You might have Facebook posts involving times or people you’d rather forget.
Facebook is finally giving you a tool to get rid of them in bulk – and prevent stalkers, employers and the government from snooping on your past, too.
On Tuesday, the social network rolled out new settings called Manage Activity to delete or archive posts from a range of dates or involving particular people. Exes, your high school years, questionable photos, civil disobedience and painful memories no longer have to stay on your permanent Facebook record. You’ve always been able to delete posts one by one, but now you can also archive and get rid of bunches based on helpful criteria.
The only Facebook data that’s truly private and secure is the Facebook data you delete.
And if you’re not happy with how Facebook is responding to the president’s posts or police brutality protests, reducing your presence on the social network is probably the next-best step to quitting entirely.
The company says Manage Activity is a response to feedback from privacy advocates and the length of time some people have been using the service.
What’s not clear is why it took Facebook 16 years to provide this basic control for its main product – and it’s still not as complete as it should be. Some people enjoy the occasional blast-from-the-past memories Facebook surfaces, but forgetting and moving on is part of being human. Aside from unwelcome records creating personal discomfort, old posts can also be taken out of context or used against you by enemies, college admissions boards, hiring managers and police. We know even immigration authorities have sought to study social media posts. (This applies to Twitter and other social media, too.)
Part of the problem is we’re not very good at using Facebook’s settings to control who has access to what information. We’ve long had the ability to set an “audience” for Facebook posts – public, friends, or just select friends. But I once ran an experiment with volunteers who thought they’d locked down their settings, and I was still able to discover all sorts of things they thought were private.
Like a lot of other Facebook controls, Manage Activity is a bit hidden. It’s also only available on the smartphone app version of Facebook, though it should be coming to the web version eventually.
To access it in the Facebook app:
Find your way to your own profile page by tapping on the circle with your picture in the upper left. (You’ll know you’re there when you see your name at the top and a bigger version of your profile photo on top of a list of your friends.) Then look for and tap on the button labeled “Go to Activity Log.”
There you’ll see a list of everything you’ve ever contributed to Facebook. Tap a button on top labeled “Manage Activity.” And when it pops up, tap you want to manage “Your Posts.”
On this new screen, you’ll be able to filter your posts. First you can choose what kind of posts, such as check ins, photos or everything. Then you can filter those posts by date range – say your college years – or by people who are tagged in them.
Once you’ve selected some posts, you can choose to either “Archive” or “Trash” them. The archive option hides them so only you can access them, but doesn’t actually remove them from Facebook. The trash option puts them into a kind of recycling bin for 30 days, after which Facebook takes out the trash and they’ll totally disappear for you, too.
If you’re considering deleting posts, but are concerned you’ll lose treasured old photos or memories, you can first download a copy of your data. Just make sure you store your data in a secure place.
Now for the disappointing news. You can’t filter posts by keyword – say, the word “drunk.” Only date ranges and people are available for now. Facebook says it might add more in the future.
You also can’t remove posts and photos contributed by other people. Instead, you have to ask those people to take them down.
If your concern is a government demanding access to your old posts, know that it can take Facebook up to 90 days to remove the old posts from its computers – and some data could remain in its disaster-recovery backups for a period of time afterward.
Worst of all, there’s no way to delete or archive your posts on a rolling basis. You have to keep going back into the system and removing them using a new date range. Privacy advocates say automatically deleting old data is the safest way to make sure your history doesn’t haunt you in unexpected ways, and Google added auto-delete to location history and other activity data last year.
For now, you can use an external service such as the privacy app Jumbo to automatically delete old posts. (Just make sure you really have reason to trust any service you give access to your Facebook account, especially if it’s a browser plug-in.)
While you’re tuning up your privacy, here are three other Facebook settings I recommend everyone change right away:
Turn off the ability of Facebook to track what you do in other apps, websites and even stores. This Off-Facebook Activity setting, which it added in January, lets you tell Facebook to stop adding information it collects from a remarkably wide range of partners to your profile. In the Facebook app look for Off-Facebook activity under settings. (Note: Turning this off could make it harder to use games or news accounts you’ve linked to your Facebook account.)
Turn off the ability of others to tag you in posts and photos and have it show up on your own profile without your permission. Look for “Timeline and Tagging” under “Settings” in the app. Make sure “On” is selected for “Review posts you’re tagged in before the post appears on your timeline.”
Turn off the ability of others to see your friends list, information that can be used to surveil, catfish or phish you. Look for “Privacy Settings” in the app. Scroll down to “Who can see your friends list” and make sure it is set to “Only me.”