Twitter Drops Its Egg, The Unintended Avatar Of Harassment

Twitter Drops Its Egg, The Unintended Avatar Of Harassment

Since 2010, the default avatar on Twitter has been an egg. The idea apparently was that a new user was like a gestating bird, soon to make its first tweet. It was designed to be playful and cute. But over time, Twitter’s eggs came to symbolize something different: users who remain shadowy on purpose, in order to harass their fellow tweeters. Today, Twitter announced that it was doing away with the egg as its default avatar, opting instead for a nondescript person-shaped figure. No more bright colors, either — the new avatar is all gray. In a blog post, the company gave three reasons for the change, which it seemed to list in order of least to most important. First, the company says, it has a new look as of last year, and it wants users’ avatars to reflect the “diversity and expressiveness” of the platform. Second, it says, the egg was cute — too cute. The egg didn’t inspire enough people to want to change their avatar. So Twitter is making the default avatar … worse on purpose: “The new default image feels more like an empty state or placeholder and we hope it encourages people to upload images that express themselves.” Third, Twitter addresses the elephant in the virtual room: that the egg often became a symbol of harassment: “We’ve noticed patterns of behavior with accounts that are created only to harass others – often they don’t take the time to personalize their accounts. This has created an association between the default egg profile photo and negative behavior, which isn’t fair to people who are still new to Twitter and haven’t yet personalized their profile photo.” As anyone who has been trolled can attest, the most virulent tweets often come from people not using their real names. And many of those accounts sport the egg avatar, because when you’re creating an account for the sole purpose of harassing others anonymously, why take the time to upload a picture and risk giving clues to your identity? One problem that the egg had obviated, Twitter’s design team explained, was that “generic person” avatars employed by social networks often look masculine. To make its …

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