A Bunch of Faces (and non-faces)

Made by Christine Lee

Analyze different aspects of my friends' Facebook profile pictures.

Created: September 15th, 2015


The main questions I want to ask for this project:

1) What do people try to convey about themselves/what they care about in their profile pictures?

2) How do they like to present themselves?

3) What goes through people's heads when they choose a profile picture?


A simple breakdown of the demographic of the people whose profile pictures I chose for this slide. I chose them first based on how well I know them and then just by going through my News Feed and picking whoever came up. I also chose people who don't change their profile pictures too frequently, as in they wait for at least 1-2 months before swapping out their current profile picture for another.



I did a quick glance over (not sure how accurate) of the profile pictures and created a column in Google Sheets where 1 represented "Person used filters/edits" and 0 meant the opposite. In total, I got 12 out of 52 who used filters or edited their pictures in Photoshop or some other program. That's nearly 25% of the people I chose.


These two pi charts are connected to each other. People are, by nature, social creatures, so it isn't a surprise that they find people important to them. I analyzed how many people each person had in their profile pictures and what relationship those people had to them.

Although more than half of the images were selfies, a quarter of the images featured another person, and the rest even more. Even though profile pictures are probably designed to just show who oneself is (physically), many people choose to show friends and family in their lives. It could be that by showing the people who have shaped them into who they are, they are showing themselves. 


Digging further into the meaning of the pictures, I made three categories:

Place - commemorating being at a location, typically with a very nice background where you can see landmarks or more of it than the person

Event - capturing a moment where what was happening is the most important (i.e. being at Pride, or skydiving)

Self - a nice picture of oneself for the sake of being a picture of oneself

More than half were in the Self category; however, the other half was divided between Place and Event. I'm not surprised that Event has more. I think events usually have a purpose which can have more meaning to more people whereas traveling to places requires the person to develop some sort of attachment to it first.


The fine line between public and private

There were 5 people out of the 53 people I chose (approximately 10%) who did not use profile pictures of themselves.

1) Marriage equality

2) A drawing of the person

3) An emoticon

4) A graphics promoting themselves 

5) A pug

1) can be considered something that is important to the person. 2) can also be, depending on the context of how the picture was drawn. 4) is a public version of what my friend wants other people to see -- her "logo" because she is a musician, so having a simple image is important for other people to easily remember her. 

As for 3) and 5), there are a few possibilities: the pug and emoticon mean something on a deeper level to the people or they just chose to be more private than others. 

McLuhan did bring up a good point about privacy. With the ability for media to spread so rapidly, privacy is becoming something that people have to proactively check on to actually partake in. Therefore, having profile images not of themselves could be an act of defiance towards this shift towards being more public. However, what I see of the trend over the years is that more and more people are okay with using profile pictures, mostly because friends are using it. However, I only have a tiny sliver of a much larger picture.



Profile pictures are the iconic way to highlight a part of someone for others to see. Therefore, people put filters and edits on them to make them look as good as possible. They choose particular places, events, or people who mean a lot to them to make their profile picture have as much meaning as possible. Or, as part of their privacy, they choose a picture that doesn't look like them and upload that.

Filters in and of themselves are a meme in a way. They are a readily available idea that has pervaded into the culture of this type of media. Some of my friends don't upload photos unless they put filters over them. Memes don't have to be explicit, so I would view filters as part of that class of spreadable media. After Instagram was created, filters have appeared everywhere.

I wanted to bring back the idea of copyright. Who do these photos belong to? Am I allowed to use them? McLuhan touched on this in our first reading, and the thought passed through my mind while I was collecting photos. Does Facebook own the photos, or do my friends own the photos? (You own all your photos, by the way) Should I have asked? They were also extremely easy to obtain, so I would go as far as to say profile pictures are also a spreadable media. 

Privacy is also related to copyright. Am I allowed to just take their profile pictures? How much should a person show about themselves? Is there a limit? I'm not sure if these questions will ever be answered, but we can see what changes will occur over the next few years. But despite these questions, I do feel as though I know how my friends want others to see them better now.

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Analyze different aspects of my friends' Facebook profile pictures.