Profile Picture
by Mark Farid

Profile Picture focuses on with just your image and name everything can be traced back to you. Obviously, in the physical world, there is little you can do about keeping your image from others, and the things you can do, are being made illegal in some places. In 2010, France ‘prohibited [the] concealment of the face in public space[s]’.

For me, the tracking of the individual in the physical world is not of the highest importance, it is the tracking through electronic devices which is an intrusion too far. Tracking someones location, is different to tracking what they’re thinking, and this is what is possible when you start tracking people on their computers and mobile phones. We’re more honest with Google than we are with any other thing or person. We google any problems we have, what we like, what we want to know… everything. We talk to our friends and family through Facebook, we constantly update what we look like, what we’re doing, what we’re going to do and our likes. And if all of this information, along with ever other online activity we endure, is there any privacy left?

The statement of ‘i’ve got nothing to hide’ is said a lot. And the question ‘why does it matter?’ gets asked a lot. Besides the general answer of ‘it is our right to privacy’ there doesn’t tend to be an argument for why we shouldn’t be monitored, and yet we all know it is wrong. For me, you cannot argue with the right to privacy because it is a natural law. Positive Laws can be argued from different sides, because they are man-made and so are inherently flawed and cannot be absolute. Where the lack of privacy and the data mining reaches new lows, is when the information is used by advertisers. Advertising doesn’t just encompass commodities, but advertising opinions, thoughts, ways of life. Advertising is a form of propaganda, but we disassociate the word so much from the negativity of propaganda, that we forget this.

Advertising works in a similar way to how Google localises its search engine to each individual, it means that the individual is never seeing and learning anything other than what Google chooses for them to see. The problem for with this, is that we think we have the potential to see anything and everything, but we don’t – we only see what Google decides we see. Our tastes, opinions and thoughts are then determined by Google. We hear certain music, hear particular types of news, decide our moral compass based on what is made available to us – and if this is determined by someone else, are they determining these things for us?

With what we see and hear being tailored to each individual, and then with the censored viewing we have being stored – it means we are not free to become who we want to be. Within this new maze, created by Zuckerberg and Co, we are merely commodities. They use and sell our information as and when they please, slowly tailoring each of us into the person they want us to be.


Google is understandable why we use it as we do, but social media? Facebook in particularly seems odd. Our address book on our phones are customised to each person, so why is our Facebook? Facebook is about staying in communication with other people, not having an online profile of each user.

Our Facebook accounts act as our public passports. We provide updated photographs of ourselves, along with our date of birth, location etc… we are constantly updating our every action, thoughts and private conversations with people.

Our online presence is an entry into your activities, and your life. And why it is so successful, is not in the communication – which it is extremely good at – but rather, other people sharing information about you. You are excited when someone uploads a photograph of you, mentions you in a status, writes to you. You’re happy because you’ve been publicly acknowledged, and at the same time, information about your activities are being posted by others. It isn’t just you who is giving away information about yourself, and what Facebook has done, is make you happy that it is this way.

It seems as if Facebook has brought out this deep lying insecurity out of us all, to live, to a celebrity-esk life, where others are constantly up to date on out activities. People become envious of our lives, and despite us actually know if people do or not, this validates us somehow. But in doing this, it makes our focus on the documentation of our experience the focus, rather than the activity itself. As opposed to celebrities who are documented whilst they live their lives, we go out of our way to document them.

And of course when we go out of our way to document our lives, they become something different to what they really are – they become artificial. Climb a big rock or doing something cool, for the photograph that inevitably everyone wants someone to take, to then be uploaded onto Facebook, to prove how cool and adventurous we are is not real. And as mimetic animals, we pick up behaviours and mannerism throughout our lives, and our online persona is no exception to it. Things from pulling funny faces in photos when they are taken to how we interact with people, how friendships are formed, and ultimately how they will grow are adopted into our behaviours in our day-to-day life to life.

The idea of who we want to be has a platform to exist with the creation of Facebook. The idea of who you want be and who you are, are able to coexist, blurring the ever diminishing distinction between them. And when the structure of Facebook limits just how individual we can be: Image, name, status (your voice – but how much of that is dictated by the thought of how other people will react to it) and a wall – which acts as a the virtual way of hanging out in public with your Facebook friends, just to remind everyone (and yourself) who you are friends with. Along with being able to like pages, peoples posts, photos and statuses, very quickly you become aware that Facebook centres around appearance. Facebook was supposed to promote individuality, but instead our idiosyncrasy got washed away, and conformity embroiled the very foundations of its creation, and whats worse, it that the conformity is purely about about appearing in a certain way.

There is a social norm of how Facebook should be. In the same way that our physical selves are influenced by social and legal law, our idealistic online persona, is still restricted to these social and political norms, but it is also restricted by the structure of Facebook’s layout, as well the friends we have on it.

Facebook has allowed us to create what we believe, to be the ideal version of who we are. We choose how people perceive us – from choosing the most attractive photos, to what we want people to believe our interests are when we post comments, statuses etc… We can make it look as if we’re better friends with certain people, and distance ourselves from others. We can look however we want and can change our identity to whatever we like, but still be Joe Blogs, from Norwich, born in the early 90s.

Facebook hasn’t just become our passport. The US government have denied entry to people (despite them flying to America) for posts made on social media sites, and has most recently, Zach Klein was allowed to use his Facebook profile as identification when he forgot his passport at home. In 1915, Britain changed the passport to include a character profile on each person, and this is what Facebook is doing. It is profiling us, with information that not just we want to voluntarily upload about ourselves, but information others uploads about us to.

Our online identity is becoming our identity in the physical world. But our new identity is reliant on our online identity, and with the restrictions Facebook puts in place, along with the evolution of data mining and deciding what we see – with us not being in control of who we are becoming, we’re losing touch of the self that we believed to be our inherent selves. Along with us not being in control of who we become, we don’t own this new profile or passport. Facebook own all the information about us, and lends it to us. We don’t have the ability to delete all of the information, nor do we have the ability to alter old information from the online database. Facebook own our ideal person and interest (in the sense that we are able to know about the people we want to know about lives, and let us pretend we are part of them). They own our biggest insecurity – and who could ever tear the nicotine patch off and face it head on voluntarily?

Or in short,

Profile Picture is looking at how when you give up your name and image, you give up the ‘right’ to privacy.


Mark Farid

This work was submitted by Mark Farid on 1 October 2014.

Share Button