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.