Roland Turner

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A passive-aggressive response to the lack of separate privacy controls for Facebook comments and likes

Social networks’ ease of sharing exposes …unfortunate behaviour by some users.

Variants of the following text have been popping up on multiple friends’ timelines recently:

To my FB friends : I want to stay PRIVATELY connected with you. However, with the recent changes in FB, the public can now see activities in any wall. This happens when a friend hits “like” or “comments”, automatically, their friends would see your posts too. Unfortunately, we cannot change this setting by ourselves because Facebook has configured it this way. So I need your help. PLEASE place your mouse over my name above (do not click), a window will appear, now move the mouse on “FRIENDS” (also without clicking), then down to “Settings”, click here and a list will appear. REMOVE the CHECK on “COMMENTS & LIKE” by clicking on it. By doing this, my activity amongst my friends and my family will no longer become public. Many thanks! Paste this on your wall so your contacts would follow suit too, if you care about your privacy

I was a little puzzled about what the original author was trying to achieve. After all, Facebook has been simplifying its privacy settings so that most users can now make sense of them. It turns out that this simplification is part of the problem here: comments and likes have the same visibility as the shared item that they relate to. This makes reasonable sense – it would be somewhat confusing for the stream of comments on a shared item to have multiple visibilities; different people would see different pieces of the conversation – however it means that users don’t have direct control over the visibility of their comments and likes, that control is held by the person who shared the item in the first place. For those commenting and liking, the only way to exert any control is to not comment/like at all.

After some reflection and digging, I’ve finally gotten my head around what the original author was trying to do. It’s a little passive aggressive, in effect the author is saying to each of his/her Facebook friends:

I don’t trust you, so please adjust your newsfeed settings to suit me (so my misbehaviour is less likely to be visible to you).

The thinking is that if all of the original author’s Facebook friends did so, then (s)he would be free to treat Facebook as a private space because things that (s)he did in one place would no longer be seen by other Facebook friends not directly involved. This is kind of dumb: anything that you share on Facebook is already in effect permanently public, but worse, it reveals that in the original author’s mind there is a distinction between Facebook friends and, erm, “real” friends in that what he/she wants to achieve is that “my activity amongst my friends and my family will no longer become [visible to my Facebook friends]“.