Why I don't have a real profile picture anywhere

November 10, 2014

Recently I decided that I needed a non-default icon aka profile picture for my Twitter account. Although I have pictures of myself, I never considered using one; it's not something that I do. Mostly I don't set profile pictures on websites that ask for them and if I do, it's never actually a picture of me.

Part of this habit is certainly that I don't feel like giving nosy websites that much help (and they're almost all nosy). Sure, there are pictures of me out on the Internet and they can be found through search engines, but they don't actually come helpfully confirmed as me (and in fact one of the top results right now is someone else). Places like Facebook and Twitter and so on are already trying very hard to harvest my information and I don't feel like giving them any more than the very minimum. For a long time that was all that I needed and all of the reason that I had.

These days I have another reason for refusing to provide a real picture, one involving a more abstract principle than just a reflexive habit towards 'none of your business' privacy. Put simply, I don't put up a profile picture because I've become conscious that I could do so safely, without fear of consequences due to people becoming aware of what I look like. Seeing my picture will not make people who interact with me think any less of me and the views I express. It won't lead to dismissals or insults or even threats. It won't expose me to increased risks in real life because people will know what I look like if they want to find me.

All of this sounds very routine, but there are plenty of people on the Internet for whom this is at least not a sure thing (and thus something that they have to consider consciously every time they make this choice) or even very much not true. These people don't have my freedom to casually expose my face and my name if I feel like it, with no greater consideration than a casual dislike of giving out my information. They have much bigger, much more serious worries about the whole thing, worries that I have the privilege of not even thinking about almost all of the time.

By the way, I don't think I'm accomplishing anything in particular by not using a real picture of myself now that I'm conscious of this issue. It's just a privilege that I no longer feel like taking advantage of, for my own quixotic reasons.

(You might reasonably ask 'what about using your real name?'. The honest answer there is that I am terrible with names and that particular ship sailed a very long time ago, back in the days before people were wary about littering their name around every corner of the Internet.)

PS: One obvious catalyst for me becoming more aware of this issue was the Google+ 'real names' policy and the huge controversy over it, with plenty of people giving lots of excellent arguments about why people had excellent reasons not to give out their real names (see eg the Wikipedia entry if you haven't already heard plenty about this).

PPS: Yes, I have plenty of odd habits related to intrusive websites.

Written on 10 November 2014.
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Last modified: Mon Nov 10 23:59:07 2014
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