How To Ensure You’re Not Outed On Facebook [Weekly Facebook Tips]

Angela Randall 30-10-2012

You may have heard recently that two gay college students were outed on Facebook because of a public group they were added to. Now, many people are crying out for Facebook to change their ways, but in the meantime there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself and your friends from a similar fate.


Of course, statistically speaking, you’re probably not gay. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve got nothing to hide. Do you want all your acquaintances knowing about your political preferences? Would you feel uncomfortable if your workmates knew which pubs you go to on occasion? Who should know where you stand on some of the bigger moral debates? Which of your Facebook friends should be able to see any and every photo of you that could end up on Facebook? Who should be able to know when you’re not at home? All of these things could easily become public on Facebook if a friend adds you to a public group, tags a photo of you or tags your location.

And what if a well-meaning, yet hopeful friend adds you to a public group in support of something you don’t even support? Worse still, what if someone pranks you and adds you to an offensive public group deliberately? Unless you sort out your privacy settings with these scenarios in mind, you might well be outed one day – And there’s no taking it back.

Now, most sensible Facebook users have taken control of their privacy settings to some extent. Many people have limited who can see their relationship status, religious and political beliefs. You’ve possibly limited your posts and profile to just be viewable by your friends. Maybe you’ve also created custom lists to control things even further when necessary. But, have you stopped to think about all the ways your friends can accidentally share too much of your personal information?

The main ways your friends can out you on Facebook is with location tagging, photo tagging, posting on your wall and adding you to groups or events. So, it’s really important to ensure that only the very closest of your Facebook friends can see the results of these actions. Or better still, if you’re very paranoid you can ensure that it’s not possible to tag you or post on your wall. Here’s how you do it.

Limiting Who Sees Results Of Your Friends’ Actions

Head to your privacy settings, by going to the down arrow in the top-right of Facebook and choosing “Privacy Settings“. Choose “Timeline and Tagging” and adjust your settings for every entry of this section. Limit who can see posts and things you’ve been tagged in to your closest friends, either using the “Close friends” smartlist or some custom-made friends lists.


You can also choose to review tagged posts and photos before they are posted on your timeline. They’ll still be viewable to friends of the person who tagged them, but they won’t appear on your timeline until you approve it, which gives you a little more security.

How To Ensure You're Not Outed On Facebook [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook Timeline And Tagging

Despite all this, public events and groups will still be publicly viewable.

Limiting What Your Friends Can Do

As above, head to the “Timeline and Tagging” section of your “Privacy Settings“, but lock every item down to the maximum setting. Ensure none of your friends can post to your timeline, only you will see posts you’re tagged in and everything must be reviewed. This is like triple security.


Sadly, there’s no way to stop your friends from inviting you to public groups, short of de-friending them. Once you’ve been added to these, it’s possible to remove yourself easily enough. However, that’s not ideal.

How To Ensure You're Not Outed On Facebook [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook Group Add Privacy

On the other hand, it appears that Facebook has decided to only put your actual activities in groups into your timeline now, rather than the fact that you’ve been added to the group. I can’t guarantee this is the case, however I tested it with a few groups and saw no evidence of entries on my timeline.

If I had posted in these open groups rather than just leaving them, that post would be publicly viewable and visible on my timeline. Plus, you never know what Facebook will change in the future. So, it’s still worth checking your privacy settings.


With public events, the story is similar. However, you can block your friends from adding you to events if need be. Head to your privacy settings and choose “Manage Blocking” to add people to the list.

How To Ensure You're Not Outed On Facebook [Weekly Facebook Tips] Facebook Events Blocking

Tips For Group & Event Administrators

As the group-add debacle mentioned before highlights, group administrators with potentially sensitive subject material can and should think about how they can ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen to their members. Consider making the group a secret group to protect your members’ privacy.

Or, if you are determined to stay more public (such as a closed or open group), ensure administrators need to approve new additions to the group, then contact the potential members before you add them to ensure they are happy to be public or certain that their privacy settings are sufficient. You could point them in the direction of this article so they can be sure.


More Reading

If you’ve realised there’s more you can do to protect yourself on Facebook, here’s some reading for you:

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  1. Ken
    November 2, 2012 at 3:24 am

    I now understand how to block apps and invites to apps and events from specific people. But how can I block a specific person from tagging me in a photo I don;t want to be tagged in?

    • Angela Alcorn
      November 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      You could block them, if they're not a friend of yours. Otherwise, you could set things up so that each tag needs to be approved by you. Then you can just refuse it every time they try to tag it.

      Also, sometimes friends just need to be told not to tag you in photos you hate. :)

      • Ken
        November 4, 2012 at 2:26 am

        That's great Angela ... but it doesn't answer my question: HOW? As in, how do I set things up so that each tag needs my approval?

        • Angela Alcorn
          November 9, 2012 at 10:20 am

          Head to your privacy settings, by going to the down arrow in the top-right of Facebook and choosing “Privacy Settings“. Choose “Timeline and Tagging” then "Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline".

          Sorry, it was mentioned in passing in the article so I didn't think to re-iterate it before. :)

    • Brandon Clark
      November 5, 2012 at 3:58 am

      Privacy Settings>Timeline and Tagging (edit settings)> Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline (edit settings)

      All your options are there.

      • Ken
        November 6, 2012 at 1:40 am

        Thanx, Brandon.

  2. Yiz Borol
    October 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Honestly, if it's on facebook you have to expect it to be public, join a forum if you want privacy, the whole point of Fb is social networking and public access not privacy...

  3. Colleen Werner
    October 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I've been doing all of these things for ages, and not just to avoid getting outed to my parents. There are some things I just don't feel like sharing with the entire goddamned world.

    • Angela Alcorn
      November 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      Too right!

  4. michel
    October 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    it must be said, the easiest way to prevent this is to stay off Facebook.

    Every time I see a post about Facebook on a site like yours, it`s about how to protect yourself from some outrageous personal invasion. I never see one about how cool facebook is, or how you can do something amazing with it, or how it somehow improves your life.

    • Lavender
      October 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      That's because, for the vast, VAST majority: FB *isn't* cool; it doesn't do anything "amazing"; and it hardly ever, if *ever*, improves someone's life in such a manner that the improvement couldn't happen another way. All FB does is make someone else rich.

    • Angela Alcorn
      November 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Well, I guess that's because anyone that uses it can already see most of the benefits and yet they need to search for best advice in regards to privacy etc. On the flip side, we do cover heaps of the positive things about Facebook at MakeUseOf, such as huge updates, the best apps and cool things you can do. Take a look!

  5. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    October 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    I can add one more: never add anyone you remotely know. Clean up your friend list so there are only people you care about, which lessen the chance of you getting involved in such tragedy. Explicitly state to your friends not to add you into anyting before confirming it to you.

    • Angela Alcorn
      November 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Good points. Thanks for adding them!

  6. Nikhil Chandak
    October 31, 2012 at 6:32 am

    for the information ..!