Facebook Privacy When You Post Your Status and Photos

Tired of seeing all kinds of status messages from all sorts of people whom you do not even know in the Facebook News Ticker or on your News Feed? Please help us all by making sure you are not part of the problem! “Moi?” you may say, and feel rightfully shocked at the mere implication, but please hear me out. Even if you turn out to be innocent, you may well have friends who need to hear about it. I know I do.

You see, every time you post something on Facebook, you can adjust the privacy setting of that specific item. It’s a simple trick, but still a common mistake to ignore it and post something utterly private the the open “Public” or to “Friends of friends”. Then if a friend clicks “Like” or makes a comment to what you posted, it becomes visible to their friends, even if they’re not mutual friends.

Whoops? This is how, say, your boss can see your snide remark about him even though you’ve been careful enough not to add him to your friend list; you simply happen to have a mutual friend who comments or clicks “Like” on your snide remark post, and – Abracadabra! – it shows up in your boss’ News Ticker, leaving you with all the spare time you need to look for a new job.

Nobody even has to knowingly be a mean snitch and tell him about it, all it takes is a small, inconvenient accidental coincidence. Very impractical, and highly embarrassing. Of course, you might be better off not posting snide remarks about your boss or anyone else on Facebook in the first place, just like your mother told you not to, but these things happen. Jobs and relationships have become one with the past over such freak appearances in someone else’s News Ticker. And on Facebook, someone else is always watching the News Ticker.

So what can you do? Easy! To the left of the “Post” button, which itself is at the bottom right of the Status Update thingy, you can choose who shall be able to see that particular post. If it says “Friends”, then you’re reasonably safe. If, on the other hand, it says “Public”, “Friends of friends” or any other suggestion that more people will be able to see it, change it back to “Friends”, pronto!

The setting is clearly visible, in a logical location, and misunderstanding it does take special effort, so you have no particular excuse for not getting it right. Here’s what it looks like when you click it:

Be aware that once you change the privacy setting for one post, the next post you make will inherit that setting, regardless of what you’ve picked as your default in Facebook’s privacy settings. This is stupid, I know, but that’s the way it has been for a long, long time. Make one post public, then the next one becomes public as well, unless you’re watchful and change it back.

My point – yes, I know it took me a while to get here – my point is that once what you post is set to “Friends”, only your friends can see it, and only your friends can see what other friends of yours do in terms of “Liking” or commenting on it. At least as long as Facebook’s privacy mechanisms don’t get dizzy and trip over themselves. This has been known to happen occasionally.

But what if you already made the mistake? Fortunately, it’s also possible to correct yourself by going back to the post in question and swiftly change the privacy setting. Provided that it hasn’t already been seen by anyone who absolutely should not have seen it, you may just have saved yourself from major embarrassment, or someone else from getting their News Ticker cluttered up.

Of course the “Public” and “Friends of friends” options are there for a purpose. You are supposed to be able to publish public material on Facebook, as well as private, but only to do so if it is relevant.

And not all posts that inadvertently end up in public view are as controversial as all that, but photos of your toddler half naked at the beach may not be suitable for showing to the whole world, nor ones of you drunk at parties. The fact that you’re down with the flu, have found a particularly surprising piece of lint in your underwear or broken your thumb while sorting your stamp collection, may not be of interest to the entire world. Some things are best kept within the circle of close friends and/or family. And, let’s face it, some things ought never have been posted at all, but we can’t have everything, and there’s always one in every family. I know I am the one in mine.

By the way, I’ve posted the link to this article as “Public”. Feel free to do so, too 😉

PS: These settings apply to the Facebook apps for iPhone and Android as well. If you use one of those, the privacy setting icon is located at the far right on the blue or grey horizontal bar just above the keyboard when you write a new post.


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