Ever seen a Hijabi posting her most beautiful pictures on Facebook? I have. And it's completely beyond my understanding. Before everyone concludes I'm an extremist of some sort, I'll admit that I'm on Facebook too, and at some point, I have also posted my pictures up. But that's when I discovered that several months of Facebook usage still does not empower most of us with the ability to conquer the privacy settings on our profiles, if they were ever of any use to start with.
Sure, we all want to show our friends how drop dead gorgeous we were looking at some party we went to. We also want to prove to our non-Hijabi friends how we resemble those supermodels on TV when we dress up for the "Halal prom". We also want to amaze our non-Muslim female friends with the awesome hairstyles and colors under our Hijab. In all honesty, we just want to have some fun and share our exciting Kodak moments with our friends, right?
I once spoke to a fellow Hijabi about posting pictures of herself without Hijab on Facebook, MSN, and other online social networking services. She said, "I know that there will always be the possibility of non-mahrams seeing my pictures while my friends are looking at them, but it's their responsibility to take care of my Hijab, I trust them. I guess I'm just one of those girls who don't like thinking outside the box."
Pure intentions aside, since when has there been the Islamic exception of trusting others with our Hijab? And what does thinking outside the box have to do with anything? If others were trustworthy enough to take care of our Hijab, then I'd never have come across those online photos of posing Hijabis featuring the religious leader's wife without Hijab in the background.
Fortunately, 50 percent of Hijabis are wise enough to avoid posting non-Hijabi pictures on such public websites. But the number of Hijabis who make their profile pictures (which can usually be accessed by the entire Facebook network) a picture of themselves is simply overwhelming. Of course, it is technically "permissible" for non-mahrams to see us while we are in Hijab, but the majority of Hijabis are so dolled up in their display pictures that it seems as though someone forced a headscarf on the winner of America's Next Top Model.
Of course, sisters are not alone when it comes to the competition of who looks the hottest in their Facebook display picture. The brothers have been quick to catch on. Posing with their Versace sunglasses and slick t-shirts (if they are wearing one at all), down to the core of the matter, it has become a game of impressing anyone and everyone, as long as you're on Facebook.
But the photo album disease is also spreading far and wide with the adults too! The number of parents who are posting pictures of their children is absolutely terrifying. It's understandable that parents want to show off their beautiful children to their friends; however, it goes without saying that many of these parents are not exactly quite tech-savvy and not too proficient when it comes to privacy settings, thereby often leaving their children's pictures publicly accessible by any and all weirdos.
Furthermore, according to a report by the BBC, a team of researchers from Cambridge University analyzed sixteen social networking websites and discovered that some sites, including Facebook, stored photos of users and allowed them to be viewed by others, even after the user deleted them. They did this by uploading pictures and noting down the image URLs. "When checked 30 days later, these links continued to work for seven of the sites, even though a typical user might think the photos had been removed," the researchers found. Despite all the privacy settings and limitations we may try and implement to our Facebook and other online profiles, more likely than not there will always be a loophole in the system, a fact that many of us are quite oblivious to.
Another classic example of privacy settings gone wrong is adding an application or taking certain quizzes on Facebook, which give the creator access to our entire profile, including all our private photos and the "public link" on our albums, which gives anyone who has this link complete access to all our "hidden" pictures.
While there are multiple benefits of having pictures on Facebook, including "so my friends know it's me who is adding them" and "my relatives overseas want to see what I look like", it's quite a risky business. Accessible from Google, the entire process of having our pictures downloaded and saved on someone's computer takes only a few seconds. It is very possible that a Hijabi sister's cute profile picture of her having a good time with friends might very well end up in the hands of an overzealous matchmaker in the community and ogled over by dozens of boys around the globe, and vice versa.
The essence of Hijab is simple: to conceal as much as possible and only display our beauty when absolutely necessary. If Facebook profile pictures were an absolutely necessary place for Muslims girls, boys, and adults to post their most stunning and attractive pictures for the whole world to see, then I guess I've been slow to jump on the bandwagon.