t feel right. I thought of this new name and I fell in love with it.”
    • “I needed a change. Honestly, I’m really excited about my new name!”
    • “I wanted something that felt more like me.”
  • “You need to tell me the truth!”
    • “Online safety is very important to me. While I trust my friends, I don’t trust everyone on the internet, nor would I want to be vulnerable if my private messages got hacked somehow. This is how I feel safe online.”
    • “There are some things I’m not comfortable sharing in general. I’m sorry if that bothers you.”
  • “I’m sorry. I feel like I might have blown your cover by asking.”
    • “It’s okay. Asking questions isn’t a crime.”
    • “I doubt many people noticed. If you’d like, you can delete the comment where you brought up that info.”
    • “Don’t worry about it. If you’d like to help me, then just privately let me know if you ever see something about me that you think I should take care of.”

Most people will respond well to an honest and positive explanation, because most people want to be friendly and reasonable. (And in my opinion, many people are good at heart.)

If you’d like, you can even show them this article.

If someone is pressuring you or giving you bad vibes, you can always block them or ask a site admin for help.

In review

Here’s what I recommend to all autistics and disabled people, especially minors. Of course, you don’t have to do as I say. But you can consider it.

I recommend that:

  • Before you have stable employment (and perhaps beyond that too), only identify yourself as disabled under a fake name.
    • And consider faking or not disclosing identifying or inconsequential details like your appearance or general family history
    • Be doubly cautious if you have snooping family or if you discuss having significant impairments
  • Never offer details of your location. Stay very general (e.g. “I live in the eastern US” or “I live in Ireland”) and think before posting.
  • Choose which real-life people know about your online identity.
  • Don’t post photos, or crop them very carefully.

When in doubt, play it safe.

This concludes Luna Rose’s Super Careful Online Safety Blog Post.

Your safety comes first, especially in terms of protecting your future. And I want all of you to be able to preserve that joy of being yourselves without fear of some judgmental person ruining it.

Footnote: I have the ability to edit and delete comments left on my blog. If you ever said anything you regret sharing, talk to me, and I can fix it for you.

24 thoughts on “Disabled Teens: Protect Your Anonymity Online

    1. I suggest reaching out to the admin(s) with a link to the post. Tell them what you told me, and ask if they can remove it.

      If they can’t, it isn’t the end of the world. Here are a few steps you can take:
      ~ Keep posting regularly on the site, “burying” the old comment. A busybody would have a lot more to dig through that way.
      ~ Assign the person a new name and only use that one in the future.

      Since I don’t know the full context (and you don’t have to tell me), I can’t give super specific advice. I will say that this isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Especially if you don’t have many followers and/or if you didn’t comment in a popular place, it’s unlikely that many people noticed. Even if they did, it’s unlikely that they’ll remember it long.

      You’re probably going to be just fine. ❤

      Like

      1. I did reach out to the admins with a link and asked, but they refused even though the person I was talking about is a minor, which bothers me. I am confused what to do next.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Happy Holiday season. Leaving this comment to let you know I’ve gotten my crap together and finally chosen a new pen name, and that Ye Olde Email along with another surprise is waiting in your inbox. (P.S. sorry in advance for the mix up!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lola is a fun name! I love it. And I think it’s nice that you took some time to consider pseudonym ideas. After all, if you put some thought into it and weigh your options, you’re more likely to settle on something you really like.

      Like

      1. Thank you so much! I love it too. I have several reasons why it’s important to me. And after asking a favor from a friend, confirmed that I can’t be traced back to personal social media accounts. So I’m happy now.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never personally used throwaways, and I have no interest in “information warfare.”

    This article is just about staying safe. I’d like people use this information for good and not evil!

    Like

  3. This is interesting and it’s important to be mindful what you expose of yourself on the internet as it can come back to haunt you. Still, doesn’t this encourage masking? I know this is a survival tactic for many but what about those in our community who can’t hide their autism?

    I recently found out about about a guy called Damon Kirsebom and I strongly want to stand up for people like him in solidarity. Not everyone can seem neurotypical at a work interview. Personally while my looks don’t reveal my disability there is no way an employer wouldn’t notice, especially long-term.

    There is clearly a delicate balance to walk between being potentially open about your disability and not disclosing damaging information about yourself(or others!).

    I just feel conflicted about this type of stratergy since it will strengthen high/low functioning advocates argument against the autistic community. “High functioning” people can succed at this at high cost while “Low functioning” people capabilites are condemd to a life on disability support checks without opportunities.

    How are we going to advance disabilty rights if we can only talk about it anonymously amongst ourself on the internet? It’s clear that nobody else are particularly intrested in Autistic people’s rights. I don’t see that changing without self advocacy in the “real world” from ActuallyAutistic people.

    Like

    1. I honestly can see where you’re coming from; I don’t pass as non autistic in real life and I’m currently looking for a job. Although I think in a lot of cases, mine included, it also helps to have an online persona that friends or family aren’t at the risk of finding.

      I think another thing to keep in mind is that this article is focused on teenagers, as opposed to autistic adults who may already have begun their career path. Whether you’re pursuing friends or a job in real life or not, someone may still be at risk for doxxing or bullying online that could potentially transfer into real life.

      I think you have some really good points. My reply is only to help you see the other positives of having online anonymity. Cheers!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You make a number of interesting points. Ableism is a real and serious problem in the community. I watched Damon Kirsebom’s video and enjoyed learning from it. I hate how nonspeaking people are assumed to be childlike or “not there,” when many times they have a lot to say.

      To be honest, I encourage all teenagers (disabled or not) to be very thoughtful about what they disclose online. I wasn’t cautious enough as a teen, and it’s possible that could come back to bite me as an adult. I feel that all teenagers should be educated on online safety, regardless of disability, and should take time to consider these things with care.

      The functioning label dichotomy is truly awful. My goal here isn’t to try to reinforce it, but to encourage teens to take care of themselves. Maybe they’ll pass as non-disabled or maybe they won’t. Regardless, the ugly reality is that employers often discriminate. If they Google you and see that you’re disabled, your resume might go straight to the recycling bin.

      Advocacy under one’s real name can certainly help. However, it can also be a difficult burden to bear. I know someone who is retreating back into the closet because a bigoted family member is cyber-stalking them.

      I would encourage teens to wait before taking on that burden. They’re young and they’re still figuring out how to navigate the adult world. They can always choose to be open online later.

      The problem at the root of discrimination is that some people choose to discriminate. Disabled teens aren’t responsible for fixing that before they even get their first adult job.

      Finally, I would hope that advocacy under a fake name isn’t meaningless. I’ve been doing it for years now, writing educational articles encouraging autism acceptance. Doing that under my real name would cause me a lot of anxiety. I’d like to think that it’s my message, not my use or non-use of my real name, that makes the biggest difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. May I make another suggestion for anonymity? Very, very different usernames and profile pictures for accounts you don’t want easily found by those who know one account. It can be a bit of a pain, but it’s really useful, particularly if you’re the type of person to use the same username across multiple platforms.

    Good example: If your username for your personal account is MonarchButterfly, and someone looks that up, they’ll have a harder time finding your LGBT+/disability account that’s called AmputeeWithGayDHD. Likewise, if MonarchButterfly has a profile picture of a butterfly and AmputeeWithGayDHD has a profile picture of a tree, someone can’t find the other account with a reverse image search.

    (Though now that I think about it, the second account could get spammed with jokes about being AmputeeWithGayDHTree. Maybe that account would be better off using a picture of a cat or something.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a really awesome post. I think I’m going to reconsider a few aspects of my online anonymity after this. I was pretty safe before but as a disabled person job hunting you really can never be sure. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I hope you find a great job. You can always Google your name to see what comes up in a search.

      By the way, I have the ability to edit comments made on my blog. So if you ever think “I wish I could change what I wrote in that comment on Luna’s blog,” all you need to do is ask.

      Like

      1. That is really kind of you. Fortunately I’ve only made two comments on your blog so far (this being the third), both under the same pseudonym with limited information, so I feel safe.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you! Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought WordPress lets the blog owner see the email commenters enter. Which, if true, is okay with me because I trust that you would never do anything harmful.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, I do have the ability to see that. And I have absolutely no interest or need to mess with it.

              I think that WordPress needs to be more transparent about the fact that they share these things. Doubly so because we have minors, disabled people, queer people, bullying victims, and other potentially vulnerable groups posting comments on blogs. A malicious blogger could absolutely use this against people.

              Honestly, it really bugs me that these things are shared without users knowing it.

              Like

              1. I agree. I’ve not read a lot of blogs on WordPress, so I haven’t had reason to worry, but it is a bit off-putting that they’re not transparent about the visibility of emails.

                This reminds me of something I did recently without thinking twice about it, which I do regret but I hope you can help me sort it out since it does involve you.

                Back in 2018 I submitted a drawing to be in TDF which made it into the story. That’s not what I regret. I remembered your author email from there and wanted to reach out to you about more art related topics.

                I sent you an email from my personal email, which is the one you’re able to see from my comments, but I’m hoping to change over to a different email to not only be more professional but to make the full transition to my new pseudonym.

                I’m not sure if you still use the specific email, but if you do I would appreciate if you ignored or deleted my sent email. It was on December 1st. I’m sorry for the trouble, it was the fault of my doing without thinking. If you’re willing to chat about some art and another submission on my end for TDF on my preferred new email, please let me know. But I’d just like to resolve this so I can begin to cease use of my personal email.

                I don’t want all of my comments submitted from this email to be deleted, but if this issue gets resolved it would be much appreciated if you at least got rid of this one, as it’s a bit long and embarrassing to send. 🙂 Thanks for understanding.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I’m bad at checking my email inbox, but I stopped in now and saw your lovely message. I have an idea. Why don’t you copy the text of the email you sent and paste it into the body of a new email from the new email address, then send it to me? I’ll delete the old email and purge it from the trash. And I’ll keep a closer eye on my inbox. 🙂

                  It’s really cool you’re working hard on your new story! Do you have any chapters published yet?

                  Like

                  1. That is a great idea. I just sent it from my new email. I’ve also updated my Wattpad and Instagram which feels refreshing.

                    I currently don’t have any chapters posted but I’m hoping to change that soon. I have a few completed, but I want to have five or six done before I publish at all so I can afford to update at regular intervals.

                    Liked by 1 person

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