How Facebook's (flawed) privacy settings can help your reporting

Get past the awkward and dark predetermined searches like “I hate my boss,” “I lost my virginity” and “I’m not a racist but” … and look at what presents to us as journalists.

While the 105 million+ people on Twitter know their tweets are default set to public, they are still a fraction of Facebook‘s 400 million+ users that post T.M.I. they’d only share with their closest 300 friends.

Facebook gives you a false sense of private… but by now you should know better.

The walls around the Facebook garden have crumbled because of the company’s seriously flawed privacy settings.

And while as a user you should be freaked out and proactive about your personal settings (and more conscious of what you are posting!), as a journalist this is presents an incredible, unfiltered opportunity to access your community on a diversity of topics.

Hold your nose and thank for making it easier to access your the community on Facebook – for better or worse.

You can now quickly query what’s on the mind of the millions of users that are sharing their raw opinions about any topic… sadly, they usually think it’s “private,” often sharing their opinions with their social guard down.

Here’s a quick search on the some newsy topics.

Arlen Specter

Bangkok, Thailand

Illegal immigrants

Even boring old healthcare.

Go to the site and do a search on something related to your beat or community. Who knows how long this tool will actually last (Facebook has sued before).

But while this is still around, look passed the initial shallowness of the tool and look at the possibilities that help you improve your journalism.

Oh, and do yourself a favor and check your privacy settings on Facebook… come to think of it, just check your privacy at the door before you log onto the Web. It’s all public… whether you like it or not.

About Robert Hernandez

Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, is an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. Hernandez has been working in Web journalism for more than a decade. He has worked for,,, La Prensa Gr


  1. says:

    This is one of those situations that for me falls under the heading, “We can, but should we?” If most folks are unaware that this wall is so leaky, it begins to feel like we’re taking advantage of folks in a vulnerable situation.

    A discussion of guidelines might be worth discussion. For instance – even having obtained the material, journalists still need to identify the owner of the account and provide context, no?

    Henry M Lopez
    Santa Fe, NM

  2. It’s unclear what Facebook thinks of these apps. But considering the social network very vocally banned an app that “unfriended” people, citing privacy violation, it may also take issue with services that modify privacy settings. Thanks for bringing up this issue, I just hope Facebook keeps a check on such sensitive issues.