Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Changing your name on Twitter doesn't stop people from finding you

Summary: changing your Twitter name to increase your anonymity doesn't work as people can always find you thanks to (a) the way Twitter threads conversations and (b) because you'll presumably still chat to the same people after the name change.

You'd need to create a new account from scratch (and uncheck the Security/Privacy - Discoverability option that lets people find you from your email address). It's Twitter's threading functionality (where clicking on a tweet brings up the whole conversation) that makes it so easy to uncover you by the conversations other people are having / have had with you.

You can change your Twitter name at any time and for any reason. Sometimes people do so because they want to use their real name, or to match their blog name, or just fancy a change.

Some choose to change their name to increase their anonymity. From what I can tell it probably doesn't work - and I've no idea if this is something that's widely known, but I think it might be useful to be aware of.

I only know of a handful of people who've changed their name so I don't have a wide pool of experience to draw on, but here's what I've found.

Recently someone in one of my Twitter circles "disappeared", by changing their name, locking their account and blocking some of their followers (including me). I've no idea why they did this and didn't know what their new name was.

To confirm that they'd 'gone' I tried searching for an older tweet that I'd sent to their original name by searching for

from:jobrodie @TheirOldName

and, sure enough, when I found an example tweet it was clear that their old name was no longer hyperlinked (physically it was plain black text instead of the usual clickable blue that active account names have).

However when I clicked on my tweet it opened up a thread with two tweets in it. The one they'd sent me* and my reply. Their reply now told me what their new name was and that their account was now protected, *so I couldn't see what they'd said. While I can't see any of their tweets I can see what anyone has said in reply to them by searching for tweets sent to their new name


Remember that protected tweets are not all that private because people tweeting to you can give you away.

I then tried searching for tweets I'd sent to another friend who'd changed their name (but whom I'm still following, under their new name). Exactly the same thing occurred - I found my old tweet which contained the text that had @TheirOldName in it. That name was no longer hyperlinked meaning the account doesn't exist, but clicking on the tweet brought up the thread and showed me their new name (which of course I already knew anyway). 

Twitter's threading functionality (I still think of it as relatively new but it's been around for a few years) means that tweets sent to an account can give away as much information as tweets sent from an account.

I used the search facility to find the handful of people I know of who've changed their names by looking for tweets I'd sent them, but it's just as easy to find people by searching from tweets sent by others, if you know who they've been talking to.

Deleting all your old tweets could help but I doubt it. To be absolutely certain you'd probably have to get everyone else to delete their old tweets to your previously-named account, which is probably a bit unlikely (particularly if you're changing your name to avoid an annoying person)!

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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

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