By Emily Price.
It happens every 6 months or so. A rumor starts circulating on Facebook that the social network is suddenly going to start sharing everything you’ve ever posted with the world, or do some other nefarious thing with your content. Sound the alarm!
Supposedly, the only way to avoid this horrible fate is to copy and past some legal-sounding statement from your friend’s wall about how you won’t let it happen, and then everything will be ok. There’s just one problem: the statement you’re copying, as well as every one before it, is fake.
There’s never a situation where copying any sort of message onto your wall on a social network—be it Facebook or somewhere else—is going to offer you any legal rights or protections that you didn’t have before you made the post. A quick Google search on the statutes and other legal mumbo jumbo in those posts will make that pretty obvious.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take control of your content—and you should—through your account’s privacy settings.
When you sign up for a Facebook account, you give the social network the right to publish and distribute the things you put on the site. While that terminology might sound a little scary, the fact is you want it to “publish” that photo of your best friend’s birthday party on your wall, and you probably want it to “distribute” that image to your friends that are also in the shot so they can see it as well.
The key to being happy with Facebook and what you share there is to know exactly who has access to the content you post, and to tailor your default sharing settings to match what you’re comfortable with. Even if you’ve set up your privacy settings before, it’s always good to go in and double check those settings from time to time and make sure you’re happy with what you’ve chosen.
How do I check my settings?
Facebook actually makes it super easy to adjust what you share. You can get started by logging into your account on a computer, and clicking on the lock icon at the top right of the screen.
The easiest way to do things to click “Privacy Checkup” from the drop-down menu that shows up when you click on that lock icon. From there, Facebook will take you through a quick step-by-step process (with pictures!) to make sure you know what your default settings are and help you change them if you want.
The Privacy Checkup also lets you customize who can see things like your phone number and email address, and shows you all of the apps you’ve given access to your Facebook account. It’s always a good idea to go through those and make sure there aren’t any apps that have access that you don’t use anymore, or never realized had access in the first place. Apps can even be tweaked on an individual level. For instance, I love playing games but don’t want to out my secret by accidentally posting something from one of them on my wall. I have all apps set to “Just me” just for that reason. Now, even when they do post, I’m the only one that can see.
If you want more, there are other settings you can adjust by clicking “See more settings” at the bottom of that initial drop-down menu.
What should my settings be?
That’s a tough question. The right security settings vary pretty wildly from person to person. Facebook offers the option of customizing privacy settings for every type of content you publish on the site, and allows you to share with just yourself, small groups of people you select, or even just people in a specific geographic area. If you want to get super serious about privacy, you can go into your settings and adjust them almost down to a per-friend level.
If you’re not sure what to pick, or don’t have the time to spend doing a lot of adjusting, my personal suggestion is to select “Friends of Friends” for everything.
What that setting means is you can do things like publish that birthday party picture, and people like the birthday girl’s sister, whom you’re not Facebook friends with, will be able to see the pic and like or comment on it. The random guy down the street that isn’t connected to your network, however, won’t be able to see it.
If that’s a little too much, then you can also pick “Just Friends” as a default. That means, in order for someone to see anything you post, they’ll have to be friends with you on the site.
Just because you pick one privacy setting doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it for everything you post. Whenever you create a post, you’re given the option at the bottom to adjust that post’s privacy settings. So in the case of that birthday party photo, you can opt to make just that pic available to “friends of friends” or go all-out and make it available to anyone on Facebook.
You can even customize security to exclude a particular person. If your friend Sarah didn’t get invited to the party, you can share the pic with all your friends except Sarah and she’ll be none the wiser.
Online security is something that’s becoming more and more important. Everyone should know what they’re sharing online and with whom. If you take the time to set up the right privacy settings, then you can share those pics and status messages freely without fear that anything will end up somewhere you didn’t intend it to.