What are safety issues with changing a FB group from Secret to Closed?
December 16, 2015 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I am a member, not an admin of a Facebook group for support in dealing with, and recovery from abuse. It has 1000+ members and a small team of admins. For well over a year the group has been “Secret” which means that the member list is not public. No one who is not a member of the group can see that someone is a member. The admins have announced that within a week they will change the group from Secret to Closed. With this change, anyone can see the full member list.

While the group’s Closed status would still have the protection of not allowing non-members to see the posts and require admin approval to join, this is a step backwards security wise.

Another member and I have raised some concerns; about the short time between notification and when the change is happening, that abusers would now have a nice list of potential targets, and there are unknowns that were not considered. I asked if any of the admins had experiance with computer security, listened to the 2600.org radio show, read Violet Blue’s essays, etc, etc. I pointed out that the Dunning Kruger effect **may** be happening in this decision.

The admins said they had debated the pros and cons, and thought they could help more people if the status was changed. Their solution for members who did not want to be publicly seen as part of the group was for us to change our settings so that NONE of our group memberships would be visible. (this would not be good if for professional reasons we needed to be visible/findable in other groups). The other option was for us to quit the group.

My main concern is for the members who joined when it was a secret group, and who don’t see the notice about the change until after it happens. It seems to me that this is taking away their informed consent to be publicly seen as a member of this kind of group.

Am I being overly concerned about this change? Or are there safety issues that should make the admins reconsider? Is a week enough warning or if not, what is the “best practice” for this?
posted by sentientsock to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you know that this is even possible? As of a few months ago, when someone made a group secret, there was no mechanism to go back.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:24 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am a member, not an admin of a Facebook group for support in dealing with, and recovery from abuse. It has 1000+ members and a small team of admins.

The group might be "secret" to outsiders, but it probably isn't hard to get into the group. The administrators have probably realized that they can't really 'vet' all these people, so there isn't much of a reason to keep it "secret".

In other words, anyone who wants to see the list, discussion, files, etc can easily join the group because it isn't hard to be allowed into the group.

With a group that large, you shouldn't really have any expectation of privacy AT ALL.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree this decision is problematic and would make me feel uncomfortable about the admin leadership. Leaving aside how to address that, though, one proposal that might work as a compromise: the admins create a closed group with a similar name and an informative description that only includes them. When people find that secondary group in search and request to join it, the admins can send them a link to the existing secret group if they are eligible to join.
posted by kelseyq at 10:31 AM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've seen kelseyq's suggestion work very well in the case of a group of a lot of employees who weren't supposed to be using social media to discuss their employer. But even then you're only making it a bit more difficult to infiltrate, not impossible. The only really safe way for an individual to participate in a thing like this would be to join with a separate facebook account, created with an email address not reused anywhere else, and with no friends, and possibly even in a private browser tab. And take even more precautions if physical access to the phone/computer by an abuser is a concern.

I think you are right that this is not a fair thing for admins to do unless they are REALLY sure they have done due diligence in making sure everybody has plenty of warning and understands the potential consequences. If they are going to create a support group for people with above-average personal security concerns, they have to take at least a little bit of moral responsibility for not compromising that security without fair warning.
posted by emilyw at 10:56 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Even if you make all of your group memberships private, people can still see all members of a closed group by visiting the group. This sounds like a bad decision...
posted by beyond_pink at 6:04 PM on December 16, 2015

If the group is secret it IS hard to get into, because you can only find it if you're invited.

It is hard for abusers and also for victims of abuse. But with any setting other than secret there's no way from blocking someone from seeing who's a member.

The thing is that, once you have more than 250 members you can't change it back from secret (for the same concerns you have), unless you're willing to kick out 750 members and then adding them back, so whether setting it to closed is a good or a bad idea is kind of a moot point.

If you want to make it easier to find, maybe you can set up a page where you advertise the existence of the group, and where you instruct anyone interested in joining to send a message to the page. I don't think people can see who liked a page, other than friends, but if they can see your profile they can see if you've liked it.
posted by Promethea at 4:22 AM on December 17, 2015

Response by poster: kelseyq's and Promethea's suggestions are how the group has been running.
Admins have now decided to make an entirely new closed group, which all the current members can join. End of the year they are deleting the current group.

Thanks All.
posted by sentientsock at 8:06 PM on December 17, 2015

I'm sorry to hear they are going with that without hearing all of the members concerns over it.

This is the type of thing over which I would split up and create a separate group.
posted by Promethea at 7:30 AM on December 25, 2015

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