Randi Zuckerberg’s Problem Isn’t Facebook Privacy. It’s Facebook’s UX and UI.

Posted By Debbie on January 2, 2013

It’s like I’m psychic! I was JUST posting about how the biggest problem with Facebook privacy isn’t their terms (yet). It’s your own friends. I wrote a blog post about it.

Around Xmas, people thought that Mark Zuckerberg’s sister must not have understood Facebook’s privacy and UI because a family picture she posted ended up getting reposted to Twitter. How DID that happen? Did it happen because evil Facebook took her picture and put it out there while she flailed and yelled for help? Not exactly.

One of her Facebook friends assumed her picture was public because she saw it in her News Feed, and she reposted it to Twitter. Never repost, broadcast, publish, share, print on a t-shirt, or do ANYTHING with someone else’s stuff without getting written permission with them. Not only is that good manners, but depending on what you want to do (like print it on a shirt), you may be subject to copyright laws. Just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free or isn’t owned by someone who may want to enforce who can do what with it!

Randi was sure that she knew how to use Facebook privacy settings, so this isn’t about Facebook privacy.

But This Is About Facebook’s UX and UI

Play this out with me for a moment. A photo comes down your Facebook News Feed. How aware are you if that image is Friends Only or Public? Can you tell which friends got to see it? Maybe the person who posted the photo used Facebook lists or other features that allowed only 5 people on the planet to see that photo, and everybody else was blocked. As a recipient or viewer of content on Facebook, you really DON’T know the intentions of the person who posted. You don’t know how semi-private he or she meant to be.

If you’re really good with Facebook, then you recognise the little grey “world” icon here, and you know this was completely public. Facebook gives you a “share” button reminding you to re-broadcast it to your peeps!

ScreenHunter_29 Jan. 02 07.34

But what would you know about an image if it had this under it:

ScreenHunter_29 Jan. 02 07.38

If you notice small, grey icons, then you know this was just to his friends. You don’t know which friends. Using Facebook lists, your pal could have posted it to just 2 people. Or maybe it was to all his friends. You could stop there and think hey, my friend didn’t post this publicly… he might not want me to re-share it publicly. Yet there’s Facebook, giving you the “share” link and inspiring you to re-broadcast it. How can you possibly truly understand that people might feel “privately” about something when Facebook automatically tells people to re-publish it (which takes it out of someone else’s control)?

You don’t know from the above markings that your friend would HATE it if you re-shared the image, even just on Facebook. You don’t know that. I can only assume Facebook will have to start building that option into posts… like “turn off the share link” as an option so that people who kinda just want to share things with friends can kinda just try doing that… and hope for the best!

So while I’m not thrilled that some random woman took Randi’s photo and posted it publicly to Twitter, I can see HOW it would happen. It seems at first like a breach of the friend code, and it kinda is. But it’s ALSO a good reason to focus on the Facebook UI and realise that ideas of privacy or “can I share this” are not really clear to most people, especially when there is a “Share” link there making it seem like that’s a good idea.

Another Example

Just at the end here, I wanted to throw in another example. My boyfriend feels strict about Facebook and online privacy. So much so that he doesn’t use Facebook, and he doesn’t want me posting pictures of him or us. Weird in 2012/2013, but OK, I can do that. I also decided that on public posts, I will refer to him as “boyfriend,” and not use his name. He’s very happy about that.

So public posts (grey world icon), he’s “boyfriend.” Friends-only posts (grey people icon), he has a real first name.

I recently noticed that my friends had no idea I was doing that. And how could they. I could write that 100 times in my Facebook feed, and I can’t be guaranteed that every friend would see my request. How did I realise this? I did a public post where I said boyfriend, and one of my friends responded and used his first name.

World didn’t end. Not for me, boyfriend, or Randi. But I think these are starting to highlight how people on Facebook don’t really understand HOW public or private people feel things are. “Share” links certainly don’t help that!