Facebook — mystical place where connections are forged, friends are kept, lovers are explored, relationships are destroyed, positions are obtained, and jobs are brutally lost. Now more than ever. Let me tell you a story.
My phone rang. It was 3AM and I was home riding a deadline, but it was my friend Lindsay, so I picked up.
“OMGSHE’SONMYPROFILE,” she screamed. I could barely hear her between the slurring and the noise in the background.
“OK, calm down. Who, what, why, where, when and how.”
As she talked, I put the pieces together. The man she’s seeing has a crazy ex-girlfriend who’s devoted herself to stalking Lindsay. Lindsay had taken the appropriate measures, but hadn’t bothered to check Facebook — why should she? Facebook is supposed to be safe, right?
Wrong. Late last year, Facebook executed a privacy pullback that essentially screwed all of us. Under the guise of making privacy settings on the social network easier to set and control, Facebook — from one day to the next — made everything on our profiles public. Even those of us very involved with changes in social networks took a while to figure out how to restore order and privacy.
Hell, even Mark Zuckerberg had his embarrassing candids exposed after Facebook put on all these fabulous new privacy controls.
He’s the CEO of Facebook, people.
Why did they do this? Ryan Tate summarized it perfectly in Valleywag in December:
Facebook’s business rationale here is clear. Rival Silicon Valley startup Twitter has grown extremely quickly in the last few years, almost entirely on the back of public content — from celebrities, people’s friends and users’ professional colleagues. That has brought traffic, money from search engines and a $1 billion valuation.
Facebook wants in on that kind of growth, and more public content means more traffic. But Facebook has historically been one of the most private of the social networks, functioning as a sort of safe alcove amid the chaos of MySpace and Friendster.
So Facebook needed to give users a big shove to put its business plan into play. As startup founder Jason Calacanis puts it,
Facebook is trying to dupe hundreds of millions of users they’ve spent years attracting into exposing their data for Facebook’s personal gain: pageviews. Yes, Facebook is tricking us into exposing all our items so that those personal items get indexed in search engines–including Facebook’s–in order to drive more traffic to Facebook.
But it’s not just that Facebook is tricking its users; it’s betraying them.
Simple as that. So there I was, with a hysterical, drunken woman on the phone late one night.
“I don’t know how to change my settings on my phone!” she screamed. “I want her off, AV! GET HER OFF ME!”
“Give me your password.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I logged in and changed everything to the most restrictive setting. Better to shut everyone out than leave a door open. I even changed her profile picture (you can never make that friends-only, even if your profile picture album is).
The reason I’m telling you this is as a courtesy. There is a way to see how people can view your profile. Take a second to check it out and make sure it looks the way you’d like it to look whether it’s your boss, parents, kids, spouse, or that hottie you were talking at the bar last night.
If you have difficulty navigating the new settings, I suggest Valleywag’s Guide to Restoring Your Privacy on Facebook. They have great tips, complete with screen shots.
I know it’s a pain in the ass, my sweet flytraps of decadence and delight, but take the time to read the notices from social networks where you really share yourself. We’ve all heard the horror stories about firings and divorces as a result of inattention to our social network profiles.
Facebook and other social networks may have populations that compare to some of the biggest countries in the world, but they are not democracies. You have no rights. Nothing is safe and nothing is sacred. If it’s really incriminating, take it offline. Otherwise, be vigilant. Make sure you keep up on terms of service changes and upgrades. And every once in a while, take a look at your profiles when you’re not logged in to get a sense of what others are seeing.
It takes a few minutes but it will save you on a hell of a lot of nosebleeds. Trust me on that.
(Of course, if you’re in the mood for a nosebleed, go ahead and read this: The Facebook Privacy Settings You’ve Lost Forever.)