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In the UK there has been a series of sex scandals relating to famous and influential people.  It started with the revelations of a TV star called Jimmy Saville and every week another celebrity seems to be implicated.  Much of this is often fueled by a torrent of online gossip and speculation on sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  But for those of us who do tend to gossip a little too freely online there is a cautionary tale to be told.

Last week a BBC documentary (this link if you’re outside UK) covered yet another of these allegations, with out naming the individual involved.  There were some clues however and pretty soon the rumour mill had started up and guesses and accusations were flying around the internet.  Unfortunately the information in the documentary was basically wrong, and the person implied to be guilty of a series of sex attacks was completely innocent.  The name that was flying about the ether was wrong, the accusations unfounded and the accused man very angry and hurt.

The apology came of course in the end, the shambolic investigation by the Newsnight team led to the Director General of the BBC resigning.  Damages were paid and we thought it would then disappear, but not this time.  The falsely accused individual had emplyed a team of Twitter experts to compile a list of all those who had Tweeted and spread the false allegations.  His aim was to sue them all for damages.  The list includes some TV personalities like the comedian Alan Davies and ran to thousands of names.  There was always a sense of anonymity to using Twitter but the reality is that anyone is easily traced by their IP address even if they use false details.

There is little anonymity for anyone online so you should take as much care with what you say online as you do offline.  Also remember that your audience is likely to be significantly bigger!  If you do wish to try and hide your identity then you should be careful about what details you put on any social media accounts.  Also consider investing in a privately run secure connection software which completely obscures your identity online.  There are bonuses to using these because they come with a wide array of servers you can use different IP addresses in different countries – just like these.  So you can switch to a British IP if you want to watch the BBC Iplayer, a US one for Hulu or whatever you need.  Whatever you do though, always presume you have less privacy than you think you do!

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