Is Facebook damaging your reputation with sneaky political posts?

Summary:Most of us have a Facebook profile, and most of us take a haphazard approach to segregating our business and personal lives. That can cause serious headaches, thanks to a troublesome new Facebook feature.

One of the first rules most of us learn in business is to avoid bringing up controversial subjects with co-workers, colleagues, and customers. Especially customers.

If you have business-related Facebook friends, you probably think twice about the sorts of things you share. The same unwritten rules apply on Facebook as in face-to-face interactions: you wouldn’t tell an off-color joke or start a political argument in either place.

So you might be shocked to learn that Facebook is automatically publishing posts under your name and placing them at the top of the News feed for your friends. In some cases, these posts can include controversial political content that you would never voluntarily post.

Consider these two examples, which are typical of posts I’ve seen in my news feed over the past two weeks. (I’ve blurred the names to protect the innocent:

eb-facebook-forced-sharing
eb-facebook-forced-sharing-2

So what's the big deal? People share stuff on Facebook all the time, right?

Except that's not what happened here. I've found more than a dozen examples of similar "sharing." I spoke with five individuals who supposedly shared posts in this format. All of them said they had done nothing to trigger these posts.

If you actively share a link, a post, or a photo, you expect that shared item to go out to your friends immediately. In this case, however, the posts are going out under your name because at some point in the past (in some cases in the distant past) you visited a page and clicked Like.

Yes, you voluntarily Liked that page and made it part of your Facebook profile. If a Facebook friend wants to go through your list of Likes, they can learn that you like the NRA or PETA or a seemingly innocuous group that you probably didn't realize was funded by Karl Rove's political action committee.

But I doubt that you expected that simple click to result in a flood of posts under your name months later.

One associate whose name was attached to a rabidly right-wing political post said she disagreed vehemently with the sentiment it expressed, and she couldn't imagine why it appeared under her name.

Two other associates had their names attached to more innocuous-seeming posts. One forcibly shared post was from eBay Motors, which caused a potentially embarrassing conflict for the unwitting poster. The other was from Esquire magazine, and the person under whose name it appeared called it "crazy annoying" and asked what he had to do to "stop this kind of hijacking in the future."

That's a good question. I contacted Facebook for a response and a spokesperson told me this isn't a bug, it's a feature:

To help people find new Pages, events, and other interesting information, people may now see posts from a Page a friend likes. These posts will include the social context from your friends who like the Page and will respect all existing settings.

Even worse, if you're the recipient of these messages, there is no way to prevent them from appearing in your News feed. You can hide individual stories as they appear, but you can't block the page from posting again, and again, and again. And even if you remove the friend completely from your news feed, the forcibly shared posts appear. The only way to stop it is to unfriend the person whose Facebook identity is being misused.

This is an election year, so the problem is only going to get worse.

If you're concerned that inappropriate content might appear in your friends' News feed under your name, you should immediately go through the list of pages for which you've clicked Like, and Unlike any that you think pose the potential of embarrassing you.

I've pored through Facebook account settings and can find no way to disable this kind of sharing. There are settings that control whether your name is attached to ads, but these aren't ads. If they were, the word "Sponsored" would appear alongside them. (And if they're unlabeled ads, well, that opens another can of worms, doesn't it?)

You'll also want to ask a trusted friend to let you know immediately if anything suspicious appears in their News feeds that appears to be from you. Because when Facebook uses your name to promote a page to your friends, it doesn't provide any indication to you that it has done so.

If you've seen any examples of similarly sneaky behavior, share them with me in the Talkback section.

Update: In the Talkback section, a reader provides this additional example:

A colleague of mine and a friend of mine had both "liked" drugstore.com somewhere along the way. No problem, right? Wrong.

Drugstore.com recently ran a somewhat racy promotion for the "Date Night Gift Pack from K-Y: Including $10 off 2 movie tickets, Yours & Mine Lubes, and K-Y Touch Warming Oil," and the ad implied that my associates liked the K-Y products. To say that my colleague and my friend were mortified would be an understatement!

He includes this screenshot:

eb-drugstore-fb-blur

If you're communicating with clients and customers on Facebook, do you really want that image to show up in their News feed?

Topics: Social Enterprise, Privacy

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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