Facebook security in the twilight of the republic, legal alien edition
February 2, 2017 8:23 PM   Subscribe

I live in the US but am here on a work visa which has to be periodically renewed (not from a Muslim-majority country, for what that's worth). I have a Facebook account where I occasionally post things critical of our kumquat kaiser and his regime. It's 2017 and I am actually typing this: I'm worried about a possible future in which having voiced such political opinions on FB could result in my visa getting denied when it comes up for renewal. Short of getting off FB, what can I do to make this less likely? Details inside.

My Facebook history runs thus: I had an account some years ago, but closed it because it was a time sink. The morning after the election I opened a new account, under my real name. Earlier today I got worried and changed my FB name to use a truncated version of my surname, to stop my account from showing up when someone googles my name. This does not seem to have been an effective tactic, since I just searched for my real full name on FB and presto, there I am. Obviously it remembers previous names and still uses them in searches. I'm not a frequent poster but I react to a fair amount of posts (by friends and left-wing political figures and organizations). Most of my own posts (including anything vaguely political) are friends only. I'm not on any other social media sites.

In the news recently we have heard of immigration officials checking the social media accounts of people trying to enter the country with valid visas, and also of further executive orders in the works targeting legal aliens.

So: How safe am I posting stuff on FB if it's friends only? How hard would it be for government officials to see those posts? Can I make my FB account harder to find, or is it too late having used my real name? Is deleting FB the only really safe option, and is even that safe or is nothing deleteable on the internet these days anyway? Am I being completely paranoid? What would you do in my place?
posted by zeri to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Government officials can certainly see plenty of your posts, the question you need to ask yourself is how much do you think they will take the proactive action to track you down, and further, to what degree you think they'll care. Speaking as someone who knows a lot of government employees well - in general they are decent sorts who are overworked and really don't have time for fishing missions.

If you're worried about it, I'd tighten down your facebook but only for your own peace of mind. If your posts start getting very widespread notice and appreciation I would start being thoughtful about it - but as long as it is just you and your friends I wouldn't worry.
posted by stewiethegreat at 8:53 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everyone knows about making their Facebook posts visible to only their friends, but don't think about COMMENTS.

In a real web browser, not mobile:
1. Go to Facebook.
2. Go to your own profile page (your "wall").
3. Click on "view activity log".

Notice the little privacy icon on the right side of each entry, where a globe means it's fully public. These are posts by your friends that were public, that you then commented on. This means that your comment is public.

So, one thing you might start paying attention to is, when commenting on a friend's post, note whether THEIR post is public or not, and censor yourself accordingly. You can't change the privacy setting of a comment, but you can delete it (or edit the text).
posted by intermod at 10:01 PM on February 2, 2017 [13 favorites]

intermod's comment is on the money, but I would add that if we're going full dystopia, Facebook is an American company, and it's not outside the realms of possibility that American government officials could one day gain access to data that was marked private by the user. This may or may not influence your behaviour but I think it's good to keep in mind.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 11:28 PM on February 2, 2017

If we're going full dystopia, then Snowden's claims are still true wrt the NSA having deep access to US tech companies' data.

But it doesn't have to be as nefarious as NSA hacking. It just has to be that Facebook continues to open little privacy holes where you didn't know they existed - which they have been doing for years.

IMO, between boiling the privacy frog and welcoming Trump-supporting propaganda during the election, Facebook has shown its lack of moral conviction too many times to believe it has a spine. Don't post anything there that you wouldn't want to see plastered on a CNN screen. Find other routes to have private or even semi-public conversations with your friends.
posted by SakuraK at 11:46 PM on February 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

Take a gander at The Grugq's Twitter Activist Security which is about Twitter, rather than Facebook, but is full of useful ideas anyhow.

Also, if you're worried about the US government, you should have the mindset that anything you post on FB is readable by them, regardless of privacy settings. If your account can be associated with you, watch what you say.
posted by DaveP at 4:22 AM on February 3, 2017

I also read about people being asked about social media and being made to turn on phones so that CPB could see Facebook etc. This is totally security theater unless you believe that a terrorist is going to be doing his business openly on FB and not in some kind of code. (I wonder if these officers can tell the difference between Arabic and Hebrew. Or Hindu, for that matter.)

The Border Patrol is not limited by the usual Constitutional protections that apply to the ordinary policeman, so it's not like you can just cite Freedom of Speech. OTOH, sooner or later, the matter would get to a judge who is more interested in the difference between political speech and actual law-breaking. Any speech or opinion that falls in the general range from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz ought to be unremarkable. OTOH, anything that can be taken as incitement to violence (especially violence to the President) could be trouble.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:00 AM on February 3, 2017

Sorry if this is piggybacking, but is there a blog or newsletter that tracks the privacy changes (reductions) that FB makes from time to time.

Problematic s**t posted by unknown friends of friends of friends may get into the OP's news feed, not just what the OP posts him/herself.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:27 AM on February 3, 2017

"So: How safe am I posting stuff on FB if it's friends only? How hard would it be for government officials to see those posts? "

To answer your basic question, you should assume everything you post on Facebook is public. However, let's make a couple of assumptions about the how far immigrant snooping might go:
1. If an ICE or CBP person does a pure public Google search for your name, and your Facebook posts are private, *and* you stay on top of Facebook's ever changing privacy settings, theoretically, you'd be OK.
2. If you're forced to turn over your phone or social media passwords as a condition of entry to the country (as is happening today for some immigrants) you've lost.
3. The NSA probably has everything or nearly everything you've said over the last several (five? ten?) years on Facebook, in email, via text and via (at least) international phone calls in addition to your contacts and location data. If the NSA, or other agencies with access to their data, get involved with identifying and listing every "enemy of the state," your comments on Facebook will put you on that list (along with 60 million other people). The difference is that you're not a citizen, so the list you're on is smaller.

The other thing to keep in mind is that people elected to lead the country are planning to revise (radically?) the H-1B program, and probably other similar programs. H-1B's are good for three years initially, so this conceivably mean that H-1B's will be forced to leave the country anyway when their initial renewal expires.

As far as your basic question goes, you effectively have no privacy protections at all for anything more than a casual public web search. And think about any time a formerly private citizen becomes a public figure - their Facebook information is *always* leaked to the media. It's more a question about how far you think the person elected to lead the country is willing to go than it is about Facebook's privacy protections.
posted by cnc at 10:33 AM on February 3, 2017

Huh. Also seen at http://govnews.us/id/17148337606

Someone scrapes metafilter. Guess that shouldn't be surprising.
posted by DaveP at 2:35 PM on February 6, 2017

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