Is Facebook damaging your reputation with sneaky political posts?

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:


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" somewhere along the way. No problem, right? Wrong. 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:


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

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  • Horrifying

    How can this be legal. I can easily see a huge class action lawsuit headed facebooks way.
    • Agreed.

      I don't use facebook, but somebody might post stuff about me.

      Ditto for anyone who doesn't use facebook but knows somebody who does.

      My other response notwithstanding, a lot of people are immature about facebook and other social media outlets and any veracity therein.

      Those of us who don't use the service shouldn't have to set up accounts just to respond to anyone who tries to screw us over. What the bleep is wrong with this country...
      • You're both misunderstanding

        If you don't use Facebook, you can't Like a group on Facebook. If you don't Like a group on Facebook, it can't appear in your feed, since you don't use Facebook to begin with. That's not how this works at all.

        Nor does it post anything at all on your behalf or attribute anything to you. What it does is point out that you have Liked a particular group and, to provide context of that group, publishes one of their posts or pictures to accompany the name of the group. Notice that it only states you have liked the group, not the image.

        This is a case of people not taking a tenth of a second to read a few words and get context, and it's just as much the (non-) readers' faults as it is Facebook. Stop assuming and start reading.
        Alan Pugh
        • You're picking nits...

          Sure, you're right, but you're ignoring the fact that the way the posts appears is deceiving, and purposely so, because it's a "sponsored ad" and the point is that most of them are political in nature because it's the political groups buying up all the ad sponsorships. The presentation may randomly select a post from the page, but just because I like a joke picture one day doesn't mean I want that page's political rants associated with me... and that IS how this is working.

          Nevermind the fact that they show up regardless of your preference to hide that type of story or activity from a user and/or simply block the user from your feed entirely. It's a blatant violation of their own privacy settings. That may not be illegal, but it is dubious, and it shouldn't happen. When is Facebook going to learn their lesson with these so-called "features"?

          We get it, ads are important, but somewhere companies have to start drawing a line and refusing to cross it with advertising. It is ridiculous.
          • Does not matter.

            All the ads are there because you agreed to allow them. Even if you feel that you did not agree to their sneaky presentation, you need only to delete your Facebook account and be done with it. Nothing that they do is even remotely illegal. It is all spelled out in layman's terms on their site. There are other social networking sites out there but people remain with Facebook while they complain about their tactics. Facebook does not care how much people complain while they stick around. They would only care if their numbers actually started to drop because of a bad decision. That has not happened yet.
            Jef Franklin
          • No, I did NOT agree to anything.

            And not only that, but you can't delete your FB account. They keep it there. All the contacts and everything "in case you come back."
            Not only that, but if you have any kind of desire for civic participation, at many newspapers and sites, you MUST register for FB to comment.
            That means it's not voluntary.
            Facebook has changed its privacy controls so many times, screwed so many people, that your assertion they've never done anything illegal is laughable. Maybe they've never been convicted of anything illegal...maybe they're too powerful.

            They're so powerful that I don't have a citizen's choice to NOT join this application, as long as I want to comment on newspaper articles.
            Freedom of speech, my ass.
            Burkey Devitt
          • Civic Participation?

            You mean like voting, or jury duty, volunteering to help a candidate for office, or speaking at a city council meeting?

            Oh, commenting on a newspaper article or at some other website? Uh, no, that's not civic participation. Not even remotely. Newspapers are for-profit companies, not civic organizations. Legit news orgs should quite frankly stop allowing comments on articles because they are counterproductive and end up as a game of who has more time to waste typing posts that won't change anyone's mind.
            You also don't seem to understand Freedom of Speech. Nowhere does it say that freedom of speech means that anyone anywhere has to provide you with a place to comment or speak. Nobody has to provide you with a forum. You are not entitled to login privileges or microphone or anything else. You are simply allowed to speak, no one has to provide you with an audience.
            Secondly Freedom of Speech is a limitation on GOVERNMENT. Private companies are not required to give you access to anything, or in any way, shape or form sponsor or host your speech. Freedom of Speech doesn't obligate anyone else to let you comment on their website.
            Jason D
          • Yes, civic participation

            So, public discourse doesn't qualify? Because that's what these forums encourage. Whether here or on sites like Yahoo, which now requires users to have JavaScript from Facebook sites running to work as designed. Yes, much of the content is infantile. But some of it is well informed and thought out. It's a step beyond newspaper editorials in print. Because it allows back and forth communication. And it's part of American tradition. Even though it's within a for-profit medium.

            I tend not to have any desire to comment any more on such sites, due to the childish and partisan character of posts. But the trend seems to be require commenters to have social media accounts.

            You're obviously not up on current practice. Many public sites (governmental and therefore non-profit) use Facebook, Twitter and others to provide content in this way to the public. Which is definitely civic participation. Whether they should use such services is another matter.

            All of which leaves me on the outside looking in. Because I refuse to join any of these sites, precisely for the kind of behavior mentioned here. I accept that they have a right to what they want, especially since the "service" is free. But I think anyone is foolish to trust them at all.

            You talk about Freedom of Speech and you have a point. But you miss the special role the news media plays (or at least should play) in society. Facilitating communication is a major function. So commenting is also civic participation and anything that impedes that, even if it's on a for-profit site, isn't a good thing.
          • Governments using Facebook.

            That's one of the bits that I find very, very disturbing. We are placing much of our informational infastructure into the hands of a private company with dubious moral intent and a record of privacy abuses as long as a giant's arm. Personally if I lived in the U.S. I'd be taking the federal government to court.
          • Wrong!

            You really need to read a dictionary or something that defines terms simply. It IS 'civic' participation.

            However, I do agree with much of what you say in the second half.
          • You CAN permanently delete your account!!

            It is possible to permanently delete your account, including all your information. Facebook make it VERY difficult to obtain the info on how to do it, but it IS possible. Once you have deleted it, you have to leave your account alone for 14 days.. If you don't leave it alone and decide to log in after deleting it, then your account is automatically reactivated. The link is here:
          • That is FaceBook's claim

            Yes, that is Facebook's claim, but as both posts and images from accounts that were allegedly deleted then start appearing in Facebook adverts etc, then they obviously haven't deleted one's data.

            I'm not going to list them, but just doing a quick search will reveal verifiable information that disproves many of the people on here's assertions of Facebook doing no wrong-doing.
          • Agreed.

            They have actually been done several times in court for illegal actions. But justice is no match for a large wallet and malicious intent.
          • You're all MISSING the point

            If it's ok for facebook to tell everyone what you like, then it's ok for your internet service provider to tell everyone what sites you visit... and it's ok for Google to tell everyone what you search for... and it's ok for you cell company to tell everyone who you call... and it's ok for your credit card company to tell everyone what you buy... WHERE DOES IT END?? We don't have to use ANY of these services, but WE DO! So if we do don't we deserve some privacy? Yes, facebook is free but it's a website in which we pay for the internet service to visit. It a virtual meeting place to connect and catch up with lots of our friends (and companies that we like) all at the same time without making hundreds of phone calls. If we meet friends at the bar should the people from the previous bar come and tell everybody where we just came from? Should the prostitute you just left come tell the people at your job that you just left her?

            The "likes" of fan pages are one thing, but attaching my name to posts that you make is crossing the line. Just because I like Lexus doesn't mean Lexus has to promote once every day to my friends... and then tag MY name to THEIR post to get my friends to pay attention. It's just wrong and crooked.

            If other people see in their stream that I liked the Republican site then fine... but if they send out a post against abortion, attach my name at the top, and then send it to all of my friends... then, again, that's WRONG and CROOKED!!
          • Agreed.

            However, Facebook is not free. You pay with information about yourself. This may not be a recognised currency, but they charge you a hefty price for their service's use.

            I don't use it and I'd advise anybody who doesn't want Facebook tracking them across the internet (whether a Facebook user or not - yes, there is lots of evidence showing that Facebook track non-Facebook users across the net, just the same as they do to people whom actually agreed.

            If on windows, go to your windows folder, then into the system32 folder, then into drivers, then into etc. Now right-click on your Notepad and run as administrator. Browse to the folder I stated. Open a file their called hosts. Copy the following into it (all it does is stops your computer using facebook servers - across the net). Paste it at the bottom of the document. DO NOT MAKE ANY OTHER CHANGES. Then save. Restart browsers. Goodbye Facebook spies.

          • WRONG!

            Facebook have done several illegal things and continue to do them. For instance do you know that it's possible to launch a Denial of Service attack on any website, just using Facebook? There is a bug in their Notes ap that allows one to link to the same image multiple times and as FB's servers check this often, this is akin to launching a denial of service attack against the site holding the image.

            Facebook know about this, but when asked they said they knew it could be used to attack 'lower-grade' websites, but as it would affect FaceBook's functionality by removing it, they refused. SO, Facebook should therefore be done under exactly the same laws as those whom unwittingly have been part of a denial of service attack and have then found themselves in court, BECAUSE IT'S THEIR RESPONSIBILTY TO ENSURE THEIR MACHINE ISN"T USED TO ATTACK OTHERS.

            But not Facebook, no. Facebook's answer was basically 'Fuck you. We don't give a shit about the 'lower-grade' sites'.

            TOO BIG FOR THEIR BOOTS. It will be interesting watching them die whilst still wearing them. It's inevitable. We cannot allow a company that flagrantly abuses it's power to basically do what the fuck it wants, to continue. If the law won't do it's job, then somebody else will.

            FaceBook are knowingly breaking the law, they're just hoping that the average Joe doesn't read security white-papers etc
            And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ — Sir John Dalberg-Acton.
          • sponsored ads are different

            The column is about having things pushed to your stream because you 'like' them. And I'm sorry, I'm with Facebook on this one. That's what "like" is *for*. If you're concerned about what a person might post that shows up on your stream, don't friend them. If you're concerned about what a business might post that shows up on your screen, don't 'like' it. Because *that's what it does*. I agree with Alan here.
          • So..

            When any apps you've used start liking things for you, will that be ok?

            Also, Alan is wrong. Facebook has also associated people with things they haven't 'liked'. Again, go use a search engine. You'll find they've actually had several major court battles around this - admittedly they were kept reasonably quiet. Facebook is one of the most litigated against companies in history! That should tell you something. However, you're welcome to your ignorance.
          • When they start losing money

            Hit 'em where it hurts. If they won't be moral, then find ways of making them spend their money on wasteful things. I have a computer that automatically signs up for me and then 2 days later deletes the account. Facebook claimed this wasn't possible to be done by automation, but then Facebook engineers don't know what the fuck they're talking about most of the time. That's the beauty of facebook 's wealth, they throw enough money at any problem and it goes away.

            Talking of issues - why won't this TEXT box let me select things and copy and paste them??? Sometimes I think technology is going backwards not forwards. This kind of thing lends credence to my thoughts.
        • Actually you're wrong.

          Facebook (and it's partners) actually have made posts for people. There are several well-documented cases of this (including court actions) Maybe you should do a bit more reading before YOU start assuming.