Every week or so another meme circulates Facebook in a scaremongering type way that alarms folk into reposting the scare story/warning. Privacy and security on Facebook is actually better than people realise, you just need to take a moment to understand it.

Firstly, the only place where you can truly control who you can see what you do on is on your Timeline. What follows is an idiots guide to who can see what you do on Facebook and where:

  1. Facebook Pages: these are the official pages of organisations, companies, bands, authors. They are public and if you like or post on, then others who like or lookat them can see what you do.
  2. Open Groups: just as the name suggests, anyone can join the group and see what any of the other members of the group put on there even if they are not your friend.
  3. Closed groups: slightly more private than open groups, you need to request membership to join, but once in anyone else who is also a member can see what you do inside that group even if they aren’t your friend.
  4. Secret groups: only visible to people who are made members or invited to be members by the admins of the group. But again, once you have membership, anyone else who is also a member can see what you do in the group.
  5. Friends’ timelines: when you post on a friends timeline/wall the visibility of what you put on the timeline is controlled by your friend. If they have their timeline set to be public viewable then what you post there will also be public even if your security settings are set to something higher.
  6. Your Timeline: You can control who sees what here. Your timeline is different from the Facebook homepage when you are logged in (what you see there is your newsfeed or an aggregation based on various algorithms of what your friends have been doing and the pages/groups that you follow). Your timeline can be viewed based on your filters and security/privacy settings.

Timeline Security

At the basic level you can set your timeline to be public, friends only, or private. It can be so much more flexible though.

  • If you have lots of friends you might find that your newsfeed doesn’t display all updates. To make sure you see *everything* that particular friends post you can set them as Close Friends
  • If you use facebook for networking and/or work you may have *friends* who aren’t friends. Facebook allows you to classify them as *Acquaintances*. You could therefore set the default visibility of your timeline to Friends except acquaintances and open it out wider only for selected posts.
  • You can add selected friends to List groups, eg. ‘work’, ‘family’, ‘friends’, ‘people interested specific interest’, and then when you post an update select to make it viewable to only those groups of people. A friend can be in more than one (or none) list.
  • Personally I would recommend a default security setting of Friends except acquaintances and open up/restrict posts from there.

    Also remember, that just like what you say at the cooler might be talked about by others later, and elsewhere, once you say something on Facebook with any security setting, it doesn’t stop others repeating what you say somewhere else either online or offline. The only truly secure place is for it to remain in your own head!