3 Steps to Make Facebook Private

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How to Make Facebook Private: Three Simple Changes

Facebook private
Facebook sets its default privacy menu to "Public." Most people should change this to "Friends.". ©Facebook

Protecting your Facebook privacy can be challenging, but there are three key things everyone should know about how to make Facebook private or at least not totally public. These are:

  1. How to Keep Your List of Friends Private
  2. How to Make Your Profile and Timeline Private
  3. How to Limit Who Sees your Posts and Photos

By default, Facebook tends to make everything you put on its network fairly public. Most information in your profile, for example, is totally public--viewable in Google search results and to everyone on Facebook, even if they're not your friend or even a friend of a friend. Facebook critics see this as an invasion of people's right to privacy.

The same default public setting applies to your friend's list; by default, anyone can see who your friends are, even if they are not your Facebook friend. It's a good idea to change this, but Facebook doesn't make it easy.

Make Facebook Private By Changing Default Sharing to "Friends"

Even before you change your privacy options for your friend's list, profile and posts, the very first thing you should do is make sure your default sharing option on Facebook is set to "Friends" and not "Public." By default, Facebook sets it to "Public," which requires you to change it to "Friends" when you post something if you only want your friends to see it.

So it's a good idea to reset this default, which is shown in the image at the top of this page. You can access it several ways. The best way is by clicking "privacy settings" in the drop-down menu under the little gear icon at the top right of your Facebook homepage. That shows you your main privacy options on one page. (You can also click the lock icon next to the gear icon to see a shortened list of privacy options.)

The first item listed is "Who can see my stuff"? The crucial option under it is "who can see my future posts?" By default, the sharing option selected (which appears in the middle column) is usually set to "Public," meaning everyone can see everything you post by default.

To change the default so only your Facebook friends can see what you post, click the small "edit" button at far right, and you should see a small label at the bottom of the box that appears saying, "Public." (If you have previously selected "Friends" in your status update box, it will say "Friends" here instead of "Public." Click on either "Public" or "Friends" to see the full privacy sharing menu displayed in a drop-down menu. That privacy menu is shown in the image above, at the bottom.

Now make sure the checkbox option--"Friends"--is selected, as shown in the image above. Click "close" to save your change.

Other options listed include "custom", which opens another menu allowing you to create a special list of select friends with whom you'll be able to share individual posts and photos with a single click. Just give your list of friends a name, and then you'll be able to select that list from the status update publishing box whenever you like.

Make Facebook Private by Limiting Who Sees Your Friends List

The second thing you should consider doing is changing the default setting for your Friends List, as shown on the next page. Click "NEXT" below to learn how to control who can view your list of friends. (Alternatively, here's a big-picture overview of your Facebook privacy settings.>

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How to Take Your Facebook Friends List Private

Facebook friends privacy menu
Menu for controlling who sees your Facebook friends list. ©Facebook

Facebook makes your friends list public by default. That means everyone can see it, even if they are not your friend.

You can change that with just a few clicks. The easiest way is you to go to your Timeline/profile page to edit the visibility of your friend's list.

Clicking your name at the top right of your Facebook homepage always takes you to your Timeline/profile page, then click the "FRIENDS" button under your Timeline cover photo, right next to where it lists the number of friends that you have. It will take you to a page listing all your friends.

Look for the small pencil icon to the right of where it says "Friend Requests" and "Find Friends" near the top of the page, but below your cover photo. Click the pencil icon (which stands for "edit") and you'll see two drop-down options as shown in the screen grab above on the left.

Select the "Edit Privacy" option by clicking on it. You'll see the full privacy menu (which is displayed on the right in the image above. These images are from the 2013 Facebook privacy settings, which tend to change every year.)

The following three options allow you to change the visibility of your friend's list, and also change who can see people who "follow" you and people and pages you choose to follow or like.

  1. Friends List Click the small globe icon on the far right (or whatever other icon appears there) to change who will be allowed to see your list of friends. This is Facebook's standard audience selector menu. When you click the small down arrow, a longer list of options will appear. It not only includes "Friends" and "Only Me," but also "Custom" and any additional networks or groups you've joined below that. It's a good idea to change the default setting for who can see your list of Facebook pals to "Friends," so only people you've friended on Facebook will have access to this list. The globe icon denotes public, the default settings. Privacy experts recommend changing it to "Friends" at a minimum, so you don't share your list of friends with the whole world.
  2. Following Here you control who can see a list of people and pages you have chosen to follow on Facebook. The options are the same as for your friend's list.
  3. Followers Here you control who can see the list of people "following" you, provided you allow people to "follow" your public posts. The options are the same as for your friend's list.

Next, let's look at how to control who sees your Facebook profile (read this article if you're confused about the difference between your profile, homepage, Wall and news feed.)

You should always stop and think about whether your profile and Timeline/Wall reveal too much information about you.

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A Public Facebook Profile or a Private Facebook Profile?

Facebook profile privacy. ©Facebook

Your Facebook Profile is Public by Default

By default, Facebook makes the most information you enter in your profile public, which means it is indexed by Google and other search engines and viewable by anyone. Only your birthday and contact info (email, phone number) have restricted viewing by default, and Facebook typically sets those to either be visible to "friends" or the wider "friends of friends."

Privacy experts generally recommend that you review the default settings on your profile page for each item in your profile and check "Friends" for any information that you don't want to be visible to the general public. Any item that you leave in the default "Public" setting can be indexed by Internet search engines and viewable by anyone.

You can access the profile editing screen a couple of ways. As of 2013, there was a tiny "edit profile" link on your homepage, at the upper left of your profile photo. Alternatively, clicking your name in the blue Facebook menu at the top of every page takes you to your Timeline page, where you can click the "ABOUT" button under your profile photo. Both of these options take you to your profile area, a page labeled "About."

Sections of Your ABOUT Profile Page on Facebook

Each box on your ABOUT profile page (Basic Info, Education, etc.) has its own audience selector menu. Click on the small pencil "Edit" icon to the right of the box, and a drop-down menu showing the standard audience options appear.

You will be selecting who you want to be able to see the information in each box. Privacy experts recommend selecting "friends" instead of the default "public" for most of this information unless you're a public figure who wants to share everything with the whole world. Click "custom" if you want to name specific people who can see it or specific lists of people.

Basic Profile Info Privacy

At a minimum, look for the box labeled "Basic Info." Here is where you control who can see your birthday, your gender, and any info you might list about your political views, for example.

Read more about Facebook privacy basics.

Inline Privacy Controls for Individual Posts, Photos

See the next page for an explainer on the inline privacy controls governing each item you post on Facebook.

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Use Facebook's Inline Privacy Menu for Case-by-Case Sharing

Facebook's audience selector menu lets you decide who can see whatever you post. © Facebook

Facebook introduced inline sharing controls in August 2011, allowing users to set different sharing options for each piece of content they post to the social network.

Facebook calls this the "audience selector" tool. It's located at the bottom of the status update box. Whatever you set as your default sharing option (Public or Friends, for example) OR whatever you used as your last sharing option will appear by default next to a tiny down arrow.

Just click on the audience selector button (shown next to a red arrow in the screenshot above) and you'll see various options for sharing the particular item you're posting.

Don't forget, whatever you select here will become the default for the next item you post, too. Tricky, isn't it?

The lesson you'll soon learn is to pay attention to these inline sharing controls. Otherwise, if you send a broad public message one day, you may inadvertently wind up sending a very private message to the entire world tomorrow.

With all the changes Facebook makes to its settings, it's a good idea to check your Facebook privacy settings fairly frequently. It's also good to review your photo sharing settings if you want to keep your Facebook photos private.

Facebook's own privacy page offers more details on who can see what on the social network.

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