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May 17, 2014 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Should my young teenager use her real name on her web comic?

My 13 year old daughter is full of awesome creative energy, and is eager to start her own web comic. She has about a months worth of panels drawn and inked, she had a domain, she is ready to go. I am very supportive of this project, and think it will be fun and a great place to stretch herself artistically.

However, I am slightly concerned about her publishing this on the web using her real name. Should I relax? I've read so many of the threads both here on metafilter and elsewhere about the creeps and trolls that sometimes show up to harass content makers IRL. Our name and phone number are not unlisted, and it feels like it would be easy to track her down. I'm not worried about commenters, she can control that. Just how common is it for web creatives to deal with the more stalkery kind of troll? No big deal, or should she use a pseudonym? (Something she doesn't want to do.)
posted by Malla to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh. Hells. No. If her issue with using a pseudonym is that she wants people to know that it's really her, that's great and laudable, but then everyone will know it's really her, and that includes people she won't want to know it's really her. And those people do exist.
posted by Etrigan at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

I would encourage her to think of a really awesome pen name for a lot of different reasons, not all of them simply 'people can be creepy'. Thirteen is a very vulnerable age. And a cool pen name could be fantastic.

Plus, when she's sixteen, she's not going to want her thirteen year old self shadowing her on the internet.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

To illustrate that last point of mine, ask her how much she'd like evidence of her ten-year-old self hanging around on the internet, and all of the things she was into when she was ten.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Katie Tiedrich uses her real name. She's been doing that comic since high school; she's out of college now. You could email her to see if she thinks it was a good idea or not.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have her use her real name.

Great that she has a domain, but unfortunately, everyone can look up the address of the domain unless it is private so the details are unavailable.

Use her real name, but make sure the domain registration stuff is private. It only costs like $3/ year.

Good luck to her!
posted by hal_c_on at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a pretty successful self-published author (highly dependent on the Internet, obviously), and I use a pen name. I have bigger identity concerns than your daughter, given that some of my stories are pretty racy and I also teach--the LAST thing I ever want is to discuss my writing with students, because it will inevitably connect to that.

But that being said, yes, I'd highly suggest a pen name. The problem with the Internet is that you never know who is going to become your stalkerish fan, and you also never know when you'll wish you'd never written that thing you wrote. God knows there are things I wish weren't attached to my pen name now, and yet I get questioned by readers about whether or not I'll continue with those awful things three or four years on. Some people can't let things go.

And don't tell your daughter this (it can be discouraging), but inevitably, your daughter will write/draw stuff now that she'll be embarrassed about when she's older. EVERY creator does this. It's part of the growing & development process. I have two novellas and a bunch of short stories from my high school days that I can't look at now because I know I'll wind up clawing my own eyes out. Your daughter may feel the same, or she may embrace her early growing pains and leave it all on the internet if she continues to draw & write, but just having the CHOICE will be invaluable.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

As an aside, is your domain's purchase obfuscated, like if you go to does the domain name say it's yours or is it registered to a proxy? If it says it's yours, I would pay up and change it through whoever you bought it through.

Apologies if you already know that you can tell who owns a website.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:49 AM on May 17, 2014

To free her up to simply enjoy the writing I'd also vote for a pen name, going further to suggest a gender non specific name (Alex, Jay, Robin, Devon, etc.).
posted by humph at 11:54 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

No way. She's 13. I don't care how mature she is for her age, she doesn't have the maturity to understand longstanding consequences. It only takes one person to put you in an uneviable position. Also you may say mean comments are manageable but people on the internet can be cruel in ways you don't always expect. She's too young to know how vulnerable she is.

I say make choosing a pen name fun. Something she can be proud of.
posted by Aranquis at 12:04 PM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh my god please don't let her use her real name.
posted by elizardbits at 12:06 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Were it me, I would go pseudonym all the way and obfuscate any identity details connected to the website etc. In the future, if she wants to, she can always retroactively identify herself with this early work. But once the decision is made to attach it to her real name, that is a genie you can't put back in the bottle.

Bullies she knows, stalkers from across the world, future employers, future friends or enemies, who knows.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good lord, no real names. Make doxxers at least work for it.
posted by 5ean at 12:06 PM on May 17, 2014

Another vote for no, but maybe it will help if you can show her that other awesome authors (both men and women) she might like that also use pen names and the different reasons they chose to do so.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:24 PM on May 17, 2014

Nope nope nope nope nope. Whole bucket of nope. So many reasons. Creepy stalkers, her not wanting to be associated with it later in life, general privacy, future employers, etc etc etc.

You can always attach a real name to a pseudonym later on. You can't go back and truly anonymize yourself online if you use your real name to begin with.
posted by ananci at 12:31 PM on May 17, 2014

As the mom of a teenager and someone who deeply regrets publishing my pithy musings (rants) on the early internet under my real name, I say hell, hell no.
posted by hairy terrarium at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she uses a pen name, she can always later reveal her real name. If she uses her real name, she can never revert to a pen name. Start with a pen name and see how things go.
posted by Behemoth at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

What about first initial, last name or first name, last initial? That way it's more anonymous, but still the 'same name' in the future when she's older. Or just initials? You might have to sell this with an 'expiration date' like 'until you're 16'.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2014

I would have her use initials and the .com address as the signature. I have my real name on my websites/works of art, however I'm an adult and wouldn't mind future employers finding that work. She's only 13.

Also, on the work that I watermark for social media purposes, I put the .com address on it. It's easier to find the "source" then too if it gets shared too much or posted elsewhere. There are plenty of web comic-ers that use their real name, however they are adults.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:42 PM on May 17, 2014

The only way I would consider this is if you do a thorough search and are ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY 100% CERTAIN that there are NO other identifying details about your daughter anywhere on the web AT ALL ANYWHERE.

And I do mean thorough - I once was started to receive a call at my home from a total stranger who said he'd seen my profile on OKCupid and he was calling to ask me out instead. I asked how on earth he got my phone number, and he told me:

1. He'd Googled my profile handle to see if I used it in more than one place.
2. He then studied those profiles to see further identifying details about me (Brooklyn location, affinity for Dr. Who, etc.).
3. He also looked to see if there were any places where I slipped up and had my real name visible; he found one, deep within the profile of a fanfiction site I used once and didn't know they had real names visible.
4. He then did a search for my name in my city on those "peoplefinder" public information sites, and bingo.

Those public info sites are insidious things. You can contact them to have your info removed or screened, but they pop up like whack-a-mole and you kind of always have to stay on top of them. And they also make it horrifyingly easy for someone to get your contact info with only a few clues.

So, in short - unless she's willing to stay on top of those public info sites regularly and see whether her name or phone number or email is Googlable, it's really not a good idea. (I do use my real name on my blog, but I've started doing a regular public-info patrol because of that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:58 PM on May 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Absolutely not. I would be hesitant to even put her work online at this point. You have no idea the kind of crap comments she is going to get.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:09 PM on May 17, 2014

Behemoth: "If she uses a pen name, she can always later reveal her real name. If she uses her real name, she can never revert to a pen name. Start with a pen name and see how things go."

I came in here to say exactly this. Let her keep her options open. Plus, pen names are cool.
posted by daisyk at 1:12 PM on May 17, 2014

Any abuse she's going to receive will come regardless of if she uses her real name, or a pseudonym, and it will hurt just the same either way. The fundamental question is simply if she wants to have this work associated with her in her late teens and adulthood.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:55 PM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, you can Google faces and get IDs that way sometimes. That's how an OK Cupid stranger found me once.

This should not be her decision. This should be your decision. Also, a pseudonym can be cracked if it includes your actual age, actual town and your actual first or last name.

A data scientist told me this and he was right. I was able to figure out who a bunch of potential dates were with just that info.

Of course, her cover will be blown the minute she tells all the kids at school about her new web comic. Sigh. Hope she has lots of fun and it's a huge success.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:10 PM on May 17, 2014

She can always come out later if she wants to, but as an artist it's nice to be able to control what of your work is likely to come up on a google search, and handles/pseudonyms are great for that.
posted by NoraReed at 2:35 PM on May 17, 2014

Given her age, I think I would strongly encourage her to use a pen name, if not insist on it.

Girls tend to be raised with a lot of social pressure to behave certain ways in order to be "nice" and those behaviors are often not conducive to good boundaries, good self defense, etc. It takes some time to master the art of revealing yourself (which you do to some degree when you do art or creative projects of any kind) in a constructive, effective manner without revealing too much. Being a "nice" girl trying to creatively express yourself can be a problematic pursuit. Better for her to negotiate that learning process under a pseudonym.

Dangerous, stalker types do exist who do use the internet to find victims. You only need to mention, for example, the (uncommon) name of a local park and the state you live in to let them put together what city you live in. People posting online often do not remember exactly what all they have said and often feel like they are not revealing enough at any one time to be found but actual stalkers will start a portfolio and collect all the tidbits together. Over time, the tidbits can really add up.

So there are real threats out there and I have always been pretty careful about protecting my kids. As others here said, you can always out yourself later if you use a pseudonym now but once you publish under your real name, there is no putting the cat back in the bag. That street runs one way and only one way.
posted by Michele in California at 4:19 PM on May 17, 2014

Thirding this sentiment: "If she uses a pen name, she can always later reveal her real name. If she uses her real name, she can never revert to a pen name."

There's almost no downside to using a pen name. I did this myself as a political blogger, initially as a defense against nutters bothering me, then because I worked in the legal field where such sidelines were not well-looked upon. I used a pseudonym for almost a decade writing in my spare time as a hobby, then got a full-time gig and "came out."

The one choice I would have made differently is that I would have picked a pen name that sounded like a real name. It was much harder to get cited elsewhere with [ObviouslyFakeName] than it would have been with [TotallyRegularName]. That may be less of an issue in the cartooning world, where you have guys with obvious pseudonyms like Tom Tomorrow, but it's still probably easier to get taken seriously as Sara Stone than Sara Starbursts.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:20 PM on May 17, 2014

Just as an aside, if people are so adamantly opposed to a 13 year old girl revealing her name along with her artwork in the internet, then at what age would it be appropriate for her to do it?

14, 16, 18?

This would be really important to the OP if she and her daughter have differing opinions.

But yeah, I do like the idea of starting with a pseudo name, and being able to change it to the real name later, or whatever age the agreement is for.

But what age?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:30 PM on May 17, 2014

I wouldn't set a specific age. I would come up with some kind of milestone. I don't know exactly what. But I would come up with some measure of her being able to use the internet with good judgment so that I felt she was safe. Also some measure of her knowing how to creatively express herself while staying safe. Those two things are somewhat at odds.

Creative expression requires you to reveal yourself in some sense. Staying safe means knowing what to not reveal. Those two different things can be hard to balance and it takes practice to get right. Too much emphasis on staying safe tends to stifle creativity. So I would want to encourage a pseudonym in part to foster more creativity during the initial learning phase. When she can do both, have at doing it under her real name if she really wants that -- at least if it were my kid, which it is not. :-)
posted by Michele in California at 4:41 PM on May 17, 2014

At 18, it is appropriate for her to have the choice, especially once she has 5 years of experience to fall back on. I'm not sure if it's a good idea to actually use your real name then -- but in 5 years, who knows what the world will be like. At thirteen, no, she should not use her real name. You can reconsider this at various points in the future, once you see whether she keeps this up, whether she keeps up other creative endeavours online, whether there are problems with trolls and stalkers, etc, but start out being protective.

Her pen name should not include her first name at this age.
posted by jeather at 5:09 PM on May 17, 2014

Also very important: register the domain with a registrar that offers a privacy service where the registrar will display its contact info, rather than her real info, in public searches.

This feature may be called private registration, Respect My Privacy, etc., and it usually costs only a little more than the basic annual domain registration (WELL worth it and I'd say essential for a teenager). I use and many other registrars also offer this.
posted by kalapierson at 7:38 PM on May 17, 2014

I make comics and other art that I post online. I had a piece go viral a year or so ago, and have never been happier that I use a pseudonym. Using a pseudonym is amusing, it lets me have space between my creative projects and my professional life, and in the event that someone takes exception to my art, it gives me a layer of safety because my pseudonym does not have a physical address.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:19 PM on May 17, 2014

Is she a genius who can reasonably expect to have a career as a visual artist/writer? if so, it would be detrimental to that career not to use either her real name or a permanent pen name and begin to build a fan base. Something to think about if the answer for your family is that she uses a pen name--it should be one with legs.
posted by Scram at 10:45 PM on May 17, 2014

Nthing that she should use a gender-neutral pen name. I just heard yesterday about Rebecca Black and Jessi Slaughter, two young girls -- I think the first was 13 and the other 11 -- that were viciously cyberbullied for their Youtube videos. It's hard to believe people can be so cruel, but anonymity is powerful.
posted by redlines at 6:23 AM on May 18, 2014

Oh year, the pseudonym shouldn't contain her real name in any way at all (no first name only or first initial and last name, or an anagram, or what have you). It's way too easy to deanonymize, Have her use her literary imagination to come up with a great pen name.
posted by redlines at 6:30 AM on May 18, 2014

Pseudonym should also be something that she's not already using elsewhere on the internet, if she'll go for that. You can be diligent about obscuring your identity on your own website, but that doesn't matter if googling your pseudonym also brings up a less careful posting history somewhere else.

If you don't know who's info the domain is registered under, an easy way to find out is to just check the whois. (For example, here's mefi's.)

There are other little gotchas people can use to find her (exif data, for example) but domain reg and pseudonym are the two big ones I can think of.

Pseudonyms are fun, anyway. Best of luck to her and her webcomic!
posted by postcommunism at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you, everyone. So many thoughtful answers I don't want to mark a best answer. We did talk to our daughter and she has reluctantly agreed to a pen name. (She got more excited once she had decided on a cool steampunk name.)
posted by Malla at 2:36 PM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

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