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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Who can see a status that I shared on Facebook ? What happens when someone re-shares?

A confused friend asked me to explain what happens when people re-share his statuses (yes, it is ok to use that plural form of status). 

I wrote a long answer, and then realized I might be doing it again in the future, and thought to encapsulate it for re-use, in a post's form... so here it is: 

The Question: What happens when someone re-shares my Facebook status ? 

It depends on the type of shared material: 
On facebook you can share photos, videos , text, links (url).

Facebook has a significantly different treatment for one of those four items. 

 The first three - 
  •  photos 
  •  videos 
  •  text (also known as status updates)

are all treated the same (for now): 
they are considered as private material and are therefore re-shared under the limiting scope of the original shared group. 

Meaning: "a" shares a status. He has 3 choices: friends, friends-of-friends, the world. 
Let's say "a" shares with his friends. 
His friend, "b", shares the status with HER friends. 
But the result is that not all of "b"'s friends can see the status. 
ONLY those among "b"'s friends who are already "a's" friends can see the re-shared status. 
The same goes even if "b" shares this with the public. "a"'s original sharing-scope sets the limit. 
But this means that "a" should pay careful attention with WHOM he shares. 
Because if "a" shares with the world, the "b" can share with whoever he wants. 

After all, "a"'s share with the world, reaches in practice to the knowledge of a limited group - 
 at first stage, before re-shares, in theory - all of his friends and whover searches facebook statuses. 
in practice - the subset of his friends feed that facebook algorithm choses to actually update and whoever searches. 

Bbut when the re-share factor comes into play, and viral distribution may occur, the absence of limitation by "a" has a real impact: because without such limitation, any video, image or text you share on facebook may get those 15 minutes of fame you might not have thought about, when you wished to share with your friends something very private. 

 This is where the default settings of shares come into play. but one must remember that default settings are over-come by your last sharing-preference. Meaning: if you usually share with friends, but had something you felt is proper to share with the "world", be aware - the next time you share, the default setting of the share will be "the world"... making a great potential for guffaws for some and awkwardness for others.... 

As you might have noticed, we have not discussed the middle sharing possibility - "friends-of-friends". the simple sad thruth is that "friends-of-friends", as far as privacy goes, is equal to "world". the two points of difference - 
  1. Only friends who view your timeline can see things you shared with friends. but friends of friends can see things shared at the mid-sharing-setting. and if you shared with the world - whoever sees your facebook profile shall see your shares. excellent for people and bodies seeking publicity. not as good for others. 
  2. Search-ability. content will be found in searches according to the search-setting you marked. The last item on the list, the URL (link) is treated very differently. Facebook assumes that links are always re-shareable. it may create interesting situations in which you share a link+text with friends. when a friend re-shares, the subset of joint friends shall see link+text. the rest of his friends shall see only the link. 
To make a long-reply short in remembering and understanding, what should we pay attention then?
  1. What are your default privacy settings ? your default sharing settings ? 
  2. If you are in the habit of sharing to different audiences from the same facebook profile - pay attention to the last setting in which you shared. the best way would be to adopt the habit of setting the audience in each share. it takes a little while to do it, but then you just do it without thinking, pretty much in the same way one checks the "to:" field in emails. 
  3. An interesting aspect of re-shares is the credit given to the original sharer. as far as links are going, one might not be happy to be attached to certain internet-urls but this may be the case in re-shares and should be taken into consideration when sharing. facebook's policy in this matter, as far as my memory goes, has changed slightly over the years. 
  4. Facebook is a technological platform. As such it is bound to change. Change is inherent for such products. Always stay up-to-date with Facebook's notofication of coming changes (and I mean Facebook's, not the spam messages running around). 

 Further reading 

  • Facebook Privacy Basics  (this aspect of Facebook is getting better and better as the platform ripens. Do yourself a favor, and take a look)