Facebook: how private are your privacy settings?


creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by rpongsaj

You might be surprised to see the information available to the public via your Facebook account, even if your privacy settings are set to ‘friends only’.

Despite this setting, the public may still be able to view:

  • previous posts (pre-privacy settings)
  • previous Facebook banners
  • your friends block
  • groups you have recently joined
  • your relationship status (if published)
  • the ‘about you’ block
  • recent activity

Professional profiles

For some students, having personal information within the public domain is not a concern until they enter the professional world. For trainee teachers and social workers, however, access to private details can present an immediate problem, for example;

  • when on placement in a school
  • if vulnerable adults ask to ‘friend’ you on Facebook
  • if a supervisor reads a ‘bad day at work’ post

It is scenarios like these that Duncan Mackrill, Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sussex, explores with his students at the very beginning of their university life during induction week.

Students can sometimes be under the impression that as their social networking presence is for their lives outside their professional placement, it is separate and not relevant to their professional work. However, this is far from the truth and this attitude can lead to some real problems which in some cases can even mean having to leave their course.

Duncan Mackrill, Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education and Social Work

Students training on a professional course need to think differently about their online profile and who has access to this. As they review their online presence they should ask themselves ‘What impression would this give to a prospective employer?’ and ‘Would I be happy for my mentor/supervisor and future employer in this profession, pupils I teach (or clients I work with) and their parents to see this?’

If the answer is ‘no’, then they need to manage their profile and content to ensure that it is appropriate.They should remember that they should not publish anything that they do not want to be publicly associated with.

Watertight privacy settings

Your life doesn’t need to be a big secret, but the minutiae of it is something that you might prefer to share with only friends and family, not just anyone who stumbles across you on the web.

If you would like to adjust your privacy settings, then this guide will help you to go from not so private (as below) to super-private in just a few carefully selected clicks.


Complete privacy not enabled (set to ‘friends only’)



Complete privacy enabled

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Privacy
  3. Change all of your posts to be available only to friends (not public)
  4. Set ‘delete past posts’ to ensure posts that were public before your settings changed are deleted from your timeline.
  5. Then go to Manage Sections. You will find this in the top toolbar. Untick all of the options so that no blocks are available for public viewing.
  6. And finally…go to your photo block (and other blocks including groups block, friends block, etc) and click on the edit pencil and select hide.

Your Facebook page should now be private.

Additional Advice

Last thing, make sure your banner and your personal profile picture is an image with information that you wish to share. No matter what your settings, these two images will be available. The banner above is blank, however, if you have an image with friends or family, or any statement image, others will be able to view.

How do I look?

creative commons license (BY) FreeStock image Jay Simmons

You can view your Facebook page as the ‘general public’, to see how your page appears on the web:

  • go to settings
  • go to view as
  • select ‘public’ view

It’s useful to note that Facebook changes its privacy settings from time to time so what might have been private yesterday could be public tomorrow. You can keep up to date with Facebook changes by visiting What’s new on Facebook.

A new feature was added by Facebook on the 17th of September; a friendly dinosaur that can help you with your privacy settings, available under your privacy shortcut.

If you would like further help in setting your privacy settings, please email the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Team at tel@sussex.ac.uk for support.



Advanced privacy controls on Facebook




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  1. […] of social network? Perhaps not. Feel free to poke holes. On Facebook privacy see this snappy guidance from Sally Burr at the University of Sussex. Finally, how to join. With Tsu you need to be […]

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