How to use your Facebook restricted list

Organizing your Facebook friends into lists is a great way to share different kinds of content with different kinds of people: for example, you might want to share certain updates with your colleagues, and other kinds of updates (like those adorable kid photos) with a small circle of friends.Facebook automatically creates a few of these lists for you, like the list of people who went to the same school you went to. One of the most useful lists is the “restricted” list, because it lets you share things with your friends, while hiding them from people on your restricted list.

My restricted list contains anyone I agree to friend but don’t really know (as a writer, I like to be accessible to people who read my blog posts) as well as my workplace colleagues, my mom and my mom’s friends. (Because even after I put my mom on my restricted list, her friends reported on my Facebook updates.)In this guide, I show you how to add people to your restricted list, and how to tweak both your Facebook settings and your individual post settings so you control who sees what.

1. Review friend requests

Start by clicking the friends icon in the upper right of your Facebook window to see your friend requests. Here, I’ve received a friend request from someone I don’t actually know, so he’s going on my restricted list.

Friend requests

2. Confirm request

When you see someone you know through your professional work, and want to friend, click the “confirm” button.

Confirm request

3. Click to see the Friends dropdown

This will load a “friends” button with a drop-down menu. Click to see the drop-down menu.

Friends dropdown

4. Choose “Add to another list”

Scroll down and click on “Add to another list”.

Add to another list

5. Click restricted

Then scroll down until you can click on “Restricted”.

Click restricted

6. Confirm restricted

You should now see a check mark next to “Restricted”. Anyone on your restricted list will see only your Public posts — even though they are technically your “friend”, they don’t see content you share only with friends.

Confirm restricted

7. Change default post settings

Next, you need to change the default settings for who sees the content you share, so that you only share things with the whole world (including the people on your restricted list) when you really want to. Start by clicking the settings icon.

Change default post settings

8. Select “account settings”

From the settings menu, choose “account settings”.

Select "account settings"

9. Navigate to privacy settings

Select “privacy” from the left-hand sidebar. Note that Facebook frequently moves its settings around, so the screenshots I’m sharing today may not reflect how Facebook will work a month or year from now.

Navigate to privacy settings

10. Edit privacy settings

Under “Who can see my stuff?”, if it’s not set to “friends”, select “edit” next to “who can see your future posts?”

Edit privacy settings

11. Edit “Who can see my stuff?”

Set “Who can see your future posts” to “friends” so that you don’t accidentally share things with the whole world. This way, the default for anything you post will be to share it only with friends who aren’t on your restricted list.

Who can see my stuff?

12. Tweak the visibility settings on individual updates

Note that you can change the privacy setting on any individual Facebook post or photo, either at the time of posting, or after the fact. You can even limit visibility to specific people.

Set post visibility

13. Set post visibility (excluding your restricted list)

If you want to post something that you don’t want to share with your professional contacts, set the post visibility to “friends”. When you hover over the button, you’ll see that it specifically says “..Except: Restricted”. That means people on your restricted list won’t see it.

Viewing your post

14. Set post visibility for posts you want to share with everyone

If you want to share something with the whole world — including people on your restricted list — set your post visibility to “public”. Double-check your post visibility before clicking “post”.

Confirm post visibility

15. View your wall

Look at your Facebook wall to see everything you’ve shared, whether it’s public or just for friends who aren’t on your restricted list.

View your wall

16. Test your settings with “view as”

If you want to double-check your settings, or make sure that people on your restricted list are only seeing the updates you want them to see, use the “view as” option on your profile page, under the gear icon.

Test your settings with "view as"

17. View your profile as someone on your restricted list

Enter the name of someone on your restricted list to see what your profile page looks like to them. Sure enough, the latest person on my restricted list can only see the post I shared publicly — not the one I shared with friends.

View your post as someone on your restricted list

18. Filter your news feed with a friend list

You can create as many different friend lists as you want — it just takes a little work to organize your friends into the right lists. You can use those same lists to pay closer attention to some people, and less attention to others. When I look at Facebook, I often filter my news feed so I’m only looking at my “A1 Pals” list: the small circle of friends and family whose updates can easily get lost in the sea of news from the hundreds of people I’ve friended.

Filter your news feed with a friend list
Experiment with creating a couple of lists for specific purposes, like sharing family news. And please be sure to share your own tips for getting the most from Facebook lists!
P.S.  Do you wonder where I found the hours and hours and hours to make these detailed instructions? I didn’t! Thanks to an amazing application called Clarify, it only took an hour or two to put this together — most of it on the writing, not the screenshots. Check out Clarify here, or view this post on my Clarify account.

Hey NSA, even my kids know snooping is creepy

This morning’s breakfast conversation:

ME: I’m feeling upset about how Barack Obama has been reading all the stuff we’ve been posting online — everywhere except Twitter, which refused to cooperate.

SWEETIE: That’s creepy.

ME: Good news, though — I blogged your list of feature ideas for Apple.

PEANUT: Will Barack Obama read that, too?

ME: I have to post that.

SWEETIE: Well, post it on Twitter, so Barack Obama won’t read it.

ME: It’s tough to fit that into 140 characters.

SWEETIE: Try, because I don’t want Barack Obama seeing that.

4 ways to protect your privacy and reputation on Facebook Timeline

My latest blog post for HBR takes a look at the new ooh! aah! Facebook Timeline, which comes tantalizingly close to fulfilling my wish list for a social media scrapbook without allowing me to easily print the damn thing already. (And I’m guessing it won’t be long before some clever company offers to do just that.)

The HBR post looks at how Facebook’s Timeline will affect your career, promising that you’ll soon know too much about your colleagues, your colleagues will know the “propersonal” you, and you’ll know more about yourself. It outlines the specific strategies you can put in place to address all three of these developments.

Developing those strategies is one way to protect your privacy. If you want to ensure that Facebook’s new Timeline doesn’t intrude on either your personal or professional life, here are three more adjustments to consider:

  1. Be your own primary audience. There’s a tendency to see any social media presence as outward-looking — after all, there is a reason it’s called “social”. In the case of Facebook’s Timeline, however, you may be your own most appreciative audience. It’s very satisfying to look back over moments in your life and have them organized chronologically, in a tidy lay-out. It’s so satisfying that you may want to record more moments so that you’ve got a more detailed record. That is a great use of Timeline, but I strongly encourage you to consider that many such posts may be for your eyes only — even if it’s simply because nobody else will be interested. Use your per-post and account privacy settings to make yourself the only person who can see some (or even most of) your past and future Timeline posts. Use the “custom privacy” setting on an individual post or picture to select “only me”. You can make that your default privacy setting by going to Privacy Settings, then Control Your Default Privacy, then choosing Custom; “only me” will be one of the options in the pop-up window.
  2. Shape your history. Your Facebook privacy settings now gives you the option, “limit the audience for past posts”.  Facebook gives you a lot of warning screens about how hitting this button means changing the settings on *all* your past posts, with no option for a one-click undo. I bravely forged again, and the result was that all my past posts were limited to Friends unless I’d previously made them visible only to a specific list of friends (like my “kid-sharing friends” list). In other words, I didn’t lose any of my previous per-post privacy customization, and I gained the freedom of knowing that random strangers won’t be able to see what I was up to in 2007. You may even want to go back and change previously shared posts to “only me”; just because you felt comfortable sharing some of those updates in a Facebook that largely hid them after a week or two, doesn’t mean you want them laid out as part of your narrative.
  3. Create an events and apps strategy. Think carefully about who should see the major life events (births, marriages, engagements, home purchases etc) that FB now invites you to add to your timeline. This is an entirely new category of Facebook post, so you may need to think through the implications. Ditto for apps: A number of apps will now make entries in your Timeline if you let them, so you may want to revisit your apps permissions.

How is the new Facebook Timeline changing your Facebook strategy? I’d love to hear your insights and stories, perhaps arranged in some sort of visually compelling, chronological interface….if only there were some way to do that.

On the dangers of crowdsourced surveillance

My blog post for Harvard Business today looks at the troubling online reaction to last night’s riots in Vancouver. Reflecting on the widespread enthusiasm for using social media to track down criminals, I wrote:

I don’t think we want to live in a society that turns social media into a form of crowdsourced surveillance. When social media users embrace Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs as channels for curating, identifying and pursuing criminals, that is exactly what they are moving toward.

The reaction to my post has been intense. Many people seem to read my concerns about social media surveillance as an argument to let rioters off the hook. On the contrary: I hope that everyone who engaged in criminal activity last night is held accountable.

But there is a big difference between individuals cooperating with law enforcement — carefully, thoughtfully and with discretion, to reflect the presumption of innocence — and an online mob that has taken the job of law enforcement into its own hands. A Facebook page is gathering pictures and comments from thousands of people who are offering to help identify riot participants. A Tumblr site is crowdsourcing the creation of a Vancouver 2011 Riot Criminal List. And now Premier Christy Clark is going beyond a simple request to share pictures with police, and suggesting that people do so publicly:

Vancouver police are asking people to email their photos and videos to, or post information through Twitter at #VPD.

What makes this especially peculiar is the the Vancouver Police Department’s own statement encourages people to submit photos via email, and to share their videos privately on YouTube.

The fact that the police department itself is encouraging people to share their photos and videos privately should tell us a lot about the troubling territory social media users have wandered into. There is a reason that the state has been defined by its monopoly on the legitimate use of force: delegating law enforcement to professional police is a way of preventing vigilantism, ensuring due process and protecting civil rights.

Just as crucially, professional law enforcement protects a healthy civil society from the corrosive effects of citizen surveillance. When citizens take on the job of reporting on one another it can lead to some very dark places, very quickly. One of the most difficult revelations to emerge in the wake of German reunification was the sheer number of civilians who cooperated with the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police. About 5% of East Germans were secret informants, a culture of crowdsourced surveillance that eroded social trust and perpetuated an authoritarian state.

Precisely because social media is such a powerful tool of mass mobilization, it has the potential to turn selective cooperation with law enforcement into a mass culture of surveillance. That’s a culture in which a key responsibility of law enforcement — the tricky job of surveillance — is outsourced to citizens instead.

Police forces are typically major proponents of gun control because they know exactly what is at stake when citizens begin to take the law into their own hands.  And “taking the law into your own hands” doesn’t have to involve administering vigilante justice with a gun. It can look like people creating their own Wanted posters. It can look like employers making decisions based on online information instead of criminal records. It can look like organizing a mass, volunteer corps of police informants — exactly what is going on today.

We have seen Big Brother, and he is us.

5 signs that you’ve mastered the art of online discretion

I sometimes think that the most useful preparation for my career in social media came not from my academic research into online politics, but rather, my practical experience with electoral politics. Working on the political staff of a senior elected official (the Premier of Ontario), I was drilled in the risks of press scrutiny and Freedom of Information Request. Make a critical remark in a public place and a reporter might overhear and quote you; offer a candid assessment of a sticky situation in writing rather than face-to-face, and it might be subject to later disclosure.

As a result, I developed an acute awareness that everything I said or wrote was in some sense on the record. This turns out to be excellent training for life online, where everything you say or write is on the record and easy to Google. Paranoia becomes a survival skill: people may not actually be out to get you, but assuming that they are offers an excellent check on your potential indiscretions. If you’ve worked in politics – or in any other highly visible field that emphasizes the risks of overdisclosure — you may have that useful paranoia yourself.

You know you’ve got the instinct for online discretion if you:

  • Assume that your unkind, quasi-cryptic tweet will be read (and decrypted) by the person you’re bitching about
  • Draft that angry email as if it were going to be forwarded to everyone in your organization
  • Share that amusing (and compromising) photo on Facebook in the expectation your mom will see it to
  • Ask your question of the online doctor about that weird spot down there, expecting that some pharmaceutical company will figure out you’re the one who asked it
  • Write every email, tweet and status update as if it were potentially going to be broadcast to the world…and pick up the phone if you can’t live with that possibility

That sense of potential exposure doesn’t keep me from enjoying my life online. On the contrary, it’s precisely because I live as if every written communication were potentially public that I feel comfortable blogging and tweeting about things that others might only commit to a notionally private email. Even I have my limits, but they limit what I share one-on-one as much as they limit what I share one-to-many.

Sadly, not everyone seems to experience political life as the ultimate schooling in social media discretion. For those who need a little extra help in how to be discreet online, my blog post today tackles the lessons from the current king of online indiscretion, Anthony Weiner. You can read The 3 Ps of Online Indulgence at Harvard Business Review.

The pajama test: An open letter to my Facebook “friends”

A year ago today, this blog post was the turning point in my relationship with Facebook. In my life affair for Twitter I’d pretty much lost sight of how Facebook could possibly be relevant to me. Then I made the decision that Facebook would be my personal space — the space where I connected with true friends, instead of just focusing on building connections — and settled back into a groove that has made Facebook part of my near-daily life again. I’m not on it constantly the way I am with Twitter, but it’s where I go to share news about my kids, post something that is too quirky and unprofessional to tweet, or to see the latest from my pals.

Recently my approach has gone through yet another metamorphosis after a conversation I had with Rochelle Grayson. Like me, Rochelle posts on Facebook as if it were her personal space, but unlike me she doesn’t limit her friends to only people she knows really well. She’s just made the decision that if someone is going to be her Facebook friend, they’re going to see the personal as well as professional Rochelle, and if that’s not of interest they should ignore her updates.

I like this philosophy because I think it puts the onus on the reader rather than the poster to decide how much information is TMI. The challenge is to post as authentically in that broader space as you would if you were posting to your 4 closest friends. But thanks to multiple friends lists you can choose the circle with whom you want to share any given update or image.

In fact, I think it’s time for me to create a new friend list. I’m going to call it “Pajama Test”.

Dear Facebook “friend”,

You may have noticed that you’re hearing from me less, and when you do, it’s mostly about my husband or my shoes or how I feel when someone eats the last brownie. Maybe you’re happy that your news feed isn’t full of my Twitter updates anymore (I got rid of my Twitter-to-Facebook hookup) or maybe you’re unhappy that I never write on your wall. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t accept your friend request, or maybe you’re wondering why you’re not in my friend list when you used to be.

Here’s the truth: we’re not actually friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or think you’re smart, or want to work with you. I’ve turned down friend requests from some of my favourite colleagues, and from people I respect a lot. In fact I would love to hear from you on Twitter (I’m @awsamuel), and if you’re missing all those great social media links and tidbits, you’ll still find them on my Twitter feed.

But Facebook isn’t Twitter. And for most of the past two years — the time in which I’ve been really active on Twitter — that’s felt like a bad thing. Twitter is more open, more flexible, and more useful as a source of professional learning and conversation. I can tweet something and store it to delicious at the same time, I can use Skitch to capture a screenshot and share it instantly on Twitter; I can even use Twitter to log my hours in Harvest, our time tracking system.

In fact, I use Twitter so much that it now feels like the most awesome, raging party you’ve ever been to: a packed room full of fascinating colleagues and friends where conversation is flying along a mile a minute. I love parties like that, and I’m not above saying they can also be very useful professionally: I’ve begun more than one great collaboration over a few beers.

And yet a giant rager is not my favorite place to spend time with friends. At the end of the day (or night) I want to go somewhere quiet and unwind, take off my party shoes and have a postgame chat with one of my closest pals. Hell, I want get into my jammies and settle in for a good long juicy talk.

I’m now focusing my Facebook time on the friends who pass the pajama test: is this someone I know well enough to chat with once I’m in my jammies? These are the people who actually do care about what I’m eating for breakfast (something I hate reading about on Twitter); these are the people I love so much that yes, I do want to hear about the funny thing their cat just did.

This is the point where you pop over to my Facebook page and wonder how the hell I could feel comfortable enough to wear my PJs in front of 718 people (my current number of friends). The truth is, I don’t. And that’s exactly why I’ve changed the way I use Facebook by:

  1. Creating a WTF list on Facebook for the people who friend me, but who I can’t place…but know I know somehow
  2. Ignoring friend requests from anyone who is totally new and unfamiliar, especially after I discovered that my habit of accepting random friend requests was filling my news feed with updates from some pretty undesirable “friends”
  3. Getting disciplined about clicking “hide” whenever I see news in my feed from someone I don’t really really really care about, and hiding that person from my news feed
  4. Refusing all group invitations on Facebook
  5. Killing the Twitter-to-Facebook import that used to cross-post all my status updates
  6. Setting my Facebook privacy settings so my posts are only visible to people on my Friends list, and not to my networks or friends-of-friends
  7. Setting up a “Kid Sharing Friends” list on Facebook for the even smaller number of people who I feel comfortable sharing kid photos with, and limiting the visibility of my Facebook photos to that list
  8. Gradually paring back my Facebook list to the people who pass my pajama test.

All of these practices make me a lot less visible on Facebook. And I’ll admit, that’s a little scary for a social media junkie like me: it feels like so much of social media is about waving your arms as wildly as possible and shouting “look at me! look at me!!”

But I’ve decided that Facebook is the one part of the social media empire where I’m going to stop waving. Because as much as Facebook’s “walled garden” approach (which makes Facebook relatively invisible outside the garden walls) is what drove me towards focusing on Twitter, the walled garden has its charms, too.

There are times when it’s nice to settle into a shady corner and talk about stuff that has nothing to do with work (bearing in mind that someone can still peek over the walls and tell the world exactly what you’re saying).  There are times when I want to pay attention to the people I know from school, instead of the people I know from work. There are times when it’s I just want to catch up with my BFF — even if there are lots of other people, like you, who I also really enjoy!

And yes, there are times when I just want to put on my PJs.

Originally published June 9, 2010.

Creating a family social media policy

Our family spends a lot of time online. I’m constantly astonished by the way our kids will casually say, “You can tweet that, Daddy” or “Don’t Facebook that, Mummy!” the way I might have asked my mom to stop talking so loudly in a restaurant. Our kids are only 4 and 7, so I’m nothing less than delighted that they already direct us on how to represent them online — or conversely, to respect their privacy.

The ongoing conversation in our home about how to use social media — and in particular, how to do so in a way that is both safe and enjoyable for our kids — has helped us evolve a de facto social media policy governing how we engage with social media as a family. I decided it was time to go from de facto to actual, recorded policy. I found some great resources for thinking about corporate social media policies on Inc., Social Media Today and, and used these to help me think about the kinds of issues we might want to cover in our family social media policy.

Our policy is in text below. It refers to our household as the Palindrome (our nickname for our house) and to our kids’ online handles, so I’ve created a more generic, downloadable version here (RTF) that you can adapt for your own family. By the way, I am not a lawyer, so I am in no way suggesting that this is a legally binding document. But hey, if your kids are suing you over your rules around Facebook, you’ve got bigger problems than my lack of a law degree.

A Family Social Media Policy for the Palindrome (Samuel-Cottingham family)

It is the responsibility of all residents of the Palindrome to familiarize themselves with this social media policy. Those residents who are not able to read may request assistance reading and interpreting the social media policy until such a time as they are literate. Palindrome residents are subject to this policy until they reach the age of 18 or become fully self-supporting, whichever comes later. This policy holds whether they identify themselves as residents of the Palindrome or participate in social media activities under a pseudonym.

This policy applies to all social media, online communities, networked video games, and Internet-connected devices. This includes but is not limited to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, the PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE, and GameCenter apps. This policy is additional to any other family policies governing use of TV, e-mail, smartphones, videogames, tablets and the Internet. Its policies hold with respect to all family members’ online activities, whether they are executed in the course of schoolwork, professional responsibilities or personal use.

Use of social media and online tools

The use of social media and other networked tools is part of our family life and relationships. The respectful, creative and safe use of social and interactive media is encouraged, as is the thoughtful and conscious decision to refrain from using any electronic device or online tool at a specific time, or generally. Each member of our family is expected to determine his or her own preferred set of on- and offline activities and to control the persona or personas s/he chooses to maintain online. For minor residents, these online activities must take place within the bounds of safety and good judgement, as determined by Mummy and Daddy. Before participating in social media, joining any online network or registering as a user of an online game, minor residents must obtain the permission of Mummy or Daddy.


All conversations, activities and events at the Palindrome shall be treated as confidential.  Off-site conversations and activities shared by members of our household shall likewise be covered by this expectation of confidentiality. Confidentiality may be waived by any member of the household upon explicit request. Do not post, tweet, Facebook or otherwise share any images, utterances or activities of family members without their consent. This applies to both parents and minor residents; minor residents may grant or deny any request to post their utterances, images or creations to blogs, Facebook, Twitter or other online media. Likewise, we must respect the wishes of our family and friends regarding the confidentiality of our social engagements and conversations.


It is the responsibility of all residents and visitors to the Palindrome to safeguard the personally identifiable information of minor residents. Each resident of the Palindrome will be restricted in their disclosure of personally identifiable information until such a time as they have proven their alertness to “stranger danger”; the scope of permissable sharing will be commensurate with each resident’s age and capacity for self-protection. Personally identifiable information includes the dates and locations of upcoming vacations or travel, names or locations of schools and after-school programs, the legal names of minor family members or depictions of the faces of minor family members.

All postings that reference minor residents should refer to them by their online handles: Lil Sweetie and Lil Peanut. Images of minor residents are to be shared only within password-protected or limited membership circles online (for example, a limited circle of Facebook friends).


When posting content to the Internet, all members of the Palindrome household should make it clear that their online postings represent their opinions alone. When speaking on behalf of other family members, please be explicit about which family members are represented in the post.

Intellectual property

All members of the Palindrome are encouraged to publish their online content under Creative Commons licenses. When violating copyright laws (for example, by downloading protected video or audio content) any member of the household may be asked to provide a clear, internally consistent argument for that violation; minor residents may ask for help reading and interpreting relevant materials on intellectual property laws and alternative copyright regimes. Where warranted by the volume or content of illegally or illicitly obtained content, residents may be requested to provide their justification in writing. Minor residents may request justification from parents as well as vice versa.


No member of the Palindrome household will attempt to obtain, through deception or observation, the password of any other family member. This includes but is not limited to e-mail logins, social media logins, iPad and iPhone unlock codes and iTunes store accounts.


All members of the Palindrome may request technical, creative or instructional support from other members in their use of social media, online gaming or other interactive tools. These requests may be subject to the availability and priorities of other family members. Wherever possible, Mummy and Daddy will endeavour to assist the minor residents in their safe exploration of the Internet and other networked and electronic devices.


All residents of the Palindrome are welcome to comment on this social media policy, and to request future iterations or amendments. Minor residents are encouraged to provide retrospective appreciation for their parents’ efforts at including them in the governance of family Internet use, and for the general awesomeness of the level of technology to which they have access at a young age.

Creating your family policy

If you are interested in developing your own family social media policy, you can download a draft family social media policy in RTF form (adapted to be slightly more generic). Please leave a comment or send me a tweet if you decide to use or adapt it – I’d love to hear how it works or how you’ve amended it.

If you’re looking for more resources that can help you think about how to set boundaries around your kids’ use of social media, I highly recommend the great articles and tips at Common Sense Media.  And if you want a policy for your kids’ offline activities, you might want to check out the Terms of Use for our toy cupboard.

Facebooking the kids: 12 Dos & Don’ts

I began this series on a false note. My initial post on the five reasons to consider sharing your kids’ content on Facebook missed the reason that actually motivates my own Facebook sharing: the desire to include my kids in my life online, and to include my life online in my time with family. The Internet is a huge part of my life, and to keep it entirely separate from my family life would be to exclude my kids from something that they know is hugely important to both their mother and father. And of course, the kids are the heart of my life offline, so to keep them invisible in my web life would be to show up online as a very partial version of myself.

Embracing Facebook as our online family space has given me way to integrate my on- and offline lives. But I’m only comfortable including the kids in my Facebook life because I’ve taken pains to dramatically limit access to any kid-related content. This series spelled out how you can do the same: by creating a “kid-sharing friends” list and by modifying your privacy settings so that by default, your content is only visible to those kid-sharing friends.

I encourage you to adapt this approach to your own goals and comfort level, but would strongly encourage you to stick to the following dos and don’ts unless and until you have a high degree of technical skill and a strong knowledge of online privacy and related issues:


  1. Share kid-related content only with people you know well, trust, and who want to hear about your kids.  A smaller circle = lower risk to your kids, less annoyance to your uninterested friends.
  2. Check your privacy settings on a regular basis to ensure your kids’ content is still protected on any social network you use to share their images or stories.
  3. Let your friends and family know if and how they can re-share your kids’ news and photos.
  4. Teach your kids to think critically about what they share online by including them in the decision about what to post.
  5. Listen to your kid if he or she asks you not to post a photo, video or status update about him or her.
  6. Share your friends’ responses to your kid-related content so your kids know their news and pictures are appreciated.
  7. Learn as much as you can about online safety and privacy before expanding access to your kids’ content.


  1. Post any pictures of your kids in a state of undress.
  2. Post your kids’ real names or identifying information (like schools or after-school programs).
  3. Post pictures or videos of your kids with their friends, unless their friends’ parents have given you their written permission to do so.
  4. Post anything your kids would find embarrassing or object to you sharing.
  5. Post anything you wouldn’t want your kids to see or read in 20 years (because they will).

My work gives me one more reason for including our kids in my life online. The focus of my blog and my research is to help people make sense of their lives online; to articulate and focus the choices we each make about how to use the Internet, and thus, to determine what kind of online world we will create. Figuring out how children can safely, constructively and enjoyably engage in the online world is part of that work, as is sharing my own thoughts and concerns about their experience online. I don’t want my kids to be lab rats, but as a family that is Internet-obsessed if not Internet-centric, I want to share whatever we learn from our own online exploration.]

And I’m just as keen to hear about the decisions other families make about whether and how to include their kids on Facebook or other social networking sites. What is your approach to bringing family content online? What experiences, insights or concerns do you have to share? I’d love to hear from you.

How to configure your Facebook privacy settings to protect your kids

In my last post I explained how to set up a Facebook list that includes only the small number of people with whom you want to share kid-related content. That list should include only people who you know well, trust absolutely, and who are actively interested in your kids.

Now that you’ve got your “kid-sharing friends” list (as I’ve called it), you have two options:

  1. Set your privacy settings so that by default, anything you post to Facebook will be visible only to your list of kid-sharing friends. In my next post, I’ll explain how; your kid-related content will still be visible to all of Facebook until you complete the steps in the next post. When you post something you want to share more widely, you’ll have to manually edit that item and share it with everyone (or with additional lists/networks).
  2. Set your privacy settings so that by default, anything you post to Facebook will be visible to everyone (or by whatever rules you specify). When you post something about your kids, you’ll have to manually edit that item to limit its visibility to your kid-sharing friends.

Unless you rarely post kid news or pictures, I strongly recommend option #1. I’ve tried it both ways, and even if you’re good at consistently remembering to switch your item privacy to “Kid-sharing friends” only when posting a status update (see picture), you’ll almost certainly end up exposing content you post via mobile phone.  If you go for option #2, you can still set your mobile upload privacy settings to default to “kid-sharing friends” only (I’ll cover that, too).  Otherwise you will have to be very quick about logging onto Facebook (the real version, not the mobile version) to immediately change the privacy settings of any kid-related picture or video you upload from your mobile phone.

Here’s how to configure your privacy settings so that your content is by default accessible only to your kid-sharing friends:

Main privacy settings

  1. Click “account” in the upper-right of your Facebook window and choose “Privacy settings” from the dropdown menu.Privacy settings accessible under "Account" menu
  2. On the privacy settings page, click on “customize settings” at the bottom of the page.
    "Customize settings" option is at bottom of privacy settings page
  3. On your settings customization page, look for “posts by me” under “Things I share”. Click the dropdown menu (it’s probably set to share with “everyone”) and select “customize” from the dropdown menu. A customization window will pop up.
    "Customize" option appears in dropdown menu on privacy settings page
  4. In the customization window, you’ll see a dropdown menu next to “Make this visible to….these people:” Choose “specific people” from the dropdown menu (I know, it’s confusing that they don’t say “specific people or lists”) and begin to type the name of your list. In my case, it’s “kid-sharing friends”, so I begin to type the word “kid”, and “kid-sharing friends” quickly appears as an option. Once you see the name of your inner circle list appear, select it, and then choose “save setting” at the bottom of the window.
    Entering "kid" in field under dropdown brings up "kid-sharing friends" list as option

App settings

Next you’ve got to fix the privacy settings for content that gets shared with any applications you’ve installed on Facebook, or any websites you connect with using Facebook Connect.

  1. Go back to the main privacy settings screen (under “Account”/”Privacy Settings”)  and choose “edit your settings” underneath “Apps and Websites” at the bottom of the page."Edit your settings" option under "apps and websites" at bottom of page
  2. On the page for apps and websites’ privacy settings, click the “edit settings” button next to “apps you use”. "edit settings" button next to "info accessible to your friends"
  3. In the pop-up window you’ll see a ton of options. I’ll go have a cup of tea while you freak out a bit over all the different stuff Facebook is sharing about you.
    OK, now that your freak-out is done, here are the 4 boxes I strongly encourage you to un-check in the “Info accessible through your friends” window: “My status updates”, “my photos”, “my videos” and “places I check into”. I figure these are all things that might involve your kids, so let’s limit access.Boxes for "my status updates" "my photos" "my videos" and "places I check into" are all unchecked

Mobile uploads

If you post to Facebook from a cell phone or wifi-enabled camera (oh yeah!) you need to change the settings on your mobile uploads album. This is the album to which Facebook uploads any photos or videos you take on your mobile phone; its default settings will determine whether the photo you just snapped of your daughter gets posted on your profile so that it’s visible by the whole world, or just by your kid-sharing friends.

Facebook hides the album privacy settings in an unlikely location, so you’ll have to hunt for them. The easiest thing is to go to your main Facebook photos page, then choose your Mobile Uploads album.

  1. Once you’re inside the album you’ll see the “edit photos” button on the upper-right of the page. Click on this button."Edit photos" button on album takes you to privacy settings
  2. Once you’re in “Edit Photos”, you’ll see the “Edit privacy” tab. Click on it, and you’ll see the same privacy dropdown you found on your main privacy settings page. You can use the same “customize” option to select “Kid-sharing friends” as your default privacy setting for mobile uploads.

Dropdown menu allows user to change privacy settings on mobile uploads album


Once you’ve got these settings complete, run a few tests to make sure everything is working the way you want. Ideally you will do this by setting up a dummy account on Facebook, friending that dummy account, but leaving your dummy account off of your kid-sharing friends list.

  • Post a status update. Is it visible only to your kid-sharing friends? Or can you dummy account read it, too?
  • Post a picture from your cell phone. Does it go to an album that is only visible to kid-sharing friends? Or can your dummy account see the picture?

If your dummy account can see any of the content that was supposed to be visible only to your kid-sharing friends, check all your settings again, including your friend list: make sure you didn’t accidentally add your dummy account to “kid-sharing friends”.

If your dummy account is locked out of your delightful kid photos and stories, then congratulations! You’re now set to limit access to your kids’ content on Facebook.

The downside, of course, is that it will be harder for you to build your public Facebook profile. If you want to use Facebook as a way of building customer, supporter or fan relationships, the obstacles you’ve just set up to sharing your content widely — obstacles that you’ve created so you don’t overexpose your kids — are obstacles to increasing your own online visibility.

Happily, you can have your cake and eat it too: use Facebook as a family archiving and sharing tool, and use it as a public reputation-builder too. The trick is to separate these two lives, ideally by creating a separate Facebook page for your professional work, like the page I recently set up for my writing. Just be clear on what you are using Facebook for, and what context — or combination of contexts — will help you to do it.

3 steps to creating a Facebook friend list for your kid-related content

Our kids are, empirically speaking, the most charming and fascinating children in the entire world. Yet I am nonetheless forced to admit that, again speaking empirically, not everyone wants to hear about the last adorable, precocious or goofy thing they just said or did. To spare these people from my endless supply of delightful child-related anecdotes, and to protect my kids’ privacy and safety, I share kid-related content with only a small circle of Facebook friends.

If you decide to use Facebook to share photos, videos or updates related to your own kids, I strongly recommend limiting access to a small circle. Today I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of creating a “kid-sharing friends” list for the people with whom you want to share kid-related content. (You can follow these steps to create or edit any other kind of Facebook friend list, too.) When you’re setting up your list, don’t think about who you’re leaving off: think about who you’re putting on. Here’s the key principle to keep in mind:

Only share kid-related content with people you know well and absolutely trust, and who are actively interested in your kids.

Your goal is to share content with the minimum number of people you can share it with, while satisfying the reasons you and your kids have for using Facebook in the first place. With that in mind, here are some of the reasons I leave people off my kid-sharing friends list:

  • I haven’t seen them in many years so I have no idea whether they turned out creepy or secretly hate kids
  • I haven’t met their spouse/partner and don’t know how I feel about that person potentially seeing our kid pix
  • This person is a close friend of our kids’ grandparents or godparents, so I’ll let Granny have the fun of passing along our latest crazy kid stories

Conversely, people get added to the list periodically because:

  • We’ve become friends on Facebook relatively recently, so I missed them when setting up the list
  • We’ve become closer friends, or started socializing as a family, so I now want to share my kid news with them
  • They’ve recently become parents, so I now suspect they’ll have more interest in/tolerance for our kid stories

How to set up your list

Now that you’ve got some criteria in mind for who will or won’t make it onto your “inner circle” list, here’s how to set it up:

  1. Choose “Friends” from the list of options under your name on the main Facebook page."Friends" setting under profile on Facebook page
  2. At the top of your “Friends” page, click the button that says “Create a list”."Create a friend list" button on "Friends" page
  3. In the pop-up window that appears, enter a descriptive name for  your new, kid-oriented inner circle (mine is called “kid-sharing friends”). Click on the name/face of each friend you want to include in your kid news.
    Choose friends to add to list by clicking names

Building your list

This is where you marketing types need to turn off the “build your list” part of your brain. Because unlike your next marketing campaign, the goal is not to reach the most people as possible.

Still, the odds are good that sooner or later you will want to expand the list of people with whom you share your kid-related content. When that time comes, you have a few different options. To add new friends to your list, you’ll need to visit the page for the kid-sharing friends list.

Here’s how to find it:  Under “Account”, choose “Edit friends”. You’ll see the name of your new list (“Kid-sharing friends”) on the left-hand side of the page. Click the name of the list, and you’ll go to the list page, where you will have three different ways you can add friends to your list.

  1. You can enter the name of a friend at the top of the page…
    Add more friends to list in entry field or choose "multiple" button
  2. …or  you can click that “add multiple” button to get the same pop-up window you see in step 4, above, and click on the names/faces of people you want to add to the list…
  3. ..or you can scan through the list of  your friends, hovering near the “x” next to a name if you want to see which lists you’ve put this friend on. This will make the “edit lists” button visible, at which point you can choose “kid-sharing friends” from the dropdown."edit lists" button shows lists friend belongs toDropdown menu shows lists a friend is on

Congratulations! You’ve now got a Facebook list that hopefully includes a (small) number of friends with whom you’ll share kid-related content. In my next post I’ll explain how to adjust your privacy settings so that you limit access to kid-related content so that only this list of people can see it. Until you complete the steps in the next post, any content you post to Facebook will still be visible to ALL your friends, so for now, hold off on posting those adorable baby pictures.