If You’ve Ever Posted Anything Embarrassing on Facebook, Now Is the Time to Hide It

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 8 2013 7:20 PM

If You’ve Ever Posted Anything Embarrassing on Facebook, Now Is the Time to Hide It

Facebook Graph Search privacy
Going through the privacy settings on your old Facebook posts is annoying, but Graph Search makes it more important than ever

Screenshot courtesy of Facebook

For the past six months, a select group of Facebook users have had a chance to try out the site’s hyped “Graph Search” function. For those unfamiliar with it, Facebook’s Graph Search function is kind of like a regular search function, only more complicated. But the bottom line is that it indexes everyone’s public posts, likes, photos, interests, etc. to make them as easy as possible for everyone else—from friends to exes to cops to advertisers to your boss—to find.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Facebook opened Graph Search to a limited audience earlier this year, but it’s rolling it out to everyone over the next couple of weeks, starting today. So if you were waiting for the right time to go through your privacy settings and hide the embarrassing stuff before the whole world sees it, you can stop waiting. The right time is today.

Advertisement

Some have called Graph Search a privacy nightmare, because it takes information that was hard to find and makes it easy to find. For instance, if you for some reason hit “like” on the page of radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki three years ago, your name and face might now pop up when someone at the FBI gets the bright idea on a slow day to search Facebook for “people who like Anwar al-Awlaki.” I wrote in January about a London-based prankster who came up with a slew of other provocative examples, some of which are funny and others a little frightening.

If Graph Search is a privacy nightmare, it’s sort of like the kind in which you find yourself out in public with no clothes on. The bad news is that what’s seen can’t be unseen. But the good news is that it won’t happen if you’re already dressed. That is, Graph Search won’t take any information that you had set to private (or "friends-only") and turn it public. So if you don’t want strangers to see your profile’s naughty parts, you can go to your Facebook privacy settings right now and cover them up.

There’s an easy way and a hard way to do this. The (relatively) easy way is to click “limit past posts,” which will turn all of your old posts to “friends only” in a single swoop. But if you want some things to stay public, or to be visible to friends of friends, you’ll need to do it the hard way, which is to click “Use Activity Log” and go through all of your old posts one by one. Oh, and you’ll also want to double-check the privacy settings on your “About” page, which controls who can see the basic information on your profile.

Again, the basics are:

  1. Go to your privacy settings and check who can see your future posts and past posts.
  2. To hide individual posts or likes, click "Use Activity Log" and scroll down through your history, editing the privacy settings for each one as you go.
  3. To check who can see your profile information, go to the About page on your profile and click the "edit" button next to each category.

For those who want more details, Facebook has a couple of videos explaining the process, while Business Insider has a handy step-by-step guide. If it all sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is. But if you care at all about your privacy and aren’t ready to take the ultimate precaution, it’s worth the trouble to spend an hour or two doing it now in order to prevent future humiliation. As a bonus, reviewing your activity log will make you more familiar with how the site’s privacy settings work, so you can be more careful about how you use it in the future. That goes for you, married men who like Ashley Madison. You know who you are—and soon everyone else will too.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?