The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Facebook Private Messages Aren’t So Private

I could totally never be a serious investigative reporter (I know, this is like sincerely shocking news to you because usually you read this blog and think to yourself, She should really consider becoming a serious investigative reporter. She would blow the MFing lid off the skinny jeans scandal.). I would totally get way too excited about the story I was breaking and end up blurting out, “No for reals, guys, there’s this whole thing about Nixon and a hotel that he like bugged, well, except that HE didn’t bug it, some guys who worked for him did, but he totally knew about it and it’s like no joke a really big deal! I’m not telling it right, but it’s a scandal. No, seriously!”

So I’m going to try really hard not to spaz out right now, but: GUYS. I TOTALLY HAVE LIKE AN EXPOSE THAT’S NOT EVEN ABOUT BOXED WINE.

I mean… it’s not about world hunger or war or anything either, but it’s completely important and newsworthy. And it’s even about something I’m practically a qualified expert in: Facebook.

No really, stay with me. If you’re on Facebook at all, I’m sure you saw that viral post that went around briefly last week about old private messages being made public, right? I saw it and sort of ignored it because it seemed crazy, and people post crazy things all the time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for Facebook to let something like that happen. But I did make a mental note to check it out for myself. I figured it should be fairly easy to confirm or deny.

Then I forgot about the whole thing until Saturday when I was messing around on Facebook trying to avoid the cleaning that needed doing. And because I am Queen of the Universe when it comes to finding something more important to do than cleaning, I launched my investigation of what was up with this whole private messages thing.

I started by going to my own timeliney thing and clicking on the year 2008. I hadn’t really looked at how that stuff is set up on my page or anyone else’s before then. Apparently you can click on a year and it sort of recaps that year for whoever is currently stalking you. One of the first things in the right hand column was a box that said, “65 friends posted on Elizabeth’s timeline”. I scrolled through this little box and immediately noticed while some of these messages had been written on my wall, some looked like they had been privately messaged to me.

Let’s pause here to make sure we understand and define a little bit of Facebook technology before we move forward:

Writing on someone’s wall – This is when you go to another person’s page and write directly on it. Doing this makes the message viewable by all of the friends of the person whose wall you wrote on, but it means the statement is directed at him or her. You used to only be able to see these types of posts if you made a point to go to that person’s wall, but now they show up in the feed like other types of status updates, designated with both of your names to show this was a message from you to that person. Other people can comment on the message and join in on the conversation. You do this if you’re an attention-whore and you like to broadcast your conversations with your sister about the perfect way to curl your hair to all of your friends. I often employ this technique.

Private messaging someone – This is when you hit the ‘message’ button and send an actual personal message directly to another person. It does not show up on his or her wall or anywhere in the feed. It’s used for totally private conversations (bootie calls) and often to send personal contact information like cell numbers or email addresses.

Now, I’m not saying this whole ‘writing on someone’s wall’ thing wasn’t a little confusing at first to most, but in general, everyone but my grandma figured out the difference between the two fairly quickly (just kidding, Grandma! You totally get Facebook! It was a joke. I believe in God and never say the ‘f’ word, I swear. Love you). You only have to think you’re messaging your husband, “Hey, babe, stop at the store and get me some tampons on the way home, will you? Playtex, Super+. Thanks, love you.” and then go to his wall and see five of his coworkers ‘liked’ it, once before you learn that lesson, amIright?

Back to my investigation Saturday.

As soon as I saw a couple of messages in that box that looked like they had probably been private, I immediately hovered over the top right corner and chose the option to ‘hide these types of posts from timeline’ in all years 2010 and previous. I didn’t even really look closely at what all of the posts were because the idea I had private messages that were made public for any length of time completely freaked me out.

Even after seeing what I was fairly certain were private messages showing up in my timeline, I wasn’t 100% convinced Facebook had allowed this to happen. Where was the community outrage? Shouldn’t I have heard more about this than one viral Facebook message posted by a knee-jerk alarmist? Maybe I could see those posts on my own wall because I was logged in as me, I thought. Maybe it just looked like they were visible to the public, but I was the only one who could see them.

So I did what any other normal, completely nosy wife with little-to-no respect for personal boundaries does, I stalked my husband’s timeline. Almost immediately, in the 2008 section I hit jackpot:

This is a screenshot I took of my husband’s timeline this morning. See that box to the right that is titled, Friends 2008? Down at the bottom of the box are several messages from my best friend, Rebecca Disbrow Wall. I cropped those out so you could read them a little better:

In May of 2008 I turned 30 and my husband and my best friend threw me a surprise birthday party at her house. My husband’s sister, Jen, flew in from Portland, OR for the event. Apparently Rebecca and Jason began the planning of this event over Facebook private message.

Even more fascinatingly, if you go to 2008 on her wall, you get the other side of the private conversation:

The conversation doesn’t seem to match together flawlessly, so it’s possible there are some messages missing in here (or maybe it makes more sense with the specific profile pic in place they were referring to), but I’ve talked to both of them and they are both adamant this was a PRIVATE MESSAGE conversation. And of course it was. It’s not like I just woke up last week a stalker. I was totally a stalker way back in 2008. I regularly visited my husband and all of my closest friends’ walls just to see if anything interesting was going on there. Hmm, I wonder if that hot girl at Jason’s work ever writes on his wall… I absolutely would have seen any suspicious activity like this and known there was a party in the works. Plus, both are tech-savvy people. They definitely knew the difference between private message and writing on someone’s wall.

After I discovered this ‘smoking gun’ (as far as I’m concerned), I set off to figure out if other people know about this and I just hadn’t heard it yet. I headed to the site I’ve always trusted to know the truth about wacky shit people swear is true: Snopes had the rumor, all right, but for the first time I’ve seen, they have the verdict incorrect:

I did a screenshot of this because I feel pretty confident it will eventually be changed to show 'True' or at the very least 'Mixed'.

Snopes cites Mashable, Tech Crunch and even Facebook as explaining that people were just confusing old wall posts, that were always visible to the public, with private messages.

Uh… nope. Snopes. Facebook. Other techy sites I’ve heard of but don’t really know anything about. I’m shaking my head at all of you. You’re just wrong.

And this is just wrong. It’s really not OK for about 11 million reasons. Sure, these messages are years old and it didn’t ruin my party to have them published. I don’t think there was anything really super private and wacky in the ones on my wall that I hid before I could even really go through them. Plus it’s sort of difficult to even get a handle on what’s being said because you’re only reading one side of the conversation. But these are PRIVATE MESSAGES. My sister recently messaged her two kids’ social security numbers to our grandpa’s wife because she needed them to set up a school savings account for the kids. I often have people message me real estate questions on Facebook because it’s faster than tracking down my email address. They regularly disclose personal financial information and home addresses in these messages. There is a reason we send these things privately.

Lastly, before you scurry off to hide the messages on your timeline (don’t worry, I’ve already read them all. I won’t tell anyone), think about this: Sure, you can quickly and easily hide the stuff that people wrote on YOUR wall, but you can’t do anything about the private messages you wrote to other people several years ago. Remember when you were mad at your mother because she forgot she was supposed to babysit, so you messaged your sister about how mom’s always been a selfish bitch? And then you got over it because she apologized and she’s totally not a selfish bitch and you didn’t give it a second thought because that was a million years ago and mom wasn’t even on Facebook then and you said it to your sister in a PRIVATE MESSAGE? Yeah. I wonder if that’s on your sister’s wall now for your mom to discover? And let’s just think about what you can’t even remember messaging to people 3-4 years ago. I have to admit that’s sort of keeping me up at night.

OK, now you can go hide your messages. But forward this post to all your friends right after you do (not because I want lots of people to read my blog, I swear. Only for the good of humanity.).


Comments are closed.

Comments Closed