THE FEED: 9 Things to Know about Your Facebook Privacy

The Feed was my regular column for employees of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system about how the synthesis of health care and social media can influence all of us—employees, patients and the community—for the better.

Don't stick your head in the sand. Take fearless control of what you post.

Don't stick your head in the sand. Take fearless control of what you post.

Facebook changed its settings again. (I know, it's a shock.)

Every time they move things around, fewer people seem to understand how it works. But as Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees and active citizens of the Internet, it's really important that we all know exactly what we're putting where.

So here are nine things you may not know about the Facebook of today.

1. Graph Search makes it easy for you to be found. Maybe too easy.

Graph, Facebook's new search tool, brings Facebook stalking to a whole new level, because it sorts all of Facebook's users based on very specific facts like where they live. (Previously, if you wanted to find someone near you, you had to cast your net over a given "network" that had been manually set up by Facebook, which only worked if the person you were looking for had chosen to be tagged that way).

It's true, you don't have to tell the truth about where you live, but chances are you will. If you'd rather not be found, I advise leaving your Current City and Hometown fields blank, and make sure that you're not announcing your location with every post. And you don't have to fill in all the fields on your About page.

2. You only control the settings on YOUR timeline.

You may have watertight privacy on your own timeline—but leave a comment on your friend's page, and now you're going by their rules. (They may not have any.) Now you're not having an intimate chat with a friend; you could be broadcasting to the world.

3. Overriding your privacy settings once keeps them that way until you change them again.

It's nice that Facebook has simplified its privacy settings, but whatever "default" level you choose becomes irrelevant if you ever change it. If you make one status update public, the next one will be public too. Call me overzealous, but I hover over the privacy icon in every status I post to be extra sure things are just as I want them.

4. Friend lists are your friends. Love them.

Lists are a way to sort your friends into natural groups so that if you want to restrict the privacy of certain posts, you don't have to go one-by-one through your main friend list to do it. You can limit the post to a certain group of people—or from a certain group of people.

One reason for lists is to share posts only with friends who share that interest. That way, all the Twilight fans among your friends can have a lively debate about the merits of Edward versus Jacob and you don't get unfriended by those who hate vampires.

Another reason for lists is to make it easy to keep Grandma and your coworkers from seeing what you did last night. Not that you'd need to do that.

5. Tagging a post makes it show up on the tagged page as though it were a regular (read: PUBLIC) post.

If you want to post something on your wall while also posting it on another page or another person's wall, type the + symbol before their name in the body of your post and start typing. A list of candidates should come up. However, that tagged post will be subject to the tagged page's privacy settings, not yours. I've seen several instances of public tagging that I'm quite sure were accidental; tag wisely.

6. You CAN, however, control where YOU are tagged.

People like to tag their friends in pictures without their permission. That might be fine, until it's an embarrassing photo that the public can see—and you've just started dating again, or are looking for a job. So make sure that you can review tags first. Go to the gear icon in your blue menubar, then Account Settings, then Timeline and Tagging on the left. Then decide who can post and whether you want to see the tags before they go up.

7. Want to shut the door? You can do that.

If you know your timeline is littered with posts that the public or your friends' friends can see, and you'd like to rein all of it in at once, you don't have to search years and years' worth of old tags to erase each indiscretion. Go to the lock icon in your menubar, then select See More Settings, then select Limit Past Posts from under Who can see my stuff?It'll reset all of them to Friends only, and then you can go back in your Activity Log and change them one at a time if you want.

8. Everyone complains about Facebook's privacy, but here's the truth.

Facebook can do anything it wants with our stuff. It's their site. We like to complain about it, but we're ultimately in control of what we post in the first place. Choosing not to post is the most powerful privacy setting of all.

9. There's so much more. Know where to look for good information.

I could go on for days about Facebook privacy, but it's time to give you a turn to talk—so let me point you to a few current resources that you can explore from here.

One more thing: I hope I haven't scared you off.

It's easy to panic and want to disengage completely, but I wouldn't be writing all this if I just wanted to paint a scary picture. I want you to have all the tools you need to be a savvy, engaged member of our social community.

I implore you to get out there, and here's why: Facebook is one of the main ways our patients are connecting with each other and with us. Every day, social media becomes a more powerful tool in their pockets, giving them access to information and people they never had before.

No matter what you do here, you can help Dartmouth-Hitchcock find new ways to improve those patients' experiences. I guarantee it. And by joining that discussion (such as on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock page, for starters), you bring your influence to a conversation that's already going on without you.

Talk back!

  • What are your biggest concerns about using Facebook?

  • If you're not concerned, what's your advice to those who are?

Susanna French is Dartmouth-Hitchcock's social media specialist.