Don’t Hate Facebook, Hate Your Friends!

Breigh September 22, 2011 6

So, you’ve recently noticed changes to your homepage on Facebook and you are freaking out.  Suddenly you see posts between your friends and people you don’t know, the layout is different, you don’t know where to find what… you are LOSING. YOUR. MIND.

First, take a deep breath. It’s not as bad as it seems!  Facebook has changed many times over the years it’s been around and we’ve always managed to adapt.  You’ll adapt to this too, it really isn’t the end of the world.

Second, stop listening to the idiots on your friends list who are acting like Armageddon is upon us.  The new Facebook isn’t making it easier for people to hack you, nobody can see your profile that couldn’t see it before, and nobody is coming to eat your babies.  For pity sake, relax!

Third, and I’m just going to throw this completely unrelated aside in here. Don’t post chain copy and paste status messages.  You may feel like you fit in but everyone on your friends list wants to gouge your eyes out.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me explain how things are actually working with the new Facebook layout. I’m not going to explain everything that is new, just the bits that people seem most concerned about.

Today I did a little research by creating a second account and then testing some of the new features.  I did this mainly because I was wondering what happens if a non-friend subscribes to you.  Here are the results I found…

SUBSCRIBING

While the ability to subscribe to a non-friend does exist, there is no point to it.  My guess is that they just couldn’t be bothered to code anything to tell us that subscribing to a non-friend doesn’t actually do anything in some caess. The only way that you will see anything in your news feed from this person is if they have their privacy settings set to EVERYONE. Unless you have a mutual friend in common, then they will need to have their privacy settings on FRIENDS OF FRIENDS in order to see any of their activity.

So what does this mean for you?  It means that as long as you have your privacy settings set to FRIENDS only, the activity on your profile is safe.  People can subscribe to you all they like, but it’s a pointless exercise.

I tested this by using my fake account to subscribe to my real one.  I subscribed to all, then I went onto my main account and added photos and updated my status. None of this was seen by my fake account because the setting on my main account are strictly FRIENDS ONLY!

I also tested what happens if I have it set to FRIENDS OF FRIENDS by first changing one of the photo albums on my main account to Friends of Friends.  I then sent a friend request with my fake account to one of the friends on my real account (still with me?) and once she accepted my friend request that photo album from my main account suddenly became visible to my fake account.  Since I now had that friend in common, the photo album became visible to my fake account as a friend of a friend.

Ok, have I confused you with the different accounts?  Let me try to sum it up…

YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS SET TO FRIENDS ONLY = Only friends can see the activity on your profile. Period.

YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS SET TO FRIENDS OF FRIENDS = Anyone that is friends with someone on your friends list can see and subscribe to the activity on your profile.

YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS SET TO EVERYONE = Everyone is able to see and subscribe to your profile activity.

As you saw from my experiment with the single photo album, it is possible to change the settings for each individual photo album, status message etc… so what you do with that is up to you.

THE SIDEBAR TICKER (CREEPER)

A lot of people are also concerned with what is going on with the new update ticker on the right hand side of the home page.  If you are like most people on my friends list (and myself, admittedly) one thing that struck you right off the bat was that you were suddenly seeing updates that included people you’ve never heard of.

“Mary Smith commented on Susan Whatsits photo… “

Who the hell is Susan?!  You know Mary, she’s a good friend of yours, but again… who the hell is Susan?!

Why are you seeing anything that has to do with Susan, and more importantly, is Susan seeing things about you????

I have no idea who the hell Susan is, but I can answer the rest of your questions.

During the experiment with my fake account, I tested why I was seeing content from people I didn’t know through the friends we had in common. I watched my main account and when something came up including someone I didn’t know, I investigated.  Here’s how…

I saw a message saying that my friend, we’ll call him Frank Allen, posted on his friend’s photo, we’ll call her Isobel Smith.  Now, I know Frank Allan, but I don’t know Isobel Smith.  So I then did a search for Isobel Smith (on both accounts, real and fake) and low and behold, Isobel Smith had her entire profile open to the world.  Not only was it visible on my main account as a friend of a friend, but even on my fake account which has no connection to her at all, I could see everything.

I continued to do this with other messages I saw, whether it was a friend posting on someone’s status message, commenting on a link, or replying to a status message… if I didn’t know the other person, I looked them up.

EVERY SINGLE instance showed that the person my friend was posting to had their privacy settings at either Friends of Friends (visible only to my main account but not my fake one with no friends) or Everyone (visible to both).

So what is happening is that your settings are not making any difference when it comes to the updater / ticker / creeper (whatever you want to call it) on the side.  It’s the privacy settings that are set by the friends you comment and post to that is the deciding factor in whether it shows up on the rest of your friends home page.

So if you look back to my friends Frank and Isobel, for example… (bear with me, this is just hypothetical)

Imagine Frank has been having some money problems but didn’t like to talk about it too much.  He sees Isobel posting something about having money problems herself and since they don’t really have any friends in common, he decides to comment on her status and tell her he understands, he’s in the same situation and gets it off his chest a bit.

Suddenly Frank’s phone is ringing, it’s his mother wanting to know why he never told her he was having money troubles, why didn’t he come to her, does he not trust her???  Frank is left sitting there wondering “Wtf?!” and asks her how on earth she knew about it in the first place.
I saw it on Facebook, you were telling some Isobel person. Why could you tell her and not your own mother?!”
See the situation that leaves Frank in?

By leaving her profile open to friends of friends, or to everyone, Isobel has unknowingly shared what Frank said with everyone on his friends list, including his mother.  Granted, it could be said that nobody should EVER say anything on the internet that they don’t want anyone to know, but sometimes we are lulled into a feeling of privacy when it really doesn’t exist at all.

Sure, Isobel has every right to have her Facebook open to the world but with the new changes in Facebook, that means that we have to be mindful of what our friends are leaving up to the public and what they aren’t.

If you want to know and control (as best you can) who is going to see what you put out there on your friends’ profiles, you should become very familiar with these three symbols:

fb

The reason why you’ll want to become familiar with them is because they will tell you when something you are posing is likely to be seen by your entire friends list, or the entire internet if they are interested.

When someone posts something and you see it on your news feed, you always see this little bit beneath it…

fb2

If you look at the part I highlighted, you can see that this post in particular is for friends only, which means that if you post a comment, for example, it will only be visible to that person’s friends. The people they trust with their profile. It will not be shown to your friends, unless they are friends in common.

If you see the CUSTOM icon, then chances are they have it set to FRIENDS OF FRIENDS or they have made a custom list that you are a part of.  In any case, you can’t be entirely sure who is seeing it.

If you see the PUBLIC icon, that means that anyone who knows how to type will be able to see it.  No restrictions whatsoever and it will be seen by everyone on your friends list.

IN SUMMARY

Yes, Facebook changes can suck at times but in each and every case we adapt to them, so it’s best to try not to get all up in arms about it.  A month later you’ll forget what it was even like before…

Also, if people are seeing things on their news feeds that you don’t want them to see, don’t hate Facebook, hate your friends for not using their privacy settings more wisely.

In the end, remember that what you put out on the internet is ultimately your decision and even if you do wish your friends’ privacy settings worked better for you, it is not up to them or Facebook to protect your privacy, it’s up to you.  You are responsible for what you put out there and if you really don’t want people to see or hear something, don’t put it on Facebook.

6 Comments »

  1. Clarissa September 23, 2011 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Great detective work and very clearly explained. I just know I can’t trust my friends enough to take care of their privacy settings the way I’d want them to and I can’t rely on people to “unsubscribe” to my likes and comments.

    I probably need to either a) make peace with these changes and the added exposure they bring or b) lay low on facebook and not be as active. Ultimately I don’t feel like I ever really share anything overly personal or that could get me in trouble, but the days of free posting here and there are probably gone.

  2. Fred September 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    I hate FB because they change these things without notice, and then leave it up to users to figure out how it works.
    That’s not making it easy or attractive to use, and I agree with Clarissa; generally, it inclines me to post on, and use, FB less (which isn’t what they want, is it?)

  3. Catherine September 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    That’s not exactly true, about subscribers and non-friends. The point of subscribing to a non-friend is to keep up with their updates – their public ones. It was created so that personal fan pages could be handled by profiles instead of both. If you have a personal fan page you can migrate your Likers over to become your subscribers. When you make a status update, you select who you want the update to go to – friends or public. It’s like having your own Twitter feed within Facebook and is quite different to the regular subscribing of your actual friends.

    It was interesting to read about your experiment and how our own settings are affecting our friend’s experience – thanks for that :)

    • Breigh September 23, 2011 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      I’m not sure what you mean by migrating the likers over, can you explain? It all adds up to the same thing though doesn’t it? That subscribing to someone you aren’t a friend with is pointless if they have all of their profile activity set to friends only? I didn’t test anything with my fan page for either of my blogs, I’m quite curious what info you might have on that! :)

      • Catherine September 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm - Reply

        I read it on Mashable.com. Those with personal fan pages will be able to migrate the people who Like their personal fan page over to their new subscription list. The fan page will then be deleted meaning that the person has a private and personal list they manage straight from their profile, or Timeline, when it goes live. I have public subscribers, they only see what I state is public when I make an update. You have the ability to say who will see each individual status update you make, friends or public (your subscribers list.) The confusion comes because we have subscriptions to our friends automatically but these other types of subscriptions are different and aren’t governed by the wider settings you’re talking about.

        I wrote this note earlier today, it might help:

        http://www.facebook.com/notes/kate-chapman/subscribing-in-the-new-facebook/10150467782891040

        I made it public so people can read it.

        Also check out Mashable.com as they have a lot of information about the changes, including the subscription option for people you’re not friends with :)

  4. Lori September 27, 2011 at 5:03 am - Reply

    Thanks for the clarification,Tammy. What a great explanation.
    May I share this with others either via a link here, or a cut and paste with a credit to you? (I’m not talking news article, though it definitey is worthy of one,just a couple of friends who were talking about this last week)

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