Having an avatar with a swastika is an obvious red card, as is exposing sexual or violent content. In some cases, even political messages and cultural references might be inappropriate.

How does that relate to avatars that cause difficulties for people with phobias?

I can imagine exceptional cases when someone would claim to be afraid of ties and hence request anybody with a tie to change their avatar. But generally speaking, humans are genetically prone to have phobias of spiders, snakes, insects and rodents (with severity in that order, as far as I vaguely recall).

Should it be OK to report such an avatar to request its removal?

I realize that the user with a phobic avatar might very well not even be aware of the problem, so it's not appropriate to call it an offense. And the issue isn't common neither. I'm curious about it in a purely academical sense.

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    What evidence do you have that such phobias extend to static images? Normally, such phobias are limited to real, live specimens, not to images. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:52
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    @MartijnPieters Are you kidding me? You've ever seen a phobic look at an image of the phobia stimuli? You're talking about it in rational terms. Phobia is an irrational fear. In fact, where severe, they can't even say the word, using code for it. Even a though of it can cause a panic attack. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:56
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    Forget spiders; ailurophobia sufferers must be in hell here.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:56
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    @MartijnPieters I know several people whose fear of snakes manifests with a photo. One person was unable to read a children's book featuring a beautiful emerald snake and had to skip that page each time. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:57
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    @Konrad Not a direct answer to the question, but you could point people with these sorts of issues to something like chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/images-onoff/…. (Though I'd expect/hope people with such extreme cases of a phobia to have their own safeguards in place already to be honest)
    – Clive
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 18:34
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    How swastika it exposing sexual or violent content. Its Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism's religious symbol and have holly meaning. Read here Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:08
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    @AnkitSharma You're welcome to visit Germany and wave a banner with that symbol in a public space. The authorities will promptly educate you, should you be unaware of the events that transpired during early 40's in the previous century. Spoiler alert: there was this guy in Central Europe who hijacked the symbol of sun using it for different context, which led to different demographics in a number of countries. There are different sources discussing the actual number, so it might be described as an infected and disputed issue. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:23
  • @AnkitSharma Read here and here. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:24
  • @KonradViltersten If i am not wrong SE is a global site and people with different religion and background comes here. And i know all about swastika. Its part of my culture where its is not associated with sex and violence Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:27
  • @AnkitSharma The events I mentioned above in Central Europ got, kind of, out of hand eventually, so the thing become global too. I assumed that it was known everywhere. And despite the symbol of sun having peaceful origin, you asked how it can exposing violent content. Well, like I just showed you. I never claimed that everybody makes that connotation. I just say that enough many do, so that putting it on claiming other meaning is careless. A bit like claiming that negro means black, so it's fine to call people a niger. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:32
  • You mean Buddhism is not global ? Do you know Hinduism is third largest religion? Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:35
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    @AnkitSharma A large part of the world - maybe most of it - associates the swastika with the Nazi Party, which murdered millions upon millions of people. That qualifies as offensive.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:38
  • You might suggest banning Dutch and french on SE network too because there is a Dutchphobia and Francophobia. And beautiful woman too because of Venustraphobia or restrict them to use there pictures. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:39
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    @KonradViltersten you've obviously hit on the problem with trying to complain about avatars. What may be offensive to one culture may be perfectly acceptable to another. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 20:39
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    I used to have a not quite paralyzing, but serious, phobia of spiders. It has happily faded with age (even to the point where I welcome them in my backyard to control the mosquitoes). Pictures of spiders used to give me the willies, like Kate Gregory's friend: I couldn't even touch the pages that the pictures were on with more than the very tips of my fingers, while averting my eyes. Even then, I would never think of telling someone they couldn't or shouldn't have a spider image represent them.
    – jscs
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


If someone's avatar upsets or offends you, by all means report it. I've reported avatars that simply attempted deception. Flag any post by the user and explain the effect on you of seeing it.

If you think someone's avatar might conceivably upset someone else, because it's a snake or an insect or something that you know some hypothetical people dislike, leave it alone. Unless someone has told you that they can't flag a post because that would involve seeing the avatar, in which case flag on their behalf. But do not flag on behalf of hypothetical people who may or may not exist.

  • Ah, great. That's what I meant (realized that first when you wrote your answer, though). It's not for me, as is. It's about a general approach to "hypothetical people". And you make sense. Thanks! Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 18:27
  • No idea why you got -1 on this. Seems to me there's negativity due to the side effects from the excessive intake of certain fluids last night, hehe. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 18:44
  • I don't think it is a good idea to flag every post by that user. Just because he has an offensive avatar does not mean he can't make useful posts.
    – zondo
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 14:33
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    First, I did not say every, I said any as in it doesn't matter which one you pick. "Press any key." Second, flagging a post doesn't downvote it, delete it, or hurt the user. It gets a mod to come look at it. Using a custom flag and explaining your reasoning might lead to the mod suggesting an avatar change. It won't lead to the post being deemed "not useful" Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 15:36

The existing policy

Working purely off of existing Stack Exchange policy, I'd like to reference Pops's answer to As a moderator, how do I handle a potentially inappropriate profile picture?:

Avatars are much more visible as we show them under every single post that you write, and as such, are open to a tad more scrutiny. If the avatar:

  • Depicts or promotes hate in any form
  • Insults, is insulting to or negatively objectifies those belonging to a certain race, gender or religion
  • Otherwise creates disruptions that moderators must deal with

... then we're probably going to require you to use another avatar.

Try to be as tolerant as you can of other people, and assume good intentions until you have evidence to the contrary. "It offended me" is much different from "might offend someone", so don't go out of your way to flag something unless you truly believe it's a problem that requires immediate intervention.

The latter point is something I think we can all agree upon. Don't assume that other people will be offended by something. For example, my cross country team was previously prohibited from running in a meet on Yom Kippur because the school administration feared that Jewish runners on the team (and their families) would be offended. As it turned out, every Jewish runner on the team had previously talked with our coach and decided to run on that day. Regardless, however, the team did not go to the meet. This was a case of someone acting for someone else, and it was, in everyone but the administration's opinion, a mistake.

Under existing Stack Exchange policy, phobias would fall into the third category, if they can be shown to be disruptive.

Possible changes

Pops' answer creates three separate categories that encompass everything (two major ones, and a catch-all one). Avatars creating phobias may fall into the first two categories, in which case they would be changed. However, the point of contention here is whether or not other avatars that aren't in the first two categories cause disruptions - and whether or not that affects someone's freedom of expression (see Deerhunter's comment).

Clearly, freedom of expression and freedom of speech are nullified in certain conditions:

However, these conditions are not necessarily met here.

Avatars are examples of expression. I choose to express my nerdiness via an xkcd character, Black Hat Guy. However, if Black Hat Guy went around calling people morons and spewing hate speech, then it would no longer be an appropriate avatar. It would be offensive.

In this case, does fear trump freedom of expression? I don't think it's right that one person should be beholden to curb their freedom because one other person is offended. If I'm afraid of disembodied heads, then that really shouldn't stop Shog9 from having his profile picture be his a disembodied head. It's not fair. Just because one person isn't happy about something doesn't always mean that another person should change. More than one - or two, or three - people should be affected negatively for an avatar to change, in my opinion.

You've argued that phobias can have serious consequences. Indeed, this may be the case. I have a terrible fear of closing my binder on my hand, thus impaling it (true fun fact; it's why I dislike filing papers). That doesn't, though, mean that it causes a serious disruption to my life. I'm not trying to trivialize phobias, but I am trying to say that most phobias are not seriously disruptive. Especially if only one person is disrupted for the short amount of time they have to view an avatar.


So, I would support taking action against an avatar that caused a phobia if

  1. It can be shown that more than a handful of people find it disruptive.
  2. It can be shown that the disruption caused by the avatar seriously impacts their lives and/or use of Stack Exchange.

Point 1 would be invalid - if the disruption is serious enough. For example, if an avatar causes one person to jump out a window, it should be changed. Period. However, if an avatar causes a person to get shivers down their spine, then perhaps the disruption is not serious enough.

The words "handful", "disruptive", and "seriously" are about as subjective as you can get. They'll vary. But they should determine the actions taken on a case-by-case basis.

But - as has been established many times before, including in Kate Gregory's answer - let's agree to not act based on assumptions.

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    Yeah, I got that from Kate's answer too. Very good one. The comment I made to DH was because he digressed from the premises of my questions (which I was careful to establish). I believe in being able to joke about anything but if it requires changing or at the very least altering the OP, it feels a bit cheap and below our standards. There's a difference between being a controversially amusing observer and an ignorant wise-ass. I know from before that DH places as the former, so I told the story just to make sure that the jokiness doesn't hide the actual, horrific issue. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 19:30

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