On The Hill: Radar Hill Blog

On Facebook Privacy Rumours (or, How To Respect Your Friends' Privacy On Facebook)

Est. reading time 7 minutes

EDIT: It wasn't made clear in the initial version of this post that Facebook keeps three different kinds of your Likes in three different areas, all with different privacy settings. The article has been changed to clarify this.


It seems there's been a little chain-letter-style post making the rounds on Facebook lately, warning about your posts being automatically shared near and far unless you get your friends to remove "Comments & Likes" from their settings for your Facebook page. It goes something like this:

Hello, my FB friends & family: 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 our friend hits "like" or "comment" ~ automatically, their friends would see our posts too. Unfortunately, we cannot change this setting by ourselves because Facebook has configured it this way.
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" and also "PHOTOS". By doing this, my activity among my friends and family will no longer become public.
Now, copy and paste this on your wall. Once I see this posted on your page I will do the same.


Nnnnot quite.

The thing about those instructions is that they don't prevent your friends' friends from seeing your Likes and Comments at all — those are controlled by a combination of their and your privacy settings. If your friends follow the instructions in that post, it would only make it so that they wouldn't see your Likes and Comments in their personal news feed, cutting down on their daily spam a little bit. It doesn't make those Likes and Comments private. Your friend could still view your Likes and Comments by going directly to your Facebook page, since your privacy settings have remained exactly the same.

So how do you fix things if you want your posts to remain private? Unfortunately, there isn't a guaranteed way to do that. As Facebook states on your Privacy Settings page: "Remember: the people you share with can always share your information with others, including apps." As many others say, "The internet is forever." Anything you post to a friend can potentially be shared by that friend with their own friends, or your mom, or 4chan. Even if you lock a post to a few select people, or disable sharing, there's nothing stopping those people from copying text from one of your posts and pasting somewhere else, or taking a screencap for all to see. That's a risk you take every time you make a post.


But you can limit the spread a little bit.

It is possible for you and your friends to hide most of your Likes from everyone, however. (Most, but not all.) Not by following the instructions in that chain letter, but by doing the following:

1) Go to your own Facebook page, and click on "Update Info" next to your name.


the Update Info button highlighted on a Facebook profile


2) Up at the top, next to your name, click the "About" button, then select "Likes".


a screencap of how to get to the Likes preferences


3) Facebook will take you to your Favorites page (why call it "Favorites" and not "Likes"? It's a mystery). Click "Edit" in the upper right.


screencap of the Favourites/Likes settings page on Facebook


4) Next to each category in your Favorites, click the little icon to the right of said category, and select "Only Me".


screencap of changing the privacy settings for each Favorites category


5) Click the "Done Editing" button.


Now no one will be able to see your Likes for objects listed on Facebook, like books and movies and TV shows! .....Except that doesn't include Likes for webpages outside of Facebook, or Likes on other people's posts.


Wait, huh? How does that privacy work?

First off, you can keep your Likes from showing up on your Facebook page, though it doesn't make them completely invisible. (They'll still show up on whatever you Liked.) To do that, you'll want to go back to your own Facebook page, and find your Activity box. Hover your mouse over a Like. An x icon should show up on the right-hand side, like so:


a screencap highlighting the x icon that appears when hovering an item in your activity feed


Click that, and you'll get an option to hide the Like from your timeline. If this is your first time hiding a Like, Facebook may also ask you if you want to hide all Likes from your timeline. Choosing "yes" will prevent you from having to do this for every individual Like you make.


a screencap showing the 'Hide this recent activity from your timeline' option on a Like



But you said that only hides them. How do you make Likes actually private?

The same way you do for Comments. With Comments, the privacy is determined entirely by the privacy settings of the post they are made in. If one of your posts has a privacy setting of "Friends", then all of the Comments made on that post can also be seen by your friends:


a screencap of selecting the privacy level for a new Facebook post


The thing is, that goes for posts on other people's timelines too. If you Comment on a friend's post, and your friend has the privacy of that post set to "Public", then your Comments are also completely visible to the public.

You can find out the privacy of a post by hovering your mouse over the icon at the bottom, next to the Likes, Comments, and Date information:


a screencap of a Facebook post by Victoria Premium Autos with the post's privacy highlighted


Okay, so that doesn't sound so bad.

Just avoid Commenting on public posts if you don't want people to see what you say, right? Stick to Commenting on posts that people only share with their friends.


screencap pointing out a post's privacy set to "Andy's friends" with the caption 'But you probably don't know who's on this list'


...and that can be problematic. If you Comment on a friend's post and they have the privacy of the post set to "Friends", you'd better be okay with every single person they have friended being able to see what you say. If they have 108 people friended, that might be a little daunting. If their Friends List is set to private and you can't even see who they've friended, that can be downright intimidating.

This gets even worse when you get a privacy setting like this:


a screencap of a post with privacy set to "Andy's friends and Asia's friends"


...Okay! So you'll only Comment on posts with a privacy set "Close Friends", or posts on your own Facebook page where you can control the privacy yourself. And you'll create your own custom Friends lists so that you can fine-tune exactly who can see which posts and what Comments on your page.

But then you have to remember that Comments are also visible to everyone within the same privacy group or friends list. For example, say I have you, Shawn, Roger, Megan, and a random person I met on the internet in my "Close Friends" list (for some reason). If I make a post that has "Close Friends" for its privacy setting, and you Comment on that post, Shawn and Roger and Megan and Random Internet Person will all also be able to see your Comment. And you won't know that unless you see them Commenting, or unless I tell you who's on that list.

That's why it's important to have really specific Friends lists where you know all the people on each list don't mind other people on that same list seeing their Comments. (And definitely don't put family members who hate each other into one big Friends list called "Family". Or you can, but don't say I didn't warn you.)


a screencap of the selection of a Facebook friends list titled 'Victoria' for post privacy


Despite this, you still have to be careful — if you tag a person in a Facebook post or photo, that person is automatically added to the list of people who are allowed to see that post, even if they aren't on the friend list that you specified.


a screencap pointing out two tagged users in a Facebook post composition


Yeesh. All right, but back to making Likes private!

Okay, okay. Likes work the same way Comments do, in that their privacy is determined by the privacy of the post you're Liking. If you Like a public post, your Like is also public.

So how can you tell if you've Liked any public posts in the past? Well, you'll need to go back to your Facebook page once again and find your Activity Log button this time:


a screencap highlighting the location of the Activity Log button on a Facebook page


From there, you'll want to go from "Posts and Apps" to "Likes":


a screencap of the menu for Activity Log types, pointing out Likes


Stay with me, we're almost there! On your Likes page,  each item you've liked will have an icon on the right that indicates the privacy level of the item (and thus your Like). Hover your mouse over them to see what they are, same as you would for a Comment.


a screencap pointing out a privacy setting of 'Public' next to a Liked post


If your Like was on a webpage, which has no default post privacy, you can edit the privacy of your Like yourself by clicking on the icon.


a screencap showing the privacy menu that shows up after clicking an item's privacy icon


If your Like was on someone else's post, however, the privacy of your Like is stuck unless the privacy of the post changes. The only thing you can do to hide your Like on a public post is to, well, Unlike it.


a screencap showing the Unlike option that comes up when clicking the circle icon next to a Liked item

a screencap of Facebook asking whether you're sure you want to unlike a post


So that's the deal with the privacy of Comments and Likes on Facebook. I haven't even touched on privacy settings for photos and Facebook apps — those would require an entirely separate blog post. Each.


And that's why people always complain about Facebook's privacy settings.