Facebook privacy – a big issue

Warrandyte Diary, October 2014

Facebook incidents directly impacting local people and businesses in recent times have started a conversation in the community about what’s appropriate, privacy settings and how easy it is for a single person to damage a business’s reputation, especially on community pages or open groups.

Cartoon by Jock Macneish
Cartoon by Jock Macneish

Many of Facebook’s 1.1 billion users find it difficult to understand the privacy settings on the popular social media site.

The content you post on social media can easily circulate around the world web, even if your profile is set to private.

Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister was caught out she posted a family photo on her private Facebook page, which was seen, copied and then tweeted to the world.

More recently, a Warrandyte family had concerns for their safety after posting a warning about a random violent incident in a public Facebook group, with their names published in a local news article without permission.

Social media and content specialist Jillian Bowen explains how Facebook’s privacy settings work and what we should be aware of.

How can Facebook users check their privacy settings?

If you click on the little padlock symbol in the top right hand corner of your Facebook screen you can access all your privacy settings. If you are unsure about your privacy settings, a good starting point is to select the Privacy Check-up option in that menu. It tells you who can see your posts, which Apps have access to your profile and the privacy set up for your profile. The key items you can change here are email address, birth date, hometown and current city. Even if you are not age sensitive, I would recommend making your birthday ‘Friends Only’ and your year of birth only visible to you as this information is often used to verify identity.

Is it possible to make your profile picture and cover photo private?

Your current profile and cover pictures are always public. Even if you change the privacy setting of your profile picture to Friends, it will still display until it is replaced. You can’t change the privacy setting for your current cover photo, but once you upload a new one you can go back and change previous cover pictures to friends. Check ‘What do other people see on my Timeline?’ under the privacy menu. This allows you to see what a person who is not connected to you sees on your Facebook profile. Then work back through your posts and pictures and adjust your settings.

How do you make sure that others who aren’t on your Facebook friends list can’t see when you are tagged in photos?

If you are tagged in a post photo, you can lose control over who will see it. However you can control whether or not you are tagged in a photo in the first place by opting to review tags in posts and photos before they go live. When tag review is enabled you get a message to review the post, which you can then approve or dismiss.

Are there any dangers with checking into places?

You can also select your audience when you check in, but I would advise people to never check in publicly. Many people have dug themselves into a hole thanks to a little white lie and the check in option. Imagine you told one friend you were too tired to go out then checked in while you were out with another, or maybe you were supposed to be working and checked in at the movies.

What are the consequences of posting inappropriate material on Facebook?

Silly photos can come back to haunt you later in life, but far worse is the person who publicly posts that they are on holidays. You’d be amazed how easily someone can figure out your address via the crumbs you leave across the internet – one photo of you on a beach with the privacy settings wrong could tell a burglar your house is empty!

What information shouldn’t people post on social media?

You should NEVER publicly post your address, phone number, email address or date of birth. People even post photos of their credit cards and license. Identity theft and hacking are very real threats, so it’s up to the individual as much as the platform to protect themselves.

Can others still share your material publicly, even if your profile is set to private?

Yes – that’s the nature of a social network. The general rule is if you don’t want it to be seen by others, don’t post it and when you post something on a public page, anybody can see it.

There was a rumour going around that messenger was recording conversations. Is this true?

What they can do and what they will do are different things. I’d suggest people actually read the terms and conditions of any App prior to installing it. If you’re concerned about the access you’ re granting, don’t install the App. Allowing an App to track your location is also something people might also want to think twice about – you are providing the App, and the people they might sell their data to, with a lot of information about your life.

How do you stop videos from automatically playing when using Facebook on iphones?

Always check your settings whenever something is annoying you. To stop videos playing automatically on Facebook on your iPhone go to settings > Facebook > settings and change Auto-play to Wi-Fi only or off.

Any final words of advice for Facebook users?

You can control who can contact you, who can send you friend requests and you can block people who are bothering you. You can also restrict content on your timeline from an individual if necessary. The privacy tools are all there, but the best privacy advice is to look at everything you post online and imagine the consequences if it was shared more broadly. If the thought of that outcome make you squirm, just don’t post it.

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Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.