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.

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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

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Talkback

56 comments
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  • Horrifying

    How can this be legal. I can easily see a huge class action lawsuit headed facebooks way.
    twilightmoon
    • 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...
      HypnoToad72
      • 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.
          GoodThings2Life
          • 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.
            mdsock@...
          • 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: https://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=224562897555674
            lotte88
          • 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!!
            RobertoRaymon
          • 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.
            slfisher@...
    • Can't see a lawsuit having any success

      No one is required to use facebook, and everyone who does use it agrees to the facebook terms of service...even if they don't read those terms or understand what they are.
      Romberry
    • Not.

      Clearly you haven't read your FB user agreement. You can't sue Facebook for something that you agreed, when you signed up, to let them do.

      One more reason not to use Facebook, or at least to NEVER use any personally identifying information on it -- or anywhere else online.

      I have never understood why people are so blithe about what personal info they post online. And no, my name is obviously not Chester.
      Chester Molster
  • Misleading

    The headline, and your Tweet ("Facebook admits publishing aggressive political messages under members' names, without their knowledge"), both make this sound way more sinister than it actually is. It also characterizes it to some extent as deliberate.

    All this is is an automated process identical to that seen in Sponsored Stories, except instead of those SS ads being paid for by an advertiser, it is Facebook's edgerank algorithm calculating what your friends are doing that might be interesting to you. Furthermore, you'd often see the 'like' message in your news feed anyway ("x likes y").

    Now, you can argue that this type of sharing should be limited - for example, the above-mentioned Sponsored Stories cannot be used to promote alcohol brands, mainly because there might be a minor in your profile picture. And that's fair enough, although hey - if you're going to Like the type of stuff that posts abhorrent messages of any type, there's a bit of me that says caveat emptor.

    Nonetheless, to construe these particular cases as deliberate in any way is nonsense. It's just a load of numbers being crunched automatically.

    @Twilightmoon: if there's ever a Class Action against Facebook, it wouldn't be for this stuff.
    Phillip Dyte
    • But why does it appear as if the Facebook user shared it?

      If I was a Facebook user, I would never be "liking" a site again with Facebook pulling a fast one like this.
      techvet
    • My friends didn't "do" anything

      In the examples I studied, the members clicked a Like button months ago. Then, much later, their name appeared over a specific post from that page, in the News feed of their friends. Without their knowledge or express consent.

      Here is how it happens. On Memorial Day, you see a page with a picture of the American flag on it and a "Support our troops" message. It's titled "For America." You click Like, because it's a patriotic sentiment that you generally approve of.

      Two months later, all of your friends see your name above a post from "For America" urging them to repeal ObamaCare and throw the president out of office. You don't even realize it's happened until a friend asks you whether you really meant to send that.

      You think that's OK? Seriously?

      If that's an algorithm at work, it's broken and wrong.

      You think that
      Ed Bott
      • It's not just politics!

        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!

        I've posted a screen shot of the ad (names have been blurred; image is safe for work) at http://i1079.photobucket.com/albums/w503/jjicb/drugstore-fb-blur.png
        josehill
      • Indeed...

        ...and as others have mentioned, I've seen this happen with all sorts of posts. One friend liked "Gillette" razors a while back, and now I see Gillette ads all the time, in spite of blocking the page in Privacy settings AND excluding the friend from my news feed.

        In another example, my parents liked Mitt Romney, Ann Romney, NewsBusters.org AND For America AND Joyce Meyer's pages months ago. I love my parents, but I blocked them from my news feed because all they do is play FB games, and I got tired of the posts... yet, in spite of that preference, I still see their "Likes" for those pages every day. Even if I agree with their political views (mixed, actually), I *HATE* seeing political ads for both parties. Even more I can't stand seeing "Likes" of any kind. I don't give a rat's rump-roast what people like, lol.
        GoodThings2Life
      • Not all "liked" pages will sell you out

        Everything in the above article is awesome... just wanted to clarify that these are not "automatically generated" stories. They are advertisements bought and paid for. The reason I know this is that you will only ever see them from business or political organizations with fairly deep pockets. Local businesses or artists pages that you have liked will almost never have posts show up unbidden in your feed because very few of us want to pay via the "promote" button every time we have some news. As an artist, my page is designed to tell fans what's going on, and encourage them to share something on their own (if they feel like it's worth sharing).

        Recently, about the same time this happened, facebook cut all pages down to about 25% of people that will actually see the post. So that even 75% of people who do like something enough to want to follow it won't see the story. They did this to force us into having to "pay to promote." there are a bunch of different levels but does include paying for your feeds to show up to friends of fans or an even wider audience than you have actually accumulated. Anyway, it is totally advertising, it is totally abusive of facebook users, and I completely understand using caution when it comes to what organizations you "like".

        I guess I would just say, please don't hold the practices of the powerfully rich against all page administrators. Some of us really are part of the community, we would never resort to shameless tactics like that, and if you 'like' us it will only result in occasional links to coupons/specials or a free music track download, and the business owner/artist's occasional witty musings on life in your own feed. (25% of the time).
        kristen inDallas
      • yes, Ed, I think that's okay. Seriously.

        Because that's what the purpose of the feature *is*. By 'liking' it, they *are* consenting. If people are clicking 'like' on stuff and not paying attention to it, they have no one but themselves to blame two months later when stuff starts showing up in their stream.

        What is your alternative? That people have to manually select whether to allow a posting from a business they follow to go out in their stream? How many hours do you have in your day?

        If you don't like it, don't 'like' businesses, or at least be more circumspect about what you 'like.'
        slfisher@...