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Nice Social Media Profile Picture! Oh… Err… September 30, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,

A few (months/weeks/days/hours)* ago I saw a friend request on Facebook. I looked at their profile which indicated that they were kind-of in my technical arena and the profile picture made me think “Wow – that’s an attractive person!” and I was about to click on the accept button.

And stopped.

I only friend people on Facebook who I know. By that I mean I have either met in real life and liked or have had a LOT of contact with through social media and liked. People who, if they were delayed at Stansted airport at midnight and needed a place to sleep, I’d be happy to go pick them up and bring them home to stay in my spare room.

This person did not pass this criterion. I was going to add them to one of my social media cohorts based on a superficial, image-based reaction, based on a pretty weak “they mention Oracle and DBA in the profile” and a much stronger “that’s a nice looking lady”. Whether this is Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever – it struck me that if I am adding people based on looks then that is the wrong reason and is “appearanceist”. When I link to someone on LinkedIn it is supposed to be all about “are they in my area of I.T.” not how hot they are. But I do notice that attractive people, especially ladies, seem to get a lot more followers. That made me think about the whole tricky subject of whether we are allowed anymore to comment on someone’s looks, what is sexism, how some people get ahead by being attractive or even get held back by it.

I could now write a long, meandering, and probably pretty much worthless analysis of sexism in IT and how social interaction should be different to professional interaction. But I will keep my point brief. I’ll just state three thoughts and three brief paragraphs:

1) How often do we socially link to someone based on their physical image?
2) Is this wrong?
3) How often do we attempt to improve the physical appearance of our own online profile picture?

I am guilty of 3. I have Rosacea – a long-term reddening of the facial skin a bit like teenage acne. I don’t really like it so I use an older image of myself for my profile picture. I know that many people use a photo of themselves from when they were younger (sometimes a lot younger) or one taken by a professional photographer to show themselves in the best (and let us be frank, atypically flattering) light. i.e. a picture to make us look more handsome/attractive than we really are.

If we all accept that, especially on a professional level, we should all be judged on what we do & who we are as opposed to our physical appearance – why are we so careful of our own online physical appearance?

If we falsely manipulate our own online physical image have we any moral basis for criticising anyone who uses their good looks to gain exposure, acceptance or advantage? No matter how subtle or blatant it is.

So my premise is, if you manage your own image you have to accept others doing so and, to some extent at least, lose the right to object to anyone making judgements based simply on physical appearance. Can I now feel justified in only hiring women who I personally find attractive ? (I don’t find many men attractive, sorry guys).

I’m sure many of you feel that combing your hair, putting on nice cloths and perhaps using a touch of make-up is absolutely nothing like using a salon hair stylist, most of Max Factor’s product line and slightly revealing clothing to get a job. But where on that spectrum is OK, where isn’t and how are you making that judgement call?

A final thought. I did not link to the person who sent me the Facebook request as they were, in my opinion, attractive and I would be doing so for the wrong reasons. Was that morally strong or morally weak? In this case I would like to feel the former as I use Facebook only for established friends. If this was in, say, LinkedIn which I use totally on a professional level, if I did not link to that person as I felt I was doing so partially influenced on their looks… That’s a very interesting take on positive/negative discrimination. Especially if their image turned out to be old…

(*) I get so few Facebook friend requests that if I stated when I saw this one, the person I think is attractive might realise who she is and then I would be very British Reserved uncomfortable around her πŸ™‚


1. NormanDunbar - September 30, 2016

Hi Martin,

1. Never. I don’t care what people look like, only who they are/what they can do. Besides, people do crop/fake/adjust profile pictures don’t they? So how do I know that the picture I’m linking to is for real?

2. Probably.

3. Given that I loathe and detest being photographed, I think I’m pretty safe in being judged for what I (can) do rather than on what I look like. While I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn and ToadWorld , I’m not on Facebook, nor will I ever be. None of my profiles have a photo, of me anyway!

There was once, a magazine I write/wrote articles for, which mandated a photo. They got one, but decided not to use it in the end. Result!


mwidlake - September 30, 2016

Thanks Norm – I love the last paragraph πŸ™‚

2. daithiwalker - September 30, 2016

So does this mean I can link in with you and you wont reject me!? πŸ™‚

1) Never.
For facebook and twitter, I only link with people I know (and know well). There are plenty of people who I have met once who are sitting in my friend request pile. I dont think I will ever add them.
For LinkedIn, I am a bit of a whore. I will link with anyone who is a part colleage, friend, recruiter or some way in my field. But I wont link in with random strangers, regardless of how good looking they might appear.

2) Yes. But then again, I think that a lot of ‘social media’ is wrong. We should have real lives but the fact of the matter is that society has changed and that’s not going to go back. I can ignore it but then I ignore most people I know. I’d have to find some new, off the grid friends.

3) Not really. For social media, I usually just have a random picture (current one is of a bear as i’m in canada). Or they are pictures of me that are very well camouflaged . I dont like to be recognised by picture. However, for LinkedIn, I figured this would not be the best think to do. So I have a ‘relatively professional’ picture (actually imported here too). Apart from the fact that the beard is a little wilder in real life, I think it’s pretty reflective of me as a ‘professional’.

3. mp3monster - September 30, 2016

Great post, this is the modern dilemma, particuarly given our Neanderthal makeup does value appearance.

For a long time, I used to use images like https://www.flickr.com/photos/mp3monster/24015819343/ rather than a photo, but is that less professional than a flattering pic? Now (with age?) I’ve come to the view point of using a picture that would serve just as well as a security photo is the way to go – its honest. If someone wants to judge me by how I look then their loss.

Personally, I ignore the photo (unless I’m meeting that person for the 1st time and I need the pic to help recognise them) and conciously look at all the other details – effort at presentation, what images are in their blog side bars, banner image people’s personality and perhaps the true identity show. ….

4. jgarry - October 11, 2016

Just noticing this post now, after the whole Trump thing blew up. I don’t consider myself photogenic, so I tend to use what I consider funny or interesting avatars. There are pix of me floating about – Oracle forums and linkedin, though those are jokey too, and of course a google search shows I’m not hiding anything. I just think there is an advantage to an attractive picture, and if I don’t have one, well, screw it, I’ll laugh at myself, but really don’t want others laughing at me. In some places I used a clip of me out of a pic Tom Kyte (IIRC) took when I was, well, happily toasty looking. I still use the crashedvette pic I found one day, and some avatars are various x-rays of people with large nails in their heads. Those would date from about 10-15 years ago, when various boards came online.

I was in a book store with wife and kid this past weekend, when I was gobsmacked to notice a Scientific American special issue had my spacey ’70’s style green unstable image that I tend to favor, on it’s cover. I tweeted a pic of that.

I have no problem with pictures of pretty women. I think there should be more of them. Yes, we’re going to judge people on their appearance, but so what? There’s only a problem if you either get politically correct about it, or abuse it with the old Playboy Philosophy (Trump’s problem, in a nutshell). (I wanted to point at some comment I thought I made on Cary Millsap’s blog about good looking people, referencing an ugly old fart who founded The Weather Channel versus all the hot weather reporters, but I can’t find it).

It’s less of a problem for me on Facebook, as I consider it too much of a time-suck to actually look at more than rarely. I have a folder with 1000’s of email notifications that I haven’t looked at…

The “pick them up at the airport” criterion is very accurate, but I don’t think I’ve actually let many people know that’s how I feel. I guess that’s self-protection from making two-hour drives in the middle of the night πŸ™‚

Morals count for much more in hiring or technical competency decisions than social media. And one goofy step on social media can ruin the rest of your life. It’s unfortunate that technical and social are munged together now, and it’s likely to be a long time before enough catastrophes happen to get some enforceable etiquette. And THAT won’t be pretty.

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