From this discussion (Official position on use of images on avatars), it seems a moderator suspended a user for violation of the ToS regarding 'impersonation'. That user linked to profiles of somebody else, and that isn't smart, I know.

Part of that discussion was if you are allowed or not to use a picture of someone else as your profile image. I wonder how strong moderators should react in this matter.

I guess Vladmir Putin doesn't have an account here, and I guess the same is true for Barack Obama. While it is clear the user isn't the one they say they are, how should be reacted? Should we flag all these account or not? Should there be filters on known 'false identities'?

  • 6
    I'd say if a "reasonable user" (to borrow a term from US legalese) could be reasonably misled that the profile represents, or speaks for, someone it does not, then action should be taken. What the specific standards for "misleading", and what the sociocultural actions to be taken in a given context, are, I'll leave to my better-equipped colleagues.
    – Dan Bron
    May 6, 2016 at 12:36
  • So impersonating as Obama is okay, but as my wife isn't? May 6, 2016 at 12:38
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    Yes, precisely because no one is going to believe Obama is interested in taking time out of his day to suggest more jQuery, but your wife might, and does she really need that kind of reputation?
    – Dan Bron
    May 6, 2016 at 12:39
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    @PatrickHofman It's not a question of who it is and isn't okay to impersonate, it just comes down to whether the user is actually trying to claim that they are that other person, for example, Vladmir Putin, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't live in Branson MO.
    – Servy
    May 6, 2016 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


This is a topic that has been discussed several times before in regards to public figures, impersonating specific users on the site, and profile pictures by themselves.

In general, the attitude is that you can use most profile pictures of public figures, and even name yourself after them, but you may draw more attention from moderators by doing so. Filling out your public profile as if you were that person is usually a step too far.

Copying another Stack Exchange user's name and avatar is generally considered an attempt at impersonation, and will typically be rolled back by moderators. Filling out your profile to match the other person is certainly an attempt at impersonation, and will almost always trigger a profile rollback and stern warning.

It's a question of how likely it is that people would in any way believe the person who is posting is the figure from their profile. I think it's pretty easy to determine that none of the accounts named "Steve Jobs" on Stack Overflow are the person we think of (for obvious reasons), but this is a large enough network that it's not inconceivable that someone is independently named Steve Jobs and is using the site.

The linked case was a trickier one in that someone was using a photo they took of someone else in their profile (generally OK, plenty of people use photos of significant others or their children as avatars in a positive way), but then they also gave their profile the name of this person (starting to get more problematic), and then filled out the rest of the profile as if they were them (that's stepping over the line). Again, it's a matter of degree, and each case will require personal judgment.

  • Thanks. With "someone else" I didn't mean another SE user btw. May 6, 2016 at 15:00
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    I can agree with this. Sometimes it is just simple a number of things that are wrong with the profile, and then the decision is based on not just one fact, which might appear that way. May 6, 2016 at 15:02

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