Bad Ideas

There’s Only One Way to ‘Disappear’ on the Internet These Days

To kill my digital self, I had to create an army of clones

Steve Rousseau
Published in
6 min readMar 23, 2020


Illustration: Janet Mac

Welcome to Bad Ideas, a column in which we examine the practical limits of technology by considering the things you could do and then investigating exactly why you shouldn’t. Because you can still learn from mistakes you’ll never make.

“Y“You have to get rid of the idea that you can ‘disappear from the internet.’ It just doesn’t exist.” This is what Frank Ahearn, a private investigator who specializes in helping people disappear, told me when I asked how I could erase my digital self.

After years of tying my real name to just about everything I do on the internet, I wanted to attempt my worst Bad Idea yet: faking my own death online. Partially an ill-advised strategy to reclaim my online anonymity, I also just wanted to know whether it was possible to just disappear from the web. When everything we do online is tracked, commodified, and sold right back to us, how nice would it be to know that, at any point, we could just pull the plug? The Big Unsubscribe. The Ultimate Op-Out.

I reached out to Ahearn and a moderator of Reddit’s r/Privacy subreddit, a community of internet privacy enthusiasts, to devise an ironclad disappearance…