Hiding Behind the Teacup: Authors and Personal Security Online

artioscommavatarEvery piece of advice I read about using social media, insists that you include a photo of yourself as your avatar. It personalises the experience, because social media is just that: social. I agree. Nastiness can hide behind logos and I would much rather see what my friends look like. However, the world is not always a safe place and it’s easy to forget that.

Everywhere I go online, you will find my pink teacup and book stack logo. People tell me they like it, because it’s different and stands out, but there is a reason behind it. I have been cyber-stalked twice and I also have a psychotic family member who is violent, bitter (thanks to their delusions) and untreated. Currently they don’t know where I am. Because of that, my number doesn’t appear in any phone books and I am a silent voter on the electoral roll, here in Australia. So why would I be nuts enough to put my face online? With services such as Tin Eye, the beloved family member can upload an old family photo of me and on the basis of image similarity, I can be identified.

No freaking way!

2014-06-09_14-21-25In the sea of faces online, photos of individuals often don’t stand out anyway. Simple logos do. One element which always draws my attention is the colour red. Have a look at this image and see how fast you find my friend Lauren. (Who has a downright awesome blog for writers, by the way.)

There is a reason why the Where’s Wally publishers use red.

Not everyone needs my degree of personal protection and please don’t take your lovely face away out of paranoia. It’s good to see you! However, it pays to be aware of the criminal activity which is out there. Can your image be printed and used in identity theft? How many same old, same old, photo images lifted from accounts, are used by spammers on Twitter? It bears consideration.

I have no desire to make the world impersonal, but… think first and I am sorry, I don’t care how carefully you hide exactly where you live or your child’s name, when I see pictures of people’s children on blogs which have no privacy control, or Facebook where they haven’t used the privacy control, I am genuinely scared for them. You are an adult acting on their behalf. For a start, later in life they may resent you parading them online. Right now, protect them. (My husband would be furious if I placed a photo of him on my Facebook page.)

Just below is the photo that resulted in me being tracked and harassed (cyber-stalked) by two men. I have been online since 1997, so they are far from the only weirdos I have met, but they are the worst. It is an iStockphoto and no, I do not use it anymore. This is how little it takes to set off a sick imagination. See why it freaks me out when I see people’s kids online?

Here is a basic introduction to cyber-stalking and how you can take care of yourself. Please DO take very good care of yourself and your family.



My teacup avatar, is a purchased iStockphoto.com image which has been photoshopped. If you like the image, you are legally obliged to buy it from the same source, or iStockphoto.com has the right to take legal action against you for theft. The same applies for the bottom eye and hair avatar. Just saying…

This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.

12 thoughts on “Hiding Behind the Teacup: Authors and Personal Security Online

  1. Excellent advice, Cate. Looking only at the risks of identity theft, there is enough information in many folks’ facebook and other profiles that, coupled with a near passport-suitable photo, renders impersonation a simple project.
    I regularly visit my profiles, decide I’m not being sufficiently open, and not giving enough information so add some more; only to go back later and delete it all again (much good that does – he web has a long memory).
    I certainly appreciate that where there are special circumstances, special measures must be taken!


  2. I agree. And you don’t have to be onlne. My most dramatic author experience happened when a military historian recognised me in the Archives New Zealand reading room from my author photo and got angry. The first I knew was when this red faced apparition with balled fists bellowed at me, demanding to know what book I kwas writing. He didn’t introduce himself and I was in reasonable apprehension of being hit. Finally he went away, still bellowing. I have been trained and can handle myself if attacked. But the last plave I’d expect it is in a reading room. Apparently I was writing his books. Sigh.


  3. I have to agree with you Cate. One shouldn’t always use a photo of himself or herself. I do have one on Facebook, but some of my other social media avatars are sports related. A collage of balls used in various games for one, crossed baseball bats on another and so on. They are a symbol of me as I am a passionate sports fan but can be somewhat secure. As long as one isn’t nasty behind those avvies then all is good. And….count me as one of the pink teacup fans! :)


  4. I walk the very fine line between wanting to write for public consumption on the Internet, and being scared out of my wits because of what you just discussed. I feel like a scared bunny rabbit darting back and forth across a highway with a speeding car bearing down upon me with all its might…narrowing in for the kill. Fear of Alzheimers has me intent on being relevant, keeping abreast of all things technological. I try to pick and choose, perhaps not always wisely. That’s why I’ve steered clear of Tumblr…thousands peering into my business. But I am on Twitter. Go figure. Thanks for the vivid reminder…I think.


  5. ‘…However, it pays to be aware of the criminal activity which is out there…’ – I totally agree, so many people my age (last year of high school) are completely oblivious to what can happen (possibly because they think it won’t happen to them? I don’t know) and as a consequence upload all sorts of photos (with no privacy settings) of themselves often ‘tagged’ with the location. Personally it took me a very long time to use my photo as my avatar because I was (and still am) very conscious of the things that can happen. I was, however, tired of representing myself using an inanimate object (my old avatar was of a book) hence the decision to use a photo. It was a really hard decision to make but I’m glad I made it, I’ve found more people interact with me on places like Twitter because of it, though it may just be because my ‘following’ has grown a bit since then. It seems to me that the line between offline and online are becoming less and less distinct, in my age group at least, but that’s just based off of my couple of years experience online. I hope that makes sense, I’ve got so many different ideas and feelings about privacy (and the lack of it) especially online that forming a coherent thought to voice my opinion seems almost impossible.



  6. I totally agree Cate, in particular with the idea of posting photos of others on social media. I have no fear of using my own likeness on sites, but it distresses me when I see folk posting pics of their children. Okay, so if they want to talk about what they had for breakfast, or how badly their diet is going, fair enough, but leave innocence where it belongs – away from the prying eyes of sickos. Good post as always. I’ve just returned from holiday so I’m trying to catch up. I hope you had a good break yourself.


  7. I like your avatar… and with books and tea, I would never consider any sinister movement behind.. I have personally decided to use my own name.. I have a desire to one time become an author or poet .. but when it comes to my avatar, I like my orange face hiding behind white sunglasses.. I made it myself on Instagram, and it has become part of me.


  8. Dear Cate, I am so very sorry that some perverts cyber stalked you. How horrible and I hope you do have some defenses with you at all times. Have you ever taken a course at the Y or at a University for protection? I also worry about my picture – but hey, I don’t look anything like this anymore so, they would have a hard time finding me in the geriatric ward. I love your blog and God be with you at all times! Nan:)


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