Think I can solve this privacy issue of mine?
December 11, 2012 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Think I can solve this privacy issue of mine? If not, what to do if I'm "discovered"?

Years ago, when I was an immature, attention-whoring and irresponsible internet user, I let loose on an internet board (internet boards being something I was new to, by the way) and made thousands of posts—especially ones of a sexual nature—that would likely horrify my family if they were to see them. Additionally, being discovered there would disclose my mental condition—which I like to keep private—to my family. And one more trivial reason for not wanting my family to see those posts: My writing, though admittedly still not of a professional quality, sucked back then; I don't want my family to think I still write like that.

All in all, the posts I made on that site paint a false image of my current self and the thought of my family finding me on there horrifies me (note that I say "family" rather than "sister" because if my sister finds me on there, she'll most definitely tell other family members about it).

At the time I frequented the board it felt nice to say as I wished until came the realization that, shit—my sister was familiar with the (super unique) username I chose to use on the board. When this realization came, I immediately requested a username change and was glad that my wish was granted. But, what I didn't realize right away, was that my old username was still showing up in quotes, making me still easy to find in search engines. When this realization came the worrying persisted for a while but I eventually forced myself to stop visiting the site and put it out of my mind and merely hoped my sister wouldn't ever bother looking up my username in Google (which, I believe, all these years later, she still hasn't; I'm sure that if she ever finds me, she'll be notifying me about it ASAP).

Fast forward to the present and I'm suddenly thinking about those forum posts again. I feel that merely hoping my sister won't find them isn't good enough and that I should do something about this rather than hope. But what is there to do? Would anyone even bother trying to help someone who was irresponsible? Even if I could get a staff-member to bulk-delete my posts—something most forum staff don't do (and for good reason)—my quoted posts, which there are many of, would still show up and I'd still be Googleable. A word filter on my old username would do the trick, but this is something I've already requested but my request was ultimately ignored. And requesting a staff member to manually delete all occurrences of my old user-name, which would also do the trick, is out of the question as that would be insanely time-consuming considering how high my post count is.

So what to do? Is there any solution? If you think not, what on earth will I say to my sister in the event that she sees my posts?

I'd like to stop worrying, but there's a lot of embarrassing shit about me out there. Reading through my old posts has made me start worrying again. :(
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a sister with a brother who I know has an active online life, please take this as a comfort: it has never occurred to me to google my brother's usernames. (Until now. But honestly I don't want to bother.)

If I did, and I found objectionable content, I would likely stop reading as soon as I found it distasteful and do what I could to erase that mental image.

If your worst-case scenario comes up, I would just say: "ugh. That was a really terrible time in my life-- and for whatever reason, I spent some time writing really dumb stuff online. None of it was real. Honestly I've put that in my past now, and I don't want to talk about it anymore." If she pushes you, just be firm "yeah, I said a lot of weird stuff there, and I don't want to talk about it now. Please let me put it behind me."
posted by samthemander at 6:38 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

How much time did your sister spend interacting with you while you were using that username? I for one would not have a chance of remembering my sisters' usernames from several years ago - in fact, I don't remember the email addresses they use today. And if for some reason I did happen to remember one, I wouldn't bother to Google it.

I don't mean to disparage your problem, but this sounds like something that has more than likely (for all practical purposes) resolved itself with time. Doublecheck that these posts can't be linked to your real identity (make sure your name/photos/etc. aren't on there), but otherwise, I think you're probably okay.
posted by littlegreen at 6:40 PM on December 11, 2012

Do you still use that username? The best solution to burying embarrassing old content on the web is often to bury it - cover it with new, more interesting, harmless content until the less-desirable stuff is several pages deep. With most forums, it won't take much - Google deprecates old content quite a bit nowadays. (And try googling for it incognito, just to see how high it shows up to people who aren't you - Google always tries to be "helpful" and that can skew your results, especially if you still visit that site.)

It's not clear if you've asked for your posts to be deleted, but it might help at least some. (Less if the forum is one of those irritating ones where quoting the complete text of everything ever is the default option.) At very least, you may as well ask the staff at this point what they are willing to do. On Metafilter, for example, we couldn't do a *ton* for you, but if you could pick out, say, the three most embarrassing posts we would theoretically be able to delete them for you. (I am a mod. I am not... well, actually I am your mod, but this is not an official offer. Please use the contact form to discuss individual cases.)

And in general, it's probably a better use of your energy to practice a shrug and a bland "yeah, that was a while ago, wasn't it?" or something similar (possibly "you weren't the intended audience for that" followed by a change of subject and/or a flat refusal to discuss it.) The horse is out of the barn in the larger picture - you can never be absolutely sure that something on the internet is really, totally, forever gone - so do what you can and let the rest go.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:52 PM on December 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think you are over thinking this and unless there is some other reason that you haven't mentioned, it seems unlikely that your sister would suddenly get the urge to google your old usernames.

I have some seriously awkward stuff out there in the interwebz and a small portion of it surfaced the other day, to my mother of all people. You know what I did? I just LOL'ed it off and didn't mention it again.

As others have said, it was ages ago and if it ever did come up, just brush it off. The bigger deal you make of it, the bigger the fallout will be.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:03 PM on December 11, 2012

Jumping off the idea of burying it with more recent searchable content with the same user name...consider filling that new searchable content with counter-intelligence. If there's a [SavvyUnicorn101] posting all over, sharing personal details about how s/he lives in [not your town] and has [x-1 or x+1 kids more than you] and loves [activity you have always hated], it'll be a lot more plausibly deniable if she comes across your posts too.
posted by Pomo at 7:07 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

They probably will try to stop looking at it and never think of it again if they come across it and realise that it's yours. Remember, as your family, embarassing stuff you do also embarasses them.
posted by windykites at 7:50 PM on December 11, 2012

Could you try for plausible deniability? Create a blog with that name and username, create accounts on various boards with that username... on boards that you wouldn't normally frequent, and get prolific so that you a) crowd out those old posts in search results, and b) create enough doubt that you can deny it was you. You could even go Amazon Mechanical Turk and hire some expertise in areas that'd throw off any nosy relative.
posted by at at 8:33 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of my siblings has an email address and sometimes username I'm familiar with, because it's an inside joke between the two of us.

I have never thought to google it, or to try to find his accounts on various sites I know he uses.

Unless your sister is out to sabotage you, I doubt anything really bad would occur if she were to stumble upon your posts on this forum. If she did confront you with the fact that she'd found this stuff, probably "That was a really long time ago and it's not a part of my life anymore" is enough to get her off your case.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 PM on December 11, 2012

You have two problems: The problem you asked us about, and the problem that you have so many things you want to keep secret from your family. If these subjects were important enough for you to write a thousand posts, then you should think about whether this is a part of yourself that you really ought to share with the closest people in your life, too.
posted by hyperbovine at 4:09 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, I ~love~ the idea of covering up your old content with new content, either red-herring new content that poses as another individual with the same username, or really-you new content that makes 1000 posts on e.g. community service forums!

If you have money to spend, you can probably hire people to do this. There are people and agencies whose whole job is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). One week from now, you can make a new metafilter post and ask the question, "How do I hire a good SEO who can help me do this?"
posted by kellybird at 5:35 AM on December 12, 2012

If your sister does find these posts...well, you were young and immature. You saw those boards as an outlet. What you wrote there was part of an act...playing out a persona that was not truly you. We've all been there before in one way or another, it's all part of growing up and setting the boundaries of what defines us.

If your sister finds them, tell her not to worry and just ignore them. If she's upset and reveals it to your family, just explain yourself and how you regret that you can't make it go away. I think lying about it will be hard to do as it is a very unique username that only you would use...and saying it was hacked would only build mistrust as the comments likely have some truths about you that only you would know. It's better to just explain your perspective on how unhappy you are with what you did....back when you felt more protected with a sense of anonymity.

Unfortunately this is one of the main consequences of the internet age. We all make mistakes in life, and the internet never forgets...which is why privacy is so important. Aside from continuing to bug the forum administrators expressing your concern, the only thing you can really do at this point is wait (or try to bury it like others suggested).
posted by samsara at 5:46 AM on December 12, 2012

For what it's worth, I am a nosy younger sister to a brother with a unique username. We have a good relationship and it has NEVER occurred to me to Google his username. However, I have a very close friend who would definitely do this to her brother, if she knew enough to google. But honestly, I think that my friend does stuff like this because she's anxious about her brother's well-being. If you can find a way to honestly connect with your sister, it might be more beneficial than elaborate SEO management tricks. (Of course, building relationships is easier said than done!) Besides the obvious intrinsic benefits, a better relationship would probably result in the following things:

1) She'd feel less of a need to snoop.
2) If she did snoop and find something, she'd be more likely to keep it from your parents and respect your privacy.
3) If she gets to know you, as you are today, and you really have changed, she'll more easily write it off as stupid teenager stuff, or possibly even another person entirely. (Seriously, I've met people with username's that are random combinations of letters, and they still run across other users with the name from time to time.)
posted by tinymegalo at 9:05 AM on December 12, 2012

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