It used to be so easy to fly under-the-radar on Facebook. You could prevent people from searching for you by name, then that went away. You could rely on old photos staying in the past, but then Facebook rolled out Memories so everyone can relive great (or awful) moments with you. You could count on years-old posts not being swept up in a search dragnet just because you used a certain keyword, but now that, too, is a lost hope. Facebook just made all 2 trillion public posts searchable.
Facebook is always racing to topple its media and advertising rivals, and this move is its biggest shot at Google. Facebook sees 1.5 billion searches every day, but before now, the search results were kind of a mess. Facebook’s new search tool is far more useful, displaying relevant posts in top-down order—important organizations and public figures first, then your friends’ posts and group discussions, then the musings of Internet randoms.
What this means for you: Before we dive into the bigger implications for Facebook, this change has huge ramifications for the average Facebook user. If you post on your Timeline without defaulting to “Friends only,” Facebook’s new universal search will make your Timeline searchable to the world. But you can change this easily. Log into Facebook. Click the lock in the top menu to the right of the search bar. Avoid the privacy shortcuts and go straight to “see more settings.” Under Privacy Settings and Tools, it says, “Who can see my stuff?” Choose the option to “limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or public,” then select “limit past posts.” Facebook will ask you again if you want to limit old posts, so click again to confirm. It’s a slog, but it will make every single old post viewable to only your friends, so it’s worth the extra steps.
Protect your past posts from going public by changing your privacy settings.
Facebook vs. Google (and Twitter)
Like Google, Facebook will offer auto-complete suggestions when you start typing in the search bar. But here’s where Facebook veers into Twitter territory: The platform wants you to search for current events, so it can show you conversations happening around those events in real-time. Sound familiar? Twitter’s brand new Moments feature packages the best tweets around big moments and serves them up in an easily viewable way, then choose to follow specific events if you want Twitter to show you new information as it happens. You can also just follow along with a hashtag, but if you’re new to Twitter, Moments is an easy way to get started.
But Facebook has a much wider audience than Twitter. Facebook has 1.5 billion monthly active users, and at one point saw 1 billion users in one day. Twitter’s devoted user base is hovering at 316 million monthly active users, so Facebook’s potential reach for its search tools is exponentially larger.
Most of Facebook’s users live outside the U.S. and won’t have access to the new search features yet—they’re available now for English-speaking Americans on iOS, Android, and desktop—but once universal search is open to all, Facebook could cut Twitter where it hurts most: real-time news.
QUESTION: I discovered that I had accidentally made Facebook posts public several times in the past and am looking for a way to make sure I don’t have any more in my feed.
ANSWER: From time to time, you may post things that your friends want to share publicly which requires you to change the audience setting from “Friends” to “Public.”
When you do this, every post after that will also be public unless you manually change it back to “Friends.”
This has led to a lot of users that have accidentally created a string of posts that they thought were for friends only but ended up being publicly available.
This can be especially problematic if someone, such as a prospective employer or dating partner, is able to view a less-than-flattering post that you didn’t think was public.
View your public profile
The quickest way to see what the whole world can see on your profile is to use the “View as” option, which is represented by an icon that looks like an eye when you are viewing your own profile.
If you’re using the mobile app, you’ll have to tap the icon with the three dots next to the “Add to story” bar in your profile to get to the “View as” option.
When you activate the “View as” option, you’ll be switched to a view that shows all the content on your profile that anyone can see.
If you only have a couple of posts that you want to change from “Public” back to “Friends,” you can use the “Activity log” to access them individually.
On the desktop interface, you’ll need to click on the three dots to see the “Activity log” option, while the mobile app provides the link just below the “View As” option.
If the posts were from long ago, you can use the filters in the activity log interface to search for them based on the date and category.
If you’re doing an extensive amount of cleanup, using the desktop interface will likely be more efficient.
Limiting all past posts
If you have a large number of posts that you want to change from “Public” to “Friends,” Facebook’s web interface has an option in the “Privacy settings” menu under “Privacy.”
In the “Your activity” section, look for the option to “Limit past posts,” which will revert all “Public” and “Friends of friends” posts to “Friends” only.
WARNING: If you use this option, there is no way to go back to the way it was in a single action. You can only go back to the individual posts and change them one at a time, so make sure you understand the implications of using this option.
You can access it on the mobile app via the “Privacy” shortcuts but I’d recommend doing this via the web interface so you can more easily review your posts before pulling the trigger.
‘Only me’ vs. deleting
You may discover posts that you initially feel you need to delete, but you may want them as a memory in the future that only you can see. Instead of deleting them, you can change the audience setting to “Only me,” which essentially deletes them for everyone except you.
Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services, datadoctors.com. Ask any tech question at facebook.com/DataDoctors or on Twitter @TheDataDoc.
How do I manage public posts on Facebook?
Tap in the top right of Facebook, then tap your name. Scroll down to the post you want to edit. Tap on the post, then tap Edit Privacy. Select who can see the post from the options that appear (example: Public, Friends, Only Me).
Why are my public posts not showing on Facebook?
If Facebook posts aren’t showing up on your app, make sure that you are using a Facebook page and not a Facebook personal Timeline (private profile). Click here to read more about Facebook pages.
How do I know if my Facebook post is public?
Check that post – if it has a “globe” on it next to the time of your post, it’s Public. Fortunately, you can edit the audience setting without having to delete the post and start at the beginning.