How to have an online presence when I don't want family to find me?
August 31, 2016 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I don't want to give my family any info on where I am, what I'm doing, nothing. How can I do this while also have an online presence to grow in my career?

About 2 years ago, I escaped a very toxic and emotionally and physically abusive family situation. Leaving was violent: I was called names, slapped, people were pulling at me as I tried to leave. At one point, I was really afraid that I wouldn't be able to leave. But I did.

Fast-forward to now, I'm very happily married, have a decent job, a nice apartment, life is pretty good.

For a long time, I've wanted to start freelancing more seriously. I'm an illustrator but unlike most of my peers, I do not have a website/portfolio. Most of the freelancing I do on the side is for friends or friends of friends. I would like to pursue freelancing more seriously with the hopes of eventually working for myself. I would also like to start blogging alongside that--to share weekly bits of my work, talk about artists I like, create tutorials, and also build credibility.

The problem is, my name is very unique. Googling it, I am among the first results. This makes it very easy for people to find me. Which is good, but also bad.

The family situation I escaped from was very toxic--it was only after I left that I realized how great the level of abuse I had been experiencing was. I endured a lot of shit for way too long and was in my mid-twenties when I finally left. I ended up with PTSD, which I've worked on with a therapist. I'm still working with her now and I've gotten to the point where I think I've made a lot of good progress. No more nightmares on a daily basis, no more flashbacks, no more massive crushing guilt, no more random crying episodes, no more crazy anxiety and depression. My family hasn't talked to me at all since I left. At this point, that is fine. It's probably better. I worked very hard with my therapist to get to where I am now. I don't need them reappearing in my life to be a negative force and throw me off. I wasted so many years of my life while living with them--I was constantly depressed and lacked the energy and will to get much of anything done. I'm trying to make the most of the life I have now. I'm trying to achieve the things I wanted to but couldn't due to the insane amount of stress and depression I experienced while living with them.

We live in the same city. This has made it very difficult to use things like Linkedin. I'm afraid to build a site under my real name. I don't want them seeing new photos of me. I don't want them knowing where I work. I don't want them showing up. I avoid certain neighborhoods in this city, because I know that's where they hang around. My husband and I picked our new apartment location based on what was a good compromise between being close to our work and being far enough from my parents.

For people who will ask, "Even if you ran into them, what could they do?" my answer would be that I'd rather not deal with it at all. I fled a very, very conservative religious family and community where religion comes first above all things. It dictates everything--what you wear, what jobs you should have, where you can go alone as a woman. None of my extended family talks to me. I am not friends with anyone in the community. One current photo of me would make it clear that I've left that way of life behind. I don't want to deal with gossip, phone calls, emails, people from my extended family or that community good-naturedly (or harshly/threateningly) admonishing me for living the way I do. And as I said, my parents were physically abusive, so I'd like to avoid dealing with any more of that.

I am happy with my life now, but I'd like to grow my career. How can I do that without giving all the people I left behind a bunch of information?
posted by galaxypeachtea to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe a pseudonym for work or using your first and/or middle initials with your last name e.g. G.P. Tea just for work?
posted by cecic at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2016 [10 favorites]

Can you create a new name for your professional identity?

This is much easier to do earlier rather than later, I think. Depending on where you live, you could set up a "doing business as" business name and open bank accounts under that name. Put your portfolio and LinkedIn under that name and avoid headshots.

A lot of people create alternate names these days - digital life has made that necessary for a lot of good reasons.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this and good for you for escaping that life.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2016 [25 favorites]

As an illustrator, do you have to build a site under your real name?

There are considerations that make working under an assumed name difficult in regulated professions like medicine or law. I'm not sure the same limitations aplly to something like illustration. And while your family would probably still recognize you from a photo, plenty professional networking takes place without photos/would still make it harder to track you down through Google.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:35 AM on August 31, 2016

I'm a book editor so I work with authors, almost all of whom publish under a different name. They have an email address, a website, an e-newsletter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. all under their pen name. You don't need a DBA to do this.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2016 [25 favorites]

Is there some reason that you don't feel comfortable using another name? Contact all of your friends and clients with your pseudonym and grow from there.
posted by mareli at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of freelance graphic designers operate under a business name. Their name is usually attached to that, so not sure what to do there, but it would allow a website/portfolio and twitter/instagram/snapchat to be online without your name.
posted by dripdripdrop at 7:37 AM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you do not want to have two names, consider changing your name legally and then using your new name but making sure your family does not learn of your name change.
posted by Postroad at 8:45 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Same advice: I know authors, photographers, and radio people who use pseudonyms successfully. I would still be careful with photos of yourself: any place you have them should be viewable by friends only.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:45 AM on August 31, 2016

Even if you use another name, these people will find you if they want to. And in my experience, abusive people have TERRIBLE boundaries and will assume that any of your business is also their business, so they will be looking for you. What happens if they DO find you? Are you willing to start over again while a whole other name again?

I work as a freelancer so my name *is* my business. Even though I don't work under my full married name, I've had a relative follow me on every conceivable social media, and leave shitty, shitty comments on my blog. I don't follow back, and I've blocked this person everywhere I can. My way of looking at it is: out of sight, out of mind. I can't prevent them from knowing anything about me, but for my own sanity I can limit interactions with them.
posted by Brittanie at 8:53 AM on August 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm going to assume you're in the US, but if you aren't, much of this advice won't help.

Use a pseudonym and never connect it to your real name, and never use a photo that looks like you. Replace it with an illustration that is abstracted enough to plausibly be someone else. Do not use social media under your original name, or if you do, never link your business and your original name. Do not list details on your business page that are plausibly you, like your college and graduation date or detailed work history.

If you choose to use a DBA (which makes getting paid but also not publicizing your real name much easier): a DBA (or a legal name change) will need to be reported in the legal listings of a "paper of record" in your area. This may or may not be searchable online, but it will include your original name and new name/business name. Your county may allow you to skip this requirement in some circumstances, and it's worth asking. The best way to hide this is, if allowable by your state/county, to 1) file in a county where your family does not live, ideally where there's a large city with an extremely busy court, and/or 2) choose a "paper of record" that will be accepted by the court, but choose a minor one with a terrible web presence, ideally publishing in a language your family does not speak. It is a hassle to search for these and most people will give up way beyond getting to this point if they are not actively looking for you. It sounds like you just want to avoid anyone casually googling you, so make yourself hard to find and make any information you find when you google yourself boring, inaccurate, and totally unconnected to your business presence.

Do not consent to appear in an alumni listing, church or social directory, or obituary for anyone. These usually list real name, married name if applicable, current general location, and all your classmate or family relationships, making it easy to find you and easy to socially engineer a meeting with a clueless friend or relative who thinks they're doing you a favor. Your actual friends and any family members you or your husband are still close with should know what's up and that you do not want to hear from or talk to your family or origin or anyone representing them. Have a talk with people; make it clear. My guess is that your family of origin is not real Internet-savvy, but probably great at guilt tripping your distant cousins or someone into giving them your phone number. From my experiences with extended family I have chosen not to have contact with, they have always tried to reach out to me via other family members who have not clearly heard the message of no-seriously-no-contact-ever.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:56 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can minimize the chances of being found by not putting important personal information on any of your online profiles. Like, don't put your high school, don't put your college, don't put anything that you might have in common. Don't put your real hometown. Also don't link to or friend people that you know in common like relatives or schoolmates or neighbors.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:57 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you do not want to have two names, consider changing your name legally and then using your new name but making sure your family does not learn of your name change.

This will not work if their family is determined, because most jurisdictions require you to publish your name change, and court records are searchable. A background check will pull this up, along with the person's address as of the court date.

Okay, I see blnkfrnk already mentioned this, but...

It is a hassle to search for these and most people will give up way beyond getting to this point if they are not actively looking for you.

This is not necessarily correct. In my state you can just type my old name into the court website and get my new name in 5 seconds, for free (and as mentioned, my address).

Could you make it look as if you moved? Post on social media that you are moving somewhere far away. Get a mailing address there and a google voice number with that area code. Then there's no way they'll show up at your real house, the mailing address will just be a storefront, and you can block their google voice calls (or just never use that number).
posted by AFABulous at 9:10 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

IF you create a new name or DBA, do not even connect the two. Do not follow your other account, do not like items from it and do not even log in to the two accounts in the same browser at the same time. I have a friend who uses Firefox for professional life and Chrome for personal. I would even get a second phone for the new name. Separate apps, etc. Never shall the two meet.
posted by AugustWest at 9:18 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why not just set up a new professional email address that is the only point of contact on your new professional website, and pre-emptively block family members?

Most pro illustrator websites I've seen are very clearly for professional purposes and don't mention personal information, where the person currently lives, photos, or any real way for people to find you besides an email address.
posted by Sara C. at 9:33 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey there, really sorry you are dealing with this.

I agree with the advice above and have worked with lots of freelancers who have different business and legal names. It's not that uncommon and it's fine.

That said, I wanted to mildly say that when you are first recovering from a toxic family and cultish community, I think the kind of protection you've had in staying off the radar is hugely helpful. And if you want to continue to put energy into that, it is totally okay. But that may not be necessary forever. Recognizing the way that toxic families of origin trigger and scare us, is huge. Taking steps to protect ourselves by controlling the environment and those triggers is also huge. But it is also possible to get to a point where you know you have the ground, support and tools to be able to not have to consider their toxicity in your life where you are still hiding who you are.

You have to make the decision that is right for you!
posted by warriorqueen at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

As an illustrator, could you create a profile picture for yourself? Like, a stylized rendition of your face or a mosaic or something.
That way it comes across as an expression of who you are, rather than you hiding something.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:48 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a very non-creative person, I've always been impressed when artistic people take a very common situation and art the crap out of it. So my advice would be to use your desire to remain private as inspiration. You really do have a blank slate here, you can create a business name, a "portrait", logo, etc. Instead of beginning from a place of fear and negativity, you have a great opportunity to create your brand with no strings attached. It could really be a positive challenge, if you can just tweak your perspective a bit.

I bet your website will be amazing!
posted by raisingsand at 2:58 PM on August 31, 2016

Most pro illustrator websites I've seen are very clearly for professional purposes and don't mention personal information, where the person currently lives, photos, or any real way for people to find you besides an email address.

I work with professional illustrators on a daily basis and I can confirm that besides a name and an email address, the only thing that art directors, gallery owners, admissions boards, professors, et al want to see is the art.

Use a pseudonym (this is very common) and have a well done in-person portfolio with material that can be easily (one or two clicks) found on your portfolio website.

Your real name and address only really come up when you tax forms have to be exchanged between you and the organization purchasing your work. For obvious reasons, that kind of payment information is confidential even within the organization issuing payment.
posted by greenland at 9:03 PM on August 31, 2016

If you do create a separate identity then discipline is the key Not just from you but from others.
Friends shouldn't link or post to the other identity Which means you may have to not tell them about it.

I did this about a decade ago as a proof of concept because it interested me to see how easy it was. The connections between my other identity and my own was always broken second-hand and not by me.

It is possible I think though.
posted by fullerine at 2:37 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Because you want the online presence for business purposes, have you thought about creating a small business and publicly working under that name? There are legal ways to obscure business ownership. If you go this route, speak to a lawyer.
posted by zennie at 8:01 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I track people down as part of my custom research gigging. And I have consulted on corporate espionage and digital security. When I do skiptracing or deep research, I am looking at the very least at public records, data broker sources, and digital presence, and how they work together.

There's a lot of good advice here about online hygiene. I think this was a smart place to ask your question.

AugustWest above is correct when he writes —

"IF you create a new name ... do not even connect the two. Do not follow your other account, do not like items from it "
This is a surprisingly powerful technique for finding alias identities.

A DBA per se is a public record in most jurisdictions, so I'm siding with folks who are saying that's maybe not the way to go. But [Warning: I am not anything close to being a lawyer] an LLC, depending on where it is established, may be helpful to hide you as an owner of a business.

Careful about getting a D&B number! I'm forever tracking small businesspeople down with information they gave to Dun & Bradstreet.

Finally, I agree with some commenters who suggest that eternal vigilance may be too great a cost. As the trauma continues to recede in time and you continue to grow stronger, you may let your guard down and that may turn out OK.

OK to PM me if you have any questions and want free advice about specific issues.
posted by Glomar response at 9:40 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older wrong emails, with a twist!   |   Indoor and Semi-Indoor Gardening How Tos? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.