Hashtags are popular on social media site Twitter for quickly connecting your tweets to global movements, trends, and topics. Now that Facebook supports hashtags are you risking your privacy by using them? Let’s dig in and see what the deal is and whether our curious reader should be worried.
Dear How-To Geek,
I recently made a Facebook post and jokingly included a hashtag. To my surprise the hashtag actually turned into a real link, and if I clicked on the link it took me to a big list of other posts with that hashtag (including mine).
Now I’m curious. I had no idea Facebook even had this feature. Is this just a big privacy nightmare waiting to happen? The post I made was a silly one with no real consequences, but if I put a serious hashtag on a serious post wouldn’t that hashtagged post end up in the same big pool?
When Facebook rolled out hashtags to our account we had the same reaction you did: surely this is a privacy disaster in the making. After all most of us got our first taste of widespread hashtag use on Twitter where slapping a tag like #SNL on your tweet immediately puts you on the radar of millions of Saturday Night Live fans on the social network.
Fortunately Facebook designed their hashtag system so that it respects the permissions you’ve assigned to a post first and the hashtag second. If you don’t read the fine print in their help files, however, it can appear a bit confusing at first glance because the hashtag still functions as a live link and your post still gets added to the general hashtag pool.
The key is that even though the hashtag is active in your post the only people who will see the hashtagged post are the people you specified in the privacy settings of your post. Unless a post is both set to Public and you’ve set the privacy settings on your account to allow people to follow you then there are zero privacy issues.
Here’s an example screenshot of a hashtag in use under normal friends-only privacy settings to clarify:
Even though the above post has the tag #puremichigan in it (and that hashtag is an active link) only people on our friends list will see the post on that hashtag’s feed.
Now, while this is great from a privacy standpoint it does highlight how for personal use the hashtag is, as you used it, kind of a joke. Unless you’re setting a post public and actually using a trending hashtag then the hashtag is essentially useless leaving you to freely pepper hashtags like #bronylife, #omgiatethewholething, and #zelda4ever with impudence (and zero privacy concerned) throughout your Facebook statuses.
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