Profile pictures allow us to show the world how we want to be seen, but we should carefully consider the images we end up choosing

How do you decide which profile picture to use for your social media profile?

Most of us will be members of social media and networking platforms, and will have been prompted to upload a profile picture when we signed up for an account.

But what influences our decision on the image we end up choosing?

The most obvious answer is that we pick an image that we consider to be flattering. We may even edit it in some way, perhaps to smooth our skin or remove slight imperfections.

The platform itself also matters. Whereas we may opt for a professional image for LinkedIn, we’re more likely to lean towards something that shows more of our personality, sense of humor or interests on Instagram or Facebook.

Whatever the site or platform, profile pictures are one of the first things people notice when coming across an online profile, and so we tend to place more value on them than on other images. But why should we be particularly careful with our choice of profile picture?

How profile images are treated differently

The degree of control we have over the public visibility of any content we publish will vary from platform to platform, but profile images are often treated differently from other images we upload.

Many sites will not allow us to hide these images from public view in the same way that we can hide other images we publish. Cover and profile images on Twitter, for example, are always publicly visible. Facebook also states that your profile picture and cover photo are always public, specifically so that people can recognize you (and this extends to details such as your gender, age range and networks). The only control you have here is over who can see content related to the image, such as likes, comments and so on.

LinkedIn, meanwhile, provides the option of changing the profile picture’s public visibility, but the default option is that the image can be seen by anyone. And because of this, this is how many people will end up leaving it.

Such images are also often indexed by search engines, where they can be accessed and copied by anyone, regardless of whether they are members of that platform.

It’s also worth remembering that as more professional images are likely to show us in a way in which we can be easily identified, such images are also likely to be used legitimately by others. Businesses and organizations may use these on About Us or Meet The Team pages, for example, or when publicizing events in which the individual is involved. Because of this, you may not always have visibility over where and how these images are used, but the more an image is used online the greater the risk of it being stolen and used without the individual’s consent.

But exactly what use is such an image to someone who may not have the best intentions?

Before we explore this, it’s worth thinking about what happens when it’s revealed that a site is subject to a data breach, where personal details are scraped and uploaded elsewhere without authorization.

It’s likely that, at some point, you will have received an email from a website or platform of which you are a member informing you that this has happened, and that