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It’s a well-known fact that Facebook are fairly keen to get people to be public about their behaviour within Facebook. And yes, Facebook have got some incredibly complex privacy settings, but on the whole they’ve tried to make them more accessible and easy-to-understand so that you don’t have to be a Facebook scholar to work out how you want to set yours in order to keep yourself protected and your information private.

Despite all this, Facebook have on several occasions made big changes which made information more public than it had been previously. Users are now generally a little cautious and distrustful of Facebook’s settings, which leads them to believe all sorts of rumours about what you need to do to stay private on Facebook. There’s one in particular which we’ll go through today.

The Privacy Status Update

I’m sure you’ve seen cut-and-paste status updates imploring you to do something like hover over a person’s name and un-click “subscribed” so that your communication with them stays private. It looks genuinely important and you may have even considered asking your friends to do the same. However, it’s not going to do what you expect it to and isn’t necessary at all.

“To all my FB friends, may I request you to please do something for me as I want to stay PRIVATELY connected with you. However, with the recent changes in FB, the public can now see activities in any wall. This happens when our friends hit “like” or “comment” their friends would automatically see our posts too.?? Unfortunately we cannot change this setting by ourselves because Facebook has configured it this way. So I need your help. Only you can do this for me. PLEASE place your mouse over my name above (do not click). A window will then appear, now move the mouse on “FRIENDS” (also without clicking). Then down to “Settings,” click here and a list will appear. REMOVE the CHECK on “COMMENTS & LIKE” by clicking on it. By doing this my activity amongst my friends and my family will no longer become public.?? Many thanks!?? Paste this on your wall so your contacts would follow suit too, that is if you care about your privacy.”

Some versions ask you to un-check the “subscribe” option instead. These same things go around every time there’s a big Facebook change. I saw this one for the Ticker change and then the Timeline change. There are other versions which claim to “prevent hackers”, too.

None of these actions will do what the person asking hopes they will do. So, it’s important to stop spreading the viral updates of misinformation and to start teaching people what they should do instead to protect their privacy.


The Supposed Problem

The user rightly believes that sometimes when they comment on or like something in Facebook that the information will be publicly shown on a wall, in the ticker or someplace else because their friends haven’t specifically blocked it from being made public.

What is happening is that the user may have in fact seen conversations made more public than the writer has expected and they’ve rightly surmised that their own conversations may occasionally be broadcast further than they expect. However, to fix the problem, the user’s friends actually need to adjust their privacy settings (as we’ll discuss later).

What These Suggested Actions Will Do

By un-checking “Comments and Likes” as described in the status update above, the friend will no longer see updates in their feeds when you comment or like anything. It doesn’t mean those updates cannot be seen by a wider audience. It merely means your friend won’t see them in their news feed or ticker.

By un-checking the “Subscribe” option, your friends will only be able to see your public updates as long as you remain Facebook friends. Subscribing is something you do in order to see public updates from a celebrity’s personal Facebook page without them having to know you exist and friend you back. It’s useful for celebrities and other high-profile folk, but won’t make any difference for two people who are actually Facebook friends.

What You Should Actually Do Instead

For Facebook users who are concerned that their comments and likes may be more public than they’d like, there are two important steps to ensuring privacy. The first step is to ensure that your own Facebook profile is locked down to only your Friends or some other custom-locked level of privacy. You can do this very easily by going to the menu in the top right of Facebook and choosing “Privacy Settings“. The easiest way to quickly make it more private is to choose “Friends” as your default privacy level. To learn more, read our Facebook Guide to Privacy.

The second step is to be careful what sort of posts you comment on or like. If your friend has made a public update then your comments on that update will be public, shown on their wall publicly and potentially seen by anyone following you or them (or anyone else who comments on it) in the ticker and the news feed. If your friend has made an update which can be seen by “Friends Of Friends” then any comment you make on that update may appear in the timeline, news feed or ticker feed of all of those people as well as your own friends.

To be certain of what you’re commenting on, check the privacy settings of the post before you start typing. A public post will be noted by a symbol of the world, while friends-locked posts and custom posts will be noted with symbols of people. If you hover over the symbol you will get some more details.

However, just because a post wasn’t originally public doesn’t mean that your friend won’t change the settings later. As is always the case on the Internet, try to keep your comments such that it won’t be the end of the world if it does go public, just in case.

This also means that if you currently post publicly by default you may be deterring privacy-savvy friends from commenting on your posts. You may seriously want to consider posting to just your friends by default for the sake of your friends’ privacy.

Lastly, if you were worried about the “Subscribe” option mentioned, head to your profile and scroll down until you see the menu appear near the top. Click on “Timeline” and choose “Subscriptions“. If you see an option saying “Allow Subscribers” then your profile does not allow subscriptions from people you have not added as a friend. If you see an “Edit” menu and a “Settings” button, then your profile is allowing subscriptions publicly. Click on “Settings” and you will see the option to turn Subscriptions off.

Did you fall for this false security tip when a friend of yours posted it? What other versions of this one have you seen? Let us know in the comments.

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