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4 ways to protect your privacy and reputation on Facebook Timeline

by Alex in | | | |

My latest blog post for HBR takes a look at the new ooh! aah! Facebook Timeline, which comes tantalizingly close to fulfilling my wish list for a social media scrapbook without allowing me to easily print the damn thing already. (And I’m guessing it won’t be long before some clever company offers to do just that.)

The HBR post looks at how Facebook’s Timeline will affect your career, promising that you’ll soon know too much about your colleagues, your colleagues will know the “propersonal” you, and you’ll know more about yourself. It outlines the specific strategies you can put in place to address all three of these developments.

Developing those strategies is one way to protect your privacy. If you want to ensure that Facebook’s new Timeline doesn’t intrude on either your personal or professional life, here are three more adjustments to consider:

  1. Be your own primary audience. There’s a tendency to see any social media presence as outward-looking — after all, there is a reason it’s called “social”. In the case of Facebook’s Timeline, however, you may be your own most appreciative audience. It’s very satisfying to look back over moments in your life and have them organized chronologically, in a tidy lay-out. It’s so satisfying that you may want to record more moments so that you’ve got a more detailed record. That is a great use of Timeline, but I strongly encourage you to consider that many such posts may be for your eyes only — even if it’s simply because nobody else will be interested. Use your per-post and account privacy settings to make yourself the only person who can see some (or even most of) your past and future Timeline posts. Use the “custom privacy” setting on an individual post or picture to select “only me”. You can make that your default privacy setting by going to Privacy Settings, then Control Your Default Privacy, then choosing Custom; “only me” will be one of the options in the pop-up window.
  2. Shape your history. Your Facebook privacy settings now gives you the option, “limit the audience for past posts”.  Facebook gives you a lot of warning screens about how hitting this button means changing the settings on *all* your past posts, with no option for a one-click undo. I bravely forged again, and the result was that all my past posts were limited to Friends unless I’d previously made them visible only to a specific list of friends (like my “kid-sharing friends” list). In other words, I didn’t lose any of my previous per-post privacy customization, and I gained the freedom of knowing that random strangers won’t be able to see what I was up to in 2007. You may even want to go back and change previously shared posts to “only me”; just because you felt comfortable sharing some of those updates in a Facebook that largely hid them after a week or two, doesn’t mean you want them laid out as part of your narrative.
  3. Create an events and apps strategy. Think carefully about who should see the major life events (births, marriages, engagements, home purchases etc) that FB now invites you to add to your timeline. This is an entirely new category of Facebook post, so you may need to think through the implications. Ditto for apps: A number of apps will now make entries in your Timeline if you let them, so you may want to revisit your apps permissions.

How is the new Facebook Timeline changing your Facebook strategy? I’d love to hear your insights and stories, perhaps arranged in some sort of visually compelling, chronological interface….if only there were some way to do that.

First posted on September 29,2011
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