Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are Facebook Groups Really Private?

Facebook is something which some people embrace with abandon. Others just don’t want to go there at all, for fear of privacy issues. Of those of us who do use it, many of us have joined a group or two. These are generally focused on a particular topic and are used to share information, photos, advice etc. They can be extremely useful and enjoyable. Goodness knows, there are plenty to choose from! But, some words of caution:

There are 3 types of Facebook group:

Public groups: The content and membership list can be viewed by anyone and found by search engines.

Closed groups: The content is only visible to members but the membership list is public. If you become a member, this news appears on your friends’ timelines and is shown on your profile. What you share within the group remains private...doesn’t it?

Secret groups: The content and membership list are invisible to everyone except members. Membership is by invitation only.

Members of closed and secret groups can share outside the group, so before you post anything, ask yourself how well do you trust every member of the group? Anything you share can, with a quick copy and paste or a screenshot, appear anywhere online in a heartbeat. The safest policy is to never post anything on facebook which you would not be happy to see in public.

Members of closed groups can add anyone from their own friends list without asking the group administrator, or even the friend they’re adding. They, in turn, can add their friends and so on. So, even a group that starts out as a small group of friends can quickly mushroom into something much bigger. How well do you know the other members of any groups you are in? Have you met them? Do you trust them? You should periodically check to see that you haven’t been added to any groups you weren’t aware of or don’t want to be in.

Before you post, stop and think. Don’t forget, it is very easy for people to create false online personas or even fake profiles. Not everyone online is who they may seem. Most people join groups for genuine reasons, but all it takes is one person with a personal agenda and your group is compromised.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t join groups or share in them. Just be careful.

Further reading:

Facebook Safety & Million Member Facebook Groups Gary Warner, Director of Research in Computer Forensics, UAB

How Private Are Facebook Groups Mark Davies, Social Tech Zone


  1. Actually, I am an Administrator of several closed groups where members can add friends but it requires my approval first. I am an active moderator and remove any spammers immediately with permanent banning. My groups are mostly homeschoolers or those using K12 online schools and we are a close knit group. We've been up for 1.5 years and still going strong with minimal issues.

  2. Thanks for the comment, MamaGirl. It seems that you take your role as group administrator seriously and keep a close eye on things. Unfortunately, this may not be the case in all groups. Spamming is a very irritating habit but at least it's pretty obvious. There are other far more subtle ways in which people can behave negatively in groups, so would I still say participate, but be careful!