Facebook's Newest Feature Is a Godsend for Cops and BuzzFeed Listicle-Makers

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 1 2013 11:54 AM

Facebook's Newest Feature Is a Godsend for Cops and BuzzFeed Listicle-Makers

Facebook Graph Search for posts and status updates
If you thought there were a lot of people posting idiotic things on Twitter, just wait 'til Facebook rolls out its latest search features.

Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

When Facebook announced in January that it was coming out with a search function, people flipped out about the privacy implications. As it turned out, though, Facebook’s “Graph Search” wasn’t actually that powerful, and it’s hard to say how many people really used it. It could answer queries people’s likes and basic profile information, but not about their actual posts or status updates.

That’s about to change. On Monday, Facebook announced that it’s starting to roll out an update to Graph Search that allows people to run searches like, “Posts about the government shutdown by my friends,” or “Posts about the government shutdown by my friends who are Republicans,” or maybe, “Status updates about drinking by my friends from 2006.” It actually sounds kind of fun, if you’re the one doing the searching. Less so if you’re the one who forgot to set those embarrassing old posts to “private.” (In which case, here’s how to change that before it’s too late.)

Advertisement

As with just about everything Facebook does these days, the feature is careful to observe the specific privacy settings of everyone’s posts, so if you set yours to “friends only,” then they’ll only turn up in your friends’ search results. But as TechCrunch’s Josh Constine points out, the expanded Graph Search may amount to the end of “privacy by obscurity” on the site:

Before Timeline, your old posts were essentially locked away behind hundreds of clicks of the “more posts” button at the bottom of your profile. This is known as “privacy by obscurity.” Technically your old content was still accessible, but it was really tough to find, essentially making the past a secret.

Now those old posts can be dredged up with the right search terms.

Even so, Graph Search seems unlikely to suddenly become popular with the average user. The wonky syntax required to return the proper results may deter people who are accustomed to being able to phrase their queries however they like on Google.

Instead, for the time being, it may appeal more to people like journalists, who’ll be able to search things like, “Posts about flooding written by people in Colorado,” and police, who in theory could run a search for "Status updates about drinking from people who live in Springfield and are under 21." Oh, and don't forget Buzzfeed listicle-makers, who will no longer be forced to rely exclusively on Twitter to find people saying racist things about whomever is in the news at the moment. If you thought there were a lot of bigoted morons on Twitter, just wait ’til you see how many there are on Facebook.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Scotland Votes to Remain in U.K.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Can Democrats Keep Counting on Republicans to Offend Women as a Campaign Strategy?

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.