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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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve realised there’s more you can do to protect yourself on Facebook, here’s some reading for you:
- How To Get Rid Of Facebook Notifications & Other Annoying Things You Don’t Want To See [Weekly Facebook Tips]
- Using Facebook Friends Lists For Interests Or Circles [Facebook Hack Or Tip Of The Week]
- Facebook Tip: How To Disable Close Friends Notifications Or Remove Friends From The Close Friends List
- How To Log Yourself Out Of Facebook On Other Devices And Improve Your Security [Weekly Facebook Tips]