Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Deleting all past posts from Facebook

Written: March 2014, by Jennifer Deegan

I recently received a lovely letter from a friend of a friend saying "I enjoy your facbook posts so much!". I was quite surprised, as I had not intended to make my posts visible either to the friend, or to the friend-of-the-friend. So how did that happen, does it matter, and what could I do about it?

Why does it matter?

You might think that it's fine to leave all your posts there as a record of your life history, and for your friends to enjoy. This is a legitimate option. However, it's important to understand the caveats to this plan. For me, these are the caveats:

a) When I posted something way back in 2006, I posted it just to a very small group of close friends. That group has now grown, and includes newer friends. If my new friends looked back in my timeline then they would see posts that were only intended for close friends from those days, and I might not be happy about that. I do group my friends and post appropriately to the different groups, but these groups do change over time, and so old posts may not be appropriate for later versions of my groups. When I say "appropriate" I just mean that stories of sleep deprivation during baby care, years ago, may not be appropriate for my close friends in a new career later on. "Inappropriate" posts are not necessarily dodgy, or illegal, but just things that I would not normally share in conversation years later with a new friend. 

b) I make changes to my friend groups over the years, but Facebook will also make changes over the years. It makes sense to take precautions to keep our data safe, in case the changes that Facebook make in the future are not to our liking.

c) I'm quite a savvy Facebook user and a good computer user. But I still have to check regularly that my posts are being seen only by people I intend to see them. The answer to the question I've posed above: "How did that happen?" (How did a person see posts that she wasn't meant to see?)  is that I actually don't know. I suppose my settings changed years ago, leaving old posts visible to new friends. The sensible thing to do is to check regularly what other people can see. I'll explain below how to do this.

d) I chat a lot about family matters with my friends, and I'm sure that a child would not like to reach adulthood and realise that all his baby anecdotes were sitting there insecurely on the internet. As a kindness to our children, I think it is a good idea to make sure that such information is only shared with appropriate friends, and deleted in a timely manner.

e) While talking about data safety - please remember not to post really important stuff to Facebook. Do not post photos of your credit card, or details of the route your child takes when walking alone to school every day. I'm sure you wouldn't, but I think it bears repeating.  

Who sees your posts?

If you want to check what a particular person can see then do this: 

1) Go to profile and click the cog icon at the top right. Then choose "view as".

2) Look at the top of the page and find this area:

3) The page as you are looking at it now, shows what a person would see if they came to your page and were not logged into Facebook at all. If you click on "View as a specific person" and type someone's name in, then you will find out what they would see if they were logged in and looking at your page. 

4) If you do this and find that people can see posts that you'd rather they didn't, then one option is to just delete all your old Facebook posts. This is probably a good idea anyway, so that you don't have a lot of personal information online, that could become visible that it was no originally intended for. 

Deleting old Facebook posts

I have been looking into ways to delete old Facebook posts en masse. There are several options, but only one good one that I could find. 

A) There are a couple of scripts that you can run in Firefox. You first have to install a programme called Greasemonkey, that provides the environment in which the scripts run. Greasemonkey worked fine for me. The two scripts I found were called "Absterge" and "Facebook Timeline Cleaner". They were really interesting to look at and nearly worked, but in both cases the layout of Facebook had been slightly modified since they were last released and they did not work for me. I would have had to have modified the javascript code of the scripts to make them work, and that was beyond me. 

B) There are a couple of extensions available in chrome that claimed to delete old facebook posts. I tried one called "Facebook - Delete My Timeline". This one worked for me. To use it, do the following:

a) In Chrome click this button:

b) Choose [Settings][Extensions].

c) Scroll to the bottom and choose "Get more extensions".

d) Type  "Facebook - Delete My Timeline" into the search box. Find that extension and download it. 

e) Return to your facebook page. Go to the front page by clicking "Facebook" at the top left, then click on your name, immediately below the word "Facebook" at the top left. Next click "View Activity Log" at the top right. 

f) At the top right you will now see a little blue icon:

g) Click the blue icon and follow the dialogues. 

h) In the end, for me, no old posts were left at all, and all my data had been safely deleted. Glorious. 

Can this be done using Facebook's own controls?

As far as I can see, Facebook only allows us to delete posts one at a time, with 3 clicks per post. The method above, however, allows posts to be removed en masse, with about 3 clicks per page of posts. The ideal solution would be for Facebook to put in a setting option where we could stipulate that all post be deleted automatically after a given period of time. 

How urgent is this?

I am part of the generation for whom teenage years were dominated by constant scare stories in the news, with no indication of how serious or likely any of the threats were. I would just like to say - deleting old Facebook posts is a good thing to do. But if you're just posting ordinary stuff, it's not that urgent. If you're having to do this work when you should be sleeping, playing with your kid, or having that well earned rest that you've been promising yourself for the last four years, then please do leave it for another day. It's about as urgent as dusting the tv. It can wait. Now go and get your deckchair out. 

Big thanks to the author of the Chrome extension "Facebook - Delete My Timeline", George Piskas http://gpiskas.com/

(I do not know the author, and just found all this out by searching online.)

All views expressed are the opinion of the author only. They do not represent the views of any organisation or institute that she may be affiliated with.

Please interpret and use the information in this blog sensibly. You use it at your own risk.