Facebook might be the old social network on the block, but its evolving privacy controls can still be confusing – even to frequent users.
Facebook is all about sharing.
But if you value your privacy, using the service means deciding not only what you want to share, but also who gets to see it.
In theory, you have a lot of control over the audience for everything you put on the social network, whether it’s the photos of your family vacation or that moment of weakness when you passed along that fast-food ad. (Thought you hid that on your timeline, didn’t you?)
In practice, though, adjusting Facebook’s dozens of privacy controls can be tedious and confusing. Company executives realize that the complexity is a concern. Facebook has compiled answers to 50 frequently asked questions about privacy, offers tips and has a community forum where users try to help one another.
Over the past couple of years, Facebook has also altered the service to put relevant privacy controls next to each piece of information you are sharing.
“It’s not about going to a settings page to find some random setting,” said Blake Barnes, Facebook’s product manager for privacy. “It’s about going to the piece of information you’re concerned about and looking for the control next to it.”
But understanding a few key principles and settings can help you quickly gain more control over your Facebook privacy.
You choose the audience for every post
Most of us tap out a status update or post a photo and assume that it’s just going out to our Facebook friends.
Facebook has a setting on the status update box that lets you set the audience for each item posted. On the desktop version, it is right next to the “Post” button. On mobile, it depends on your phone. On an Android smartphone, for example, the top of the update box says “To: Friends,” which means all your Facebook friends can see the post.
The “Friends” setting is what you will probably use most of the time.
But if you set it to “Public,” everyone on the Web can see it — something you might want to do if you want to publicize your work or give a shout-out to your favorite TV show. If you set it to “Only me,” no one but you can see it. You can even include or exclude specific people.
While this is powerful, it is also tricky because Facebook makes it easy to accidentally overshare. That is because whatever audience you choose for a post automatically becomes the audience for all future posts until you change the setting again.
So if you chose an audience of Public to share your enthusiasm during the recent Super Bowl, make sure you changed it back to Friends (or something more restrictive) before putting up your daughter’s birthday pictures.
The best rule of thumb might be to keep the audience setting at Friends. That way, it is unlikely that you will post something personal in a hurry and then realize that it was shared publicly.
If you do make a mistake, you can go back and change the audience of a post retroactively or delete it entirely.
For times when you want to share something with only your best friends, Facebook has created a category called “Close Friends.”