Thursday, 8 August 2013

My Online Persona: The Facebook 'Profile Picture'

When it comes to representing myself online, I don’t think I put too much effort into it. While I care about how others see me, I don’t stand in front of the mirror and pose for hours to take the perfect display picture. However, this is not the only way to present yourself online. Even just the type of profile picture you use, says a lot about you, even if you don’t think it does.

According to a study by Zhao et al. (2008) he suggested that in relation to online persona users generally try to portray them self in a ‘socially desirable’ way. Especially through the use of images, users can show the audience what they’re like – i.e fun loving, sociable, outgoing, and funny, etc. I find this is very much the case with me. I try to choose a profile picture that I feel sums me up, while at the same time, creating a positive image of me as a person. At the moment my profile picture is of me in Paris (from a recent trip to Europe).
A screen-shot of my personal Facebook page, taken 7/8/2013.
My profile picture shows me smiling and posing in front of a famous monument, while my cover photo shows me walking across the famous crossing on Abbey road in London. Some may view me as ‘worldly’, adventurous or artistic, while others may see me as a snob, a show off or even a poser. While I don’t generally see myself as narcissistic and most of the pictures that I upload aren’t ‘selfies’ or glamorous shots, each of my profile pictures is chosen for a reason, whether I realise it or not.

Hum et al, (2011; 1829) states that Facebook profile pictures, act as ‘implicit communication cues’ because they are chosen by the user and show a mediated image of that person in a way that they want others to see them. This ability to ‘create’ and ‘present’ yourself in a certain way is becoming more prevalent with social networking sites, such as Facebook. Marshall (2010) even argues that social media, and the internet more generally, have created an entirely new way of looking at ourselves in terms of the ‘specular economy’. He states that we are more conscious than ever about how we present ourselves to the world, and the ways in which others perceive us (2010: 498 -99). By ‘creating’ this online persona in an area that is always accessible, we are “on display” 24 hours a day and constantly thinking
about the “mediated constructions of ourselves” Marshall (2010:499).

Not only do we choose how others see us, but when presenting ourselves to the world, we tend to manipulate these images, either by cropping it a little, making the colour more flattering or always choosing a photo where we look good. Even with the highest privacy settings, a persons’ Facebook profile picture shows up in comments, shares, likes and searches and is the one image of you, that anybody on the internet can see at any time. 


Hum, NJ, Chamberlin, PE, Hambright, BL, Portwood, AC, Schat, AC & Bevan, JL 2011, 'A picture is worth a thousand words: A content analysis of Facebook profile photographs', Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 27, no. 5, pp. 1828-33.

Marshall, P 2010, 'The Specular Economy', Society, vol. 47, no. 6, pp. 498-502.

Zhao, S, Grasmuck, S & Martin, J 2008, 'Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships', Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 1816-36.