Figuring out who sees what on Facebook is an ever-changing art form. Facebook’s platform seems to always be changing, and keeping up can be a very tough task for most kids, let alone their parents. But understanding the innuendoes of Facebook’s privacy settings can help you ensure your teen’s photos, comments, etc are not accidentally being broadcast beyond their defined network of friends.
To help illustrate, let me share a quick story of a colleague. This co-worker, with whom I am friends on Facebook, was enjoying a fun vacation in the Bahamas with his two tween daughters. They were taking photos of the trip, including shots of his girls in their swimwear. His girls posted the photos on Facebook and tagged their dad in several of them. Since his girls’ Facebook photo privacy settings were marked as “Friends of Friends”, every time they tagged their dad, all of his friends were seeing the photos of him and his daughters in their news feeds. When I asked him about his trip, he was surprised that I (and all his co-workers) were seeing these photos. It was definitely not his intention, nor his daughters, that everyone at Dad’s work would see his vacation pool photos in their Facebook news feeds.
The key to understanding Facebook’s privacy settings is paying attention to the tiny icons displayed next to the date/time stamp on every post. There are 4 specific icons to look for. Here are what each of them mean:
[Globe] Public (or Everyone)
Anybody, regardless if they are your friend or not, can see these posts.
[Silhouette of 3 Heads] Friends of Friends
All your Facebook friends and ALL OF THEIR FRIENDS can see these posts. Keep in mind, that many of your friends may have hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends. Friends from work, school, fraternities, etc. Grandma may prefer this setting as this will let all her friends see the cute photos of her grandkids, but beware that selecting this option is not that much different from selecting “Public”.
[Silhouette of 2 Heads] Friends
Only your Facebook friends can see these posts. If someone shares a post you’ve set as “Friends”, only their friends who are also your Facebook friends will see the contents of this post.
[Gear Circle] Custom
This icon indicates that the post privacy settings have been customized. That it could be any combination of the options above. Perhaps the post was set as “Friends”, but with a certain list of friends excluded. Or, it could be set to “Public” with another parameter added. Therefore, when you see a “gear” icon next to any post you’re thinking about sharing or commenting on, you should always treat that post as a public one.
I highly recommend taking the time to read the following much more detailed posts on Facebook security and privacy settings. They include step-by-step illustrated instructions to help you ensure the posts of you and your kids are only being seen by those you specifically want to see them.