EDIT: As of August $22$nd, the number of upvotes for the leading two proposals are precisely tied. The OP was roughly a month ago, so I think this question deserves an answer. To that end, since my proposal - to simply remove "glamour" profile pictures - received $6$ upvotes, I think it is safe to say that, albeit narrowly, the votes show a preference for taking some action against "glamour" profile pictures. I have therefore marked amWhy's proposal for how to do this as the accepted answer.

I'd like to thank everyone who downvoted the upvote-only answers for giving me the opportunity to make jokes at your expense.

I don't mean to 1) complain about women being present on the site or 2) suggest that women could not both be interested in glamour and mathematics, but I've perceived a curious uptick in profiles like this in the past couple of months: profiles with female usernames and glamour- or modeling-type profile pictures. (Usually they are low-reputation users.)

Do we know... why? Are they male (or female) users hoping to court more sympathy? I haven't seen this on other SE platforms and am somewhat confused by the trend.

  • 25
    $\begingroup$ It might be a play for "more sympathy," as you suspect, but this sort of thing has been going on longer than "the past couple of months". As to why Math.SE might be more affected by this than other SE platforms, I would guess that it is related to the opportunity to have Readers eager to do homework problems. Few other SE Communities are open to that. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 0:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak fair enough - I said "perceived" partly because I knew that while it seemed recent to me, it might have been going on for a while longer. My usage of the site was very low for some time, until a few months ago. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 5:59
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak: Profile pics can be changed after account creation, can't they? $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ Taking "alison monroe" as an example only ... There are many possible combinations, most of which are harmless. But not so clear would be this scenario: There is a real "Alison Monroe" and that is her picture, but this user is not Alison Monroe. ... (In fact, this is a picture of an actress named Gabrielle Union.) $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 12:38
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I noticed this too. My only theory as well was that it is being used as a psychological tool. Perhaps it provides a thin shield against negative behavior that could defend some poor questions, but in cases where that is the truth, it is too weak a stratagem to be considered harmful. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 13:02
  • 18
    $\begingroup$ This is the oldest trick in the book to get replies on your threads from when traditional web forums were big. A little under half the population is literally biologically programmed to be just that much more interested in what the creators of these profiles have to say. They're just using that to their advantage, however amoral it may sound. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 13:47
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @enthdegree "A little under half"... let's condition on the likely makeup of MSE (or mathsci SEs in general) and go with "much, much more than half"... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Tbh, I don't really look at user profile pictures. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ As a woman, I've noticed exactly the same phenomenon! And yes, this seems to me to have increased this year. And I find it particularly upsetting because all the work women in math have done to be taken seriously as mathematicians! I've been thinking of it as a "damsel in distress" phenomenon. That doesn't mean all the damsels in distress are women. There's nothing stopping Jack Jones from using the username "Maria" and posting a picture of his girlfriend. I think much of it is an attempt to manipulate a bias which many of us are trying hard to eradicate. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 18:59
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @enthdegree I find your post to essentially to fall in line with "biological (sexual) determinism". If you meant it as a joke, you should be more explicit about it. So, for me as a woman, would you suspect that I'm "just that much more interested in what profiles of men have to say"? Are you trying to justify the phenomenon the asker of this question notes? Via Evolutionary Theory? If you can't take the question and many of its comments seriously, go away, and stop trivializing the issue or laugh it off. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 22:01
  • 14
    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Evading identification of what seems to be the most likely and obvious impetus for this phenomenon is intellectually dishonest. Please do not conflate my statements with what is going through the minds of the people creating these profiles. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any policy on using a photo of a "known" person (like Gabrielle Union or Nadia Jay mentioned above), whether that is a famous man or a famous woman, good-looking or not, when you are not that person? I also see users who use a male sport star, such as a football player, as their profile pictures, probably because they are fans of that sportsman celebrity. (Not to mention using a picture of Euler or Gauss when you are not Euler or Gauss.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ A while ago I had the notion to do an experiment to see whether Questions by women or minorities get more or less or different responses. I didn't, but perhaps someone is. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Probably a little thought less from me but if you put a picture of a celebrity or a model you assume that's a joke the same way you assume bubba is not a cat. Unless someone tries to fool someone by commenting or indicating in post then I don't think it really matters and would be even rude not to allow users to have lets say Emily Ratajkowski as their profile picture. $\endgroup$
    – kingW3
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 0:41
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Some related meta.SE posts (maybe you can find more if you spend some time searching): Ethics of Profile Picture Fraud? and How far should we go in disallowing 'impersonation' in profiles? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 4:20

5 Answers 5


Please only vote on this post if you agree (in which case, upvote). If you disagree, upvote the other answer. Only vote once, please!

Math Stack Exchange should leave users with "glamour" or "modeling" profile pictures entirely untouched.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Congratulations, @Downvoters, you have the dubious distinction of having downvoted every single post in this thread. Your downvotes will not be counted, of course, per first line of each of these posts. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 18:22
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Taken literally, this answer means that all site rules concerning account suspension or banning are entirely waived if you have a glamour profile photo. What fun! $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that you've noticed an uptick in glamour profile photos. Otherwise, you wouldn't have posted this. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Moore
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DanMoore you remind me of a proof I gave once. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 8:20

(Originally suggested by AmWhy)

Please only vote on this post if you agree (in which case, upvote). If you disagree, upvote the other answer. Only vote once, please!

Math Stack Exchange should establish a minimum reputation to allow users to select their own profile pictures. Once this standard of reputation is met, user profile pictures should be left untouched.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Downvoter Evidently you didn't read the header where I indicated that we're tallying votes using upvotes. (Or maybe it's the "Big Glamour Pics" lobby at work....) $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 5:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Some people can't be arsed to read, unfortunately. Just ignore downvotes for the sake of tallying. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 15:04

First of all, Chris, your answer asks another question, that's not what you asked in your question. Certainly there's been some discussion, because your question was tagged "discussion."

Although I personally would like something to happen, even if that's what you've already done: Warning users not to get sucked in by photos (nor user names "ManlyMan" or "DarlingDiva", etc).

I don't think it's feasible to enforce a randomly chosen identicon on everyone (I don't want to give up my profile image, e.g.). I suspect the broader goal, given this discussion, is (or should be) to remind ourselves that for all we know, the user wr "see" has nothing to do with the asker, especially wrt photo images.

There's a lot of takeaways from the discussion of the question you posted. I'm glad you asked the question. However I don't think that forcing identicons on everyone is appropriate.

One idea that I put in a comment below, but moved to place it within the answer, is this:

Perhaps choosing one's own "identicon" can be made a privilege, granted upon reaching some rep threshold like 125 or 150 rep points? That will curtail the vast majority of posts discussed here. But I'm not sure whether this can work, given the rep-determined thresholds seem to be defined by SE.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how feasible it would be to create such a privilege. Let's say a user creates an account on one SE site, obtains 150 rep and uploads a custom image, then they link their account to a second exchange site. Does the custom image simply not show up on the second exchange site? Maybe it could be tied to association bonus threshold at 200 rep? $\endgroup$
    – Sera Gunn
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TrevorGunn You make a good point. I have no problem with a 200 rep threshold. That would make things less complicated. I'd even suggest that usernames not be personalized until some threshold. But for the point in question, I think what you suggest is reasonable. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree with you on the basic opinion : the identicon can have literally nothing to do with the user, and people shouldn't get carried away. Over the past few days I looked out for users with "female glamour" profiles, and in general most of these users are new, and ask questions worthy of immediate closure. I do not see them getting attention other than for the fact that they are terrible. I will add a few links if you like to these questions : That will make it clear that the community is already not interested in these glamour pictures. But ,Olof Mellberg is everybody's cup of tea! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ @астонвіллаолофмэллбэрг Ok, I'll bite - who is Olof Mellberg and why are you referring to him so... memetically? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 6:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Chris Google told me it is a (former) soccer player and trainer. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olof_Mellberg $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ok sorry but I was laughing too much on the "darlingdiva" and "manlyman" part @amWhy $\endgroup$
    – Babu
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 9:58

I think addressing the issue of "false profile pictures" can be informed by:

  1. Understanding what profile pictures are intended to accomplish
  2. What profile pictures accomplish that are against the spirit/rules of SE
  3. What are the grey areas

I'd argue that #1 encompasses:

  • SE is "a network of 169 communities". Profiles (and pictures in this discussion) engender a sense of community.
  • A mnemonic aid, helpful in quickly recognizing different members of the community

As a matter of speculation, #2:

  • Is a form of spam. It hints at an opportunity that is outside of the bounds of MSE.
  • Attempts to weaken prohibition against poor questions.

#3 encompasses a lot - with a lot of overlap with #1:

  • Fandom
  • Humor
  • To indicate association with other groups
  • To indicate likes (beer for example)
  • Picture of a place

IMO, when profile pictures support #1, or are neutral WRT to #1, they shouldn't be encumbered. When they are against spirit of MSE they should be restricted. But how to implement this effectively without too much burden? Some thoughts:

  • Already discussed idea to require a minimum rep to select picture
  • If a question is put on hold or closed due to poor quality, that could be a trigger to replace "suspicious" profile pic with generated pattern
  • A new flag reason could be added to questions

Please only vote on this post if you agree (in which case, upvote). If you disagree, upvote the other answer. Only vote once, please!

Math Stack Exchange should specifically remove "modeling" or "glamour" profile pictures of either gender in favor of one of the default randomized designs, in the interests of avoiding some suggestible users bending sitewide protocol for such profiles (e.g. on homework help).

  • $\begingroup$ For the record, I personally (+1) this idea, although I think AmWhy's idea also has merit. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:50
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Downvoter Evidently you didn't read the header where I indicated that we're tallying votes using upvotes. (Or maybe it's the "Big Glamour Pics" lobby at work....) $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 4:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ AHhaha this psot is full of gold @Chris $\endgroup$
    – Babu
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 10:01

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