The profile picture is the one part of the Facebook profile that users say they think about and tinker with the most. For users, it is important to have a picture that displays the desired image of the self. For Facebook, prompting users to always post pictures and keep updated pictures means users “are who they say they are.” Although most people do have pictures that show their faces, you don’t have to post a picture that shows your physical appearance. You can choose other photos, and some people do, that describe who you are in more creative ways.
Along with the profile picture, the cover photo also helps to tell your personal story. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, claims that the cover photo is another way to let people know who you are; “it’s just a great way to learn about who a person is without having to read anything about them at all” (from F8 2011). While fun to sort through pictures, you should also think about how one or two pictures, your profile and cover photos, often are assumed to convey all of you to most people, and they may not bother to think of you as a more complex or eclectic person.
Although taking a photograph of yourself has been a type of photography for a long time (and even before cameras, artists would paint pictures of themselves), it wasn’t until recently that people named these types of images “selfies” and really started talking about them. With so much emphasis on the Facebook profile picture (along with others like Twitter and Instagram), being able to take a good selfie is a learned art. It also shows the importance of profile pictures, since users feel the need to capture a specific moment only to be able to share it with the world. Click here
for a cool online project that discusses selfie trends.
As discussed under the “tagging” section of this page, Facebook automatically creates a facial-recognition template using your photographs so that they can recognize your face. Beyond that privacy issue, Facebook also makes your thumbnail-sized profile picture visible to every internet user.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator and CEO, made the announcement of this change in an October 2013 email. He claims that your profile picture needs to be public (along with your gender and your username) because it helps people to recognize you and connect with you. Read more about your public profile picture here
Beyond the fact that there is no setting to make your profile picture not public, the site is also promoting a profile picture that shows your face, by stating that making it public helps people to know you are you. You can, of course, always choose to not have a profile picture or use a more creative photo. You can then only have pictures of your face in Timeline photos (of which you can control the settings) or no pictures of yourself at all.
Tagging on Facebook makes it easy to post photos of friends and then have these photos appear on their own profiles. We can help our friends tell their narratives while also spicing up our own stories through links that visualize our friend networks.
The introduction of tagging on the site brought some issues along with it. You can be tagged in a photo that you don’t want your friend network to see. Eventually, Facebook added settings that allow you to choose how and when you will be notified if someone tags you in a picture or post. You can even change your settings so that you have to approve all tags before they appear on your Timeline. Click here
to learn all about tagging.
A newer issue with tagging has to do with Facebook suggesting tags. In other words, Facebook is using high-quality facial recognition software to recognize you in photos. And, this technology is moving faster than the laws that can control it
. As a Facebook user you agree to this by default until you opt to turn off the facial recognition software. To do so, go here
. Under “How can I manage tags people add and tagging suggestions?,” click “Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?” You can then choose “No One.”
Facebook suggests that users upload pictures as often as possible because it helps the site to know you are acting in a manner online that matches how you act offline. In other words, if you act online in a way that you act in other situations, your buying habits are also likely to be the same. Thus, Facebook will know how to effectively market to you.
Although it may sound weird now, in early online spaces it was much easier for users to play out different aspects of their selves online. Online worlds were anonymous, and users weren’t able to upload pictures of themselves. This led to an understanding that there isn’t really one way to be “authentic.” Instead, the meaning of your “realness” changes depending on your social situation. If you are interested in reading about these earlier spaces check out Turkle’s 1995 Life on the Screen.
Somehow, it is now considered creepy or even deceitful if users don’t want to post pictures of their faces. Sometimes we assume that people must just be ugly or fat, and therefore embarrassed to show themselves. As a whole, we have come to understand people who won’t show their faces as “inauthentic.” But I don’t think that this is the best way to think about it. Photographs automatically link your online self to your offline self. It is a step that validates who you are, but it also limits you to a certain identity.
The importance people place on photos and the fact that Facebook supports many different levels of visual storytelling are two big reasons why the site has continued to be so successful. This is especially made clear through Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram. It makes sense—as humans, visible culture plays a large role in our lives. We would rather see things than read about them, and we are more likely to believe a story when we can see it. On Facebook, photos help to tell our stories while also helping the site gain proof that we are who we say we are.
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