On Facebook, ‘Friends of Friends’ Could Mean ‘Hundreds of Thousands’

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You may not think you’re sharing with many people when using Facebook’s “Friends of Friends” privacy setting, but two degrees of separation actually goes a long way.

According to a new Pew study, Facebook users who share with friends of friends reach an average of 156,569 other people. Granted, that’s the mean average, which skews a bit high due to people who befriend pretty much everybody. But even the median user has a lot of reach, with 31,170 people connected through friends-of-friends.

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Statisticians probably figured this out a long time ago. After all, with the average Facebook user having 245 friends according to Pew, and the average friend of that user having 359 friends, one person’s reach can easily get into the tens of thousands even after you account for overlap. But for me, at least, Pew’s results are surprising, as they are for Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle, who put it this way:

When you think friend of a friend, the IRL analogue comes to mind. Your buddy’s buddy. That guy you met at a bar who seems okay. Your girlfriend’s pals from college. They must be okay people, right? They’re so narrowly removed from you, why not share all your photos with them?

Of course, on Facebook, the definition of “friend” is elastic, and so you may be exposing your life story to people that shouldn’t have it. Fortunately, Facebook doesn’t really promote the “Friends of Friends” option anymore, instead burying it within the “Custom” privacy settings.

But if you use “Friends of Friends,” and are now freaked out by it, you can switch it off by clicking the little arrow on the top-right corner of Facebook’s website, then clicking “Privacy Settings.” From here, you can either press the big “Friends” button, or click “Edit Settings” in the “How You Connect” section to fine-tune your options. Also, next time you’re sending a status update, click the little drop-down menu next to the “Post” button, and make sure you don’t have friends-of-friends selected there.

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3 comments
jt56309
jt56309

If you could please help clarify this part for me, regarding Facebook Privacy settings, I'd really appreciate it. :) I have 2 questions:

1.) What if you've set your default privacy to "Friends of Friends" except to hide posts from a certain list I created.. for example I have a "work list" (which is about 30 people I work with).  I assume it would hide my posts/photos/tags/check-ins from their Ticker/Newsfeed and from seeing them on my Timeline?  Is this correct?

and

2.) I'm not sure if the Facebook system automatically filters out the Friends of those that you have hidden posts/tags/photos from, when "Friends of Friends.. except" is chosen.  I am trying to allow my Friends of Friends except my "work list" to see my posts/tags/photos/check-ins..  And in addition, I don't want any of the Friends of those on my "work list" to be able to see my posts,etc either. Is that possible?

I've searched online for the past hour and found various articles.. some that say that YES the Friends of those people/lists that my posts,etc are hidden from CAN still see my posts/photos/tags/checkins etc... and other articles that say NO, Friends of those people/lists that my posts/photos/tags/checkins hidden from they CANNOT see them.  So I'm just wondering if you happen to know for sure, based on Facebook's current privacy rules/settings?  

Thanks for your help and clarification in advance.