How to Create a Convincing Persona to Hide Your Identity Online

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Peter Steiner’s cartoon “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” is The New Yorker’s most reprinted drawing since they first published it in 1993.

Forget the expertly illustrated political sketches, cutting cartoons, and lampoons of Americana — what has appealed most to readers and meme recyclers for the last 30 years has been the concept of online anonymity.

Sure, this cartoon is a visually entertaining piece of artwork — a dog sitting on a swivel chair and operating a computer while talking to another dog is delightfully absurd. But the sketch captured an essential truth about online communications, even back in the internet’s infancy.

When you encounter someone online, you have no idea if the person whose posts you’re reading is actually who they appear to be.

For example, click on my byline above this article, and you’ll see a picture of a White guy with a shaved head and a scruffy beard who appears to be in his early 40s. You’ll also see a name: David Rutland.

Search for me on Google, and you may find some scraps of this identity here and there… but is that really who I am?

There are some biographical details scattered online, and you’ll find my name on other tech sites and various social media outlets, but that’s no guarantee of anything. In the decade or so I’ve been a freelance writer, never once have I been asked to confirm my identity.

I’m on the internet, and nobody knows I’m a dog.

Trust is a Rare Commodity Online (But Not Rare Enough)

The need for identity verification is older than the internet — a lot older. Confidence tricksters have been operating since at least as early as the 19th century, telling tall tales and using false identities to defraud their victims of money, dignity, and livelihood.

One of the earliest known examples is the Spanish Prisoner Swindle, which saw fraudsters posing as wrongfully imprisoned gentlemen promising vast rewards in return for a little cash up front to help secure their release.

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