Social networking software

How to Boost Your Privacy on Facebook, One Post at a Time

I got a phone call yesterday from my oldest and dearest friend in the world. I thought he was calling to jaw about how the Lakers are going to pummel the Celtics in game 7. But no; he was calling to ask me to please remove something from my Facebook page.

My friend is not a prude -- far from it. And what I posted wasn't particularly salacious or nasty. But the example is instructive as to how the nature of social networks has changed, and how our behavior needs to change accordingly.

What my friend wanted me to remove was a comment I'd made on someone else's post -- one of those South Florida supermodels Facebook keeps suggesting I friend. (How could I refuse?) She had posted a photo of two healthy young women in bikinis. I had thanked her for killing my productivity for that day. So far, nothing too awful.

Of course, this is how Facebook works. Because I made a comment, her post appeared on all my friends’ news feeds, even though this woman was unknown to them.

Her post included a link to a Web site with other PG-13 rated photos of Florida gals on the beach. Those pages also included some extremely Not Safe For Work ads for porn sites. And my Facebook posse happens to include my friend's two teenage children. That's where the problem was. He didn't want his kids following that link and seeing those ads.

I immediately removed my comment, and it disappeared from his Facebook page (and those of his kids, I assume) a few minutes later. But that's not the end of the story.

The fact is, this has been worrying me for some time. Like many bloggers, I use Facebook and Twitter as promotional tools. I routinely post links to things that are adult oriented -- not porn, but definitely potty mouthed or of a sexual nature. Many of them are things I've written for my geek humor site, eSarcasm. At the same time, the number of under-18's in my Facebook posse has been increasing. Soon, my tween daughter will join them. So I have a conflict.

Fortunately, Facebook does provide tools to solve this problem, kinda sorta. But they're not obvious, and they involve categorizing your friends into lists. Here's a quick run through on how to do it.

First, I made a list of everyone in my Facebook friends list who's not yet reached the age of consent. You can do this by going to Account (in the upper right corner of your home page), select Edit Friends, then click on the Create New List button at the top of the page. A window will pop up with thumbnail photos of all your friends (though only 12 at a time). Enter a name for your list (like "Too Young" or "South Florida Supermodels") then pick the friends you want to add to the list by clicking on their thumbnails. If you know their names, use the search window to find them -- it's much faster. When you're done, click "Create List." That's part one.

Part deux: Now post something on your Facebook wall. Go on, I'll wait. When you're ready to share it, click the Lock icon next to the Share button, and select Custom from the drop down menu. In the Custom Privacy dialog box, select the people you want to “Make this visible to” (Friends of Friends, Friends only, Specific People, etc). Under “Hide this from” type the name of the list you just created. If you want to apply this to all future posts, click the box next to “Make this my default setting.” Then click Save Setting and hit Share.

Voila. If you’ve followed the steps correctly (and Facebook works like it should) some of your friends can see that post, while others on your list will be totally unaware of it.

Of course, this works in reverse too. You can create a list that you only want to share certain things with. Simply go to “Make this visible to… Specific People,” then enter the name of your list. Someday I might get around to doing that for my snarky off-color humor. But today I’ll settle for not corrupting the youth of American any more than I already have.

Dan Tynan hasn’t offended everyone he’s ever met yet, but there’s still time. Catch his brand of NSFW humor at eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech . But don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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