Emily Yoffe: Your writing is on my wall.
Farhad Manjoo: I'm Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.
Emily Yoffe: I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist, and this is Manners for the Digital Age.
Farhad: Today’s question is from a listener who suspects that an old friend might not know just how public his provocative Facebook comments are. The listener writes, “Dear Emily and Farhad, I’ve recently connected with an old co-worker on Facebook who I haven’t seen for about ten years. His profile picture at first glance appears to be a Halloween photo because he is made up as a frilly woman. With the new Facebook changes, this profile shot has been showing up on my wall when he comments on other people’s information. It seems that he has quite the network of cross-dressing men and he enthusiastically comments on their sexy pictures when they go up. I’m happy for my friend if this lifestyle makes him happy, but should I let him know that his comments are being broadcasted publicly? He is new to Facebook and will ask questions frequently in his status update. Should I let him know that the comments that he’s been making about the sexy men have been showing up in my newsfeed?” Signed, Awkwardly Back In Touch.
Emily, what do you think this person should do?
Emily: Well, first of all, my stand on Facebook is if anyone thinks anything is, in the long run, going to be private, you’re just silly. I think your default position on Facebook should be “the whole world somehow could get access to this.” It sounds like this guy either (A) really doesn’t understand that or (B) wants the whole world to know how he looks in his latest Kate Spade outfit. It’s not really this long lost friend’s job to instruct this person.
If you think, “You know, I’m getting the really strong feeling Harry has no idea how many people are seeing this,” you could send him a private e-mail saying, “I just wanted to give you a heads up. I can read the comments you’re making within your transvestite community. Thought you would want to know.” But it’s up to you.
Farhad: You’re right. Whatever you post on Facebook assume that it’s public, because it essentially is public, even if you’ve made it private to your friends. They can post that somewhere else. They can post your picture. Nothing that you post on Facebook is really private. And if this person is putting a photo of him as a woman as his profile picture, it seems like he knows what kind of public face he has on the Internet.
Emily: A lovely face.
Farhad: Yes, a lovely face. It seems obvious that he knows that some of this is public. I would assume that he wants this stuff out there. You said that if you get some sense that maybe he doesn’t know, you should let him know about it. I guess I agree with that, but I don’t know how you would get that sense.