The fascinating responses to the Facebook bug scandal

Yesterday, after Kristen started frantically texting me during a meeting that indeed, the Facebook bug is not a hoax and that we have dozens of screenshots of our private direct messages appearing on our walls, things got interesting.

(First of all, please read the post and see how to take down the public posts immediately. Especially if any are from me, heh.)

It’s been fascinating to see the responses we received in comments, by email, and on every social media channel, which all seem to fall into one of these 10 categories:

1. Wow, this is horrible. I found tons of my private messages on my wall, and thank you so much for letting me know.

2. Wow, this is horrible. I’ve looked into it too, and here is even more information I uncovered that might be helpful.

3. You must be mistaken. You are not capable of remembering what was a private message 2 years ago and these were just items posted to your wall.

4. It did not happen to me and therefore it did not happen.

5. Snopes denied it four days ago and so you are wrong.

6. If this were real, wouldn’t a big media outlet besides bloggers have written about it first?

7. Why would anyone care about this anyway? So what? Why is this a big deal?

8. I’m glad I’m not on Facebook nor do I transmit private information over the internet in any way. I am superior to you all.

9. If you post anything on Facebook in any way you deserve it.

10. Ignore it and take your pants off.

(Okay, that last one was just from Mommy Naniboobo but it made me laugh.)


fairly benign private message visible on a public timeline. Who signs public posts? No one.

fairly benign private message from my own cousin who only corresponds to me through DM, visible on my public timeline

Typical message board comments [one more added]


Oddly enough, the deniers (#3-6) are quite adamant in denying. And hate to go here, but they are pretttty much all men.

Reading between the lines, what I was getting is “oh you stupid females. You know nothing about tech.” (As were Kristen and Julie who did a lot of legwork on this.) At least until I found Phil Gerbyshak’s post and see he’s getting hammered too. Instead of asking questions, they demand proof. When you show them proof, they deny the proof. And then they tell you that they haven’t seen it so your proof doesn’t count (#4). Or that you’re stupid (#3). And then in the end, it always circles back to #6.

(Rather ironic that now techies are looking for the mainstream media to validate a blogger story, instead of the other way around. When’s the last time you heard “It’s on CNN so it must be true!” Hey, at least the French press and government is still unconvinced of the “you are all mistaken” PR response and continues to investigate it more fully.)

I keep thinking of politics. And religion. And culture wars. And swiftboats. And any dogma in which your essential need to be right trumps any new or compelling information that might be presented to sway you. Or your need to believe that such a thing is impossible. Or your need to be reassured that something so potentially awful and embarrassing could never happen.

There’s a great piece by David Ropeik in Psychology Today about why changing someone’s mind is hard to do. There’s all kinds of interesting Darwinian survivalist stuff in there; but I keep thinking about the simple line:

People who feel good about themselves are more likely to be open-minded.

Which isn’t to say that I can’t feel good about myself and still have strong opinions. Or that everyone who is refuting this story is self-loathing. But it’s a line that’s going to stick with me when my instinct–as it often is, admittedly–is to deny a possible truth in the face of a whole lot of evidence.


49 thoughts on “The fascinating responses to the Facebook bug scandal”

  1. I find this whole thing fascinating, and not just because I may get to read what my sister thinks of me after all.

    It’s the idea that something cannot be true- CANNOT – unless it affects one directly and absolutely. I’ve heard of Facebook posting private messages from enough people whose word I trust to be cautious enough to delete my past messages. When I checked the messages on my page there was nothing hurtful there, but regardless, I’m not taking any chances for my privacy to be breached.

    Even if I were fully clothed, I still wouldn’t want someone taking my photograph for a public forum without my knowledge; same goes for my words, no matter how benign.

    And to deny something as happening just because you didn’t SEE it happen, well…I think we all know where that got us in the past.

    1. Thanks Jeni, obviously I’m with you.

      One thing you might want to do – tell all your friends to delete their private messages too. Or your comments can potentially still show up on their own pages. Man, it’s infuriating on so many level. s

  2. I should have taken more time to scan through my messages before hiding them and combing through yours because what scares me is that the other “sides” of the messages made public are on OTHER PEOPLES’ WALLS.

    I’ve heard from trusted people who didn’t think to take screen shots (who does when they see their kids’ names that they never publish ever on the Internet? Or when they called their mom a few names and OOPS THERE IT IS OH SH*T GET IT OFF MY PAGE) that this is the case. And I’ve seen it well enough. You’ll know because there will be no comments on it. Because the reply is on the other person’s wall.

    And it won’t be in the Private Message inbox because it’s now public on your wall. There’s no reason for it to be there too (which is what seems to be what all the naysayers want as “proof”).

    Thankfully, I don’t do too much bitching about other people on Facebook messaging. Now if Twitter DMs go public, we’re all screwed.

  3. This whole thing is fascinating. I love the post.

    As a mental health professional (who has a general, long-standing issue with explanations for behavior that include concepts of “self-esteem” and/or “insecurity”) I don’t know about the inflexible people feeling not too good about themselves. I think there are just so many psychological/temperamental factors in play. One population with very high self-esteem is, believe it or not, sociopaths. They usually feel pretty good about themselves and their choices. People experiencing Mania, too, and there is some research that says bullies also have high self-esteem.

    People may be rigid and immovable for lots of reasons, though, so I’m sure some of it is as you say. The election and the Christian Extremists bring a lot of this to the fore for me, too.

    Also, my husband and I were cracking up about the argument that it was soooo long ago. As he said, “If you’re a 20 year old writing that, it was.” Like we all just found the Internet two years ago, and back then, we ALWAYS posted our phone numbers on the walls of our friends!

    1. So, because I questioned the whole debacle, I’m showing signs of being a sociopath? Suffering from mania? Delusional self-esteem?

      That’s a little much, isn’t it?

      I’d like to call it simply being cynical in a world where, unfortunately, there are a lot of morons constantly wigging out about Facebook. (present company excluded, of course)

      1. I mean, some of the people I know that are claiming “private messages made public” are the same folks still spazzing out over Timeline, or constantly posting those bizarre privacy memes as status updates in a tizzy. It’s easy to raise an eyebrow and wonder the veracity of a claim when their track record is shady, that’s all.

        Either way, yikes. Stinks.

      2. Whoa whoa whoa. No one’s calling anyone a sociopath. Please reread what Tina wrote: to refute the line I quoted, she’s saying that even sociopaths have high self-esteem and that it’s not a factor in people who cling to belief systems like religion.

        Cynicism is essential in this day and age. I love me some cynics! (I bred with one.) But I think there’s a difference between being cynical, which you say you are (and I often am!) and those who are ADAMANT about discrediting people with another point of view. I’ve seen some really ugly threads.

      3. Wait. What? Nooooo, Tracy. That’s not at ALL what I was saying. My default is set to skeptical, too.

        What I was saying was actually quite off-topic (as per my usual,) and was mainly a point about why it might not work to assume all rigid thinkers don’t feel good about themselves. More a comment on the reliance on self-esteem as an explanation of behavior/attitude.

        So, goodness, no. I’m not saying you’re a sociopath.

    2. Thanks for that Tina. You always have a great point of view on these things. But I think there’s something about self-confidence that allows one to be open minded in general. Like, hearing another perspective isn’t going to make you or break you either way. Really powerful CEOs that I know are (who aren’t insecure) are always willing to hear new ideas.

      And uh, yeah. I know that when Casey and I were gossiping about who knows what and it ended up on my wall, that it was never a public conversation.

  4. I just too a look and defiantly spotted some suspicious posts. Nothing earth shattering, just suspicious.

    What’s interesting to me about the reaction is how adamant some of it it. Has Facebook never made a mistake? Does cool mom have a reputation for posting rumor and speculation? Comparing tack records I’m not sure why the knee jerk reaction should be on the side of Facebook.

    Because you gals have provided me with reliable advice and updates in the past I knew it was worth checking out. If someone doesn’t agree, the answer is it not to attack you for providing a service.

    1. The attacks aren’t just us. It’s everywhere. But as Julie said, “If I wasn’t 100% without a doubt sure, would I be screaming this up and down on my Facebook page?”

      Knowing Julie…hell no.

  5. I went through mine right away…once I saw everyone posting the how-to hide them…clicking year by year, reading, and then hiding. Luckily for me, there was absolutely nothing remotely interesting on mine.

    But, I’ll be honest, in the beginning, I definitely *did* have doubts in the beginning that it just might not be true…sometimes these things tend not to be true. But then people have been saying that they are finding things that they most definitely would never write on a public forum, were mst definitely private messages—their address, shit about their so-called bff, about her cheating husband.

    So, all of this is to say—I’m glad that I personally don’t use Facebook messaging for anything really (I kind of hate it), I’m sorry for people who *did* use it for personal things that are now public, and I hope everyone hides their messages to protect themselves and their friends.

    …is there a number for me? 😉

  6. Really interesting. A bit of a social media Rorschach test.

    And since everyone wants to process this through their own lens, I’ll just say that from my point of view I’m always cautious that whatever I put on the internet could resurface anywhere. I use and enjoy Facebook, but I don’t trust it. (Because what’s the line about how ‘any service you get for free means you are the product’?)

  7. I keep thinking about my complete befuddlement in the face of, for example, young earth creationists who blithely dismiss scientific evidence and point to their Bibles.

    There’s mounting evidence to support what we’ve asserted. Dismissing that evidence and pointing to CNN, Snopes, and Facebook’s own PR team gives deniers no more credibility in my mind than young earth creationists.

    How about a little intellectual curiosity, please.

  8. I’ve read a lot of articles from people about this issue, and I went through and compared messages on my wall from 2009-2010 to the emails I have saved in Gmail from Facebook, and I have yet to find a single one that wasn’t a wall post. What I did find, though, were wall post notifications from people who were new to Facebook or preferred to use it as a private messaging system. They would leave wall posts, sign them with their names, and treat them like emails, and then I’d have to go over to their wall to respond. Nobody could see it at that point, unless they were looking at that moment, because it was much harder to scroll through someone’s wall.

    I’m not guessing or thinking I remember. I know this for a fact – people treated walls as if they were private messages because they didn’t understand the implications. I had very personal information posted on my wall from people because they thought it was private and that they were basically sending me a message. Messaging through Facebook was much clunkier and harder to use.

    Is this an issue? Maybe. But I do seriously doubt it, and until I can see a single person – not a bunch of people, but a single person – who can show a screenshot of a private message notification from someone that is also available on their wall, I will continue to believe that people have just gotten so used to the privacy shifts and the new Facebook in the last few years that they’ve forgotten how it used to be.

    That said, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry, so I think that hiding posts from your timeline from back then can be a good step – although I’ve had a hard time finding them again when I wanted to look through them, when I did hide them, which was unfortunate, because none of them are actually in my inbox at all.

    1. I can’t speak for what’s in anyone else’s head – I can only assure you that I never ever used my wall for private conversations. Even in 2007. If one started that way I moved it to private messaging immediately. A blogger we both know, who never mentions her kids’ real names, is finding private messages with them on her page in public.

      Click the link to Phil’s post above where he shows the very thing you’re asking for: a private message in his private message inbox AND on his wall as of yesterday.

      1. Well, like I said, better safe than sorry, and it’s good for people to be aware and hide the posts. I can only speaking from my personal experience, and I know which blogger you’re talking about, so I’ll just stay quiet about it for now and see what ends up happening on Facebook’s end.

    2. Avitable, I’m not “guessing or thinking” either – I remember too. And I know beyond any doubt whatsoever that what is now showing up on my wall was once in my private messages.

      Your assertion that you KNOW what was true about your Facebook wall/messages does not negate my assertion that I KNOW what was true about my Facebook wall/messages.

      And frankly, it smacks of what Liz sadly noted in her post – that the general vibe we’re getting is “Oh, you crazy females.”

      1. Really? My comment didn’t mention women or craziness at all. I’m talking from my own personal experience, and I think my comment wasn’t inflammatory nor insulting. I went to effort to make sure that I was offering something that wasn’t dismissive and managed to disagree without being denigrating.

        1. From your comment: “I’m not guessing or thinking I remember.”

          And likewise, I’m not guessing or thinking, I remember too. Doesn’t make you right, nor does it make me right. However, I’ve found a bunch of evidence to support my position. You’ve found no evidence, and you’re citing that LACK of evidence as support.

          1. I found evidence that it did not happen with me. Confirmed evidence. But I’m done talking about it. It’s just my opinion and thoughts about it.

    3. To be fair, in Phil’s post, it’s not the same person. He’s showing a message from someone — that also turned out to be posted on someone’s wall. Different people.

      The point we’ve all been making though, Adam, is that you’re not going to see these show up as PMs. Because they’re not there anymore. They’re on peoples’ walls.

      I personally did not have anything (that I know of) out there but have a little fun and go through your friends’ that haven’t hid anything yet. I was doing it last night. And I’ve seen more than a few messages from people that I know don’t post like that on their wall. And probably never did.

      And even better, interactions between folks that I’m pretty sure they would have never wanted public and would have deleted them if they were.

      1. Kristen, I have email notifications of my private messages, so even if Facebook removed them from messages, they would still be in my Gmail as notifications, and I personally didn’t find a single one that was public.

        I just have a hard time believing anything anymore without solid evidence, and I find it surprising that nobody has managed to come up with that yet. I’m sure it will surface at some point, and now I’m off to snoop through friends’ profiles. 🙂

        1. As soon as I shared the CMP post on this, I was attacked by a friend’s husband who told me it was “technically impossible.” To which I responded, ” I wouldn’t share this post if I hadn’t looked into it myself.”

          He deleted his comment. I know this person to be utterly incapable of admitting when he’s wrong.

          Admitting that you’re wrong about something requires introspection. We are bombarded with messages from the day we’re born about who we supposed to be and what we should believe, and they frequently contradict each other. We cling to what we grabbed as truth, because to entertain the idea that you might be wrong is threatening the sense of self that is keeping you afloat.

          To have a fluidity to your belief construct is too frightening for some people to contemplate, so they lash out. At their most base level, lashing out preserves their carefully built worldview.

          So, FB PR, techie types who have padded themselves around their “specialness” in being a techie type, etc, admitting being wrong is threatening to their sense of self. Too scary, so it must be rejected.

          1. I couldn’t agree more Karen, thank you.

            I just saw a comment at the end of a long thread that said something like THERE IS NOT ONE PERSON IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY WHO IS SUPPORTING THIS! YOU CAN’T SHOW ME ONE BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST.

            I pointed out to him that just a few posts up was a commenter who started by saying, “I’m an IT specialist. I tell computers what to do for a living. I have been on the web since 1993.” And then went on to validate the problem.


    4. I didn’t take screenshots (why would I? I was busy deleting), but I absolutely, 100%, for certain, found private messages on my wall. Most telling were the ones that were clearly second halves of conversations. But, like others have said, my cohort was never in the habit of posting private messages to people’s walls. And certainly wouldn’t have signed names to wall posts.

      I know that’s not enough evidence for you, as you don’t know who I am. But I know this is true.

  9. Mine were mostly my address. Which I sent as private messages over the years to friends for various reasons. When I looked back it was easy to see things not supposed to be there, because I don’t use my kids real names and I’m not in the habit of posting my address.

    I’m personally thrilled that you and Kristen noticed and told me how to fix it.

    FB has never been my favorite. I don’t send a bunch of private messages there. I’m a twitter fan mostly. Which means I’m with Kristen. If DM’s ever went live…whoa.

  10. One thing I will say that is unfortunate is that once you hide those posts, I can’t figure out how to unhide them, and that means that all of the birthday wall posts and things like that are hidden, which sucks.

    1. Agree, I wish I knew how to find them again to look a little more (it would not let me scroll the other day). The birthday messages are still on mine. They show up in another box marked with a birthday cake within your timeline.

    2. I’m going to create a new category for you Adam – #11: I’m skeptical but I’m going to go through it anyway because better safe than sorry.

      Thanks so much for your comments.

  11. Here’s my feeling- if it’s wrong (which evidence proves it is not) how does it hurt to follow the directions and ensure that your settings are accurate and it won’t happen in the future. I also find it fascinating that so many people jumped ship and left Facebook due to the bug. Yes, it’s a bummer. Yes, it could have negative results (especially if you spend time talking trash about others through messaging) but it was bound to happen, no? Facebook is not God. It’s a computer software program run by humans. Errors are inevitable. Are people this enraged when governments enter people’s homes and hurt or kill people based on rumor and hearsay? No, but they are up in arms if someone finds out they called a “friend” a bitch. A little Perspective people.

    1. Why do you think that people upset about privacy issues on Facebook aren’t also upset about illegal search and seizure? Or are you talking about specific people?

  12. Another interesting parallel between this discussion and that of religion/politics: The book I just finished — “The Republican Brain” — examines the relationship between knowledge/sophistication on a topic and openness to new information on that topic. Studies have observed a negative correlation between the two. That is, people who know more about a topic already tend to dismiss new information on that topic, particularly if it runs contrary to their established views. This is especially prevalent among politically conservative thinkers.

    In this case, the folks who are tech savvy seem more likely to dismiss the idea that there might be something more to this than what Facebook, TechCrunch, and CNN have reported. Conversely, those who are casual tech users are more open to the possibility that a problem might exist, thanks to evidence we’re citing.

    (Did I just call the tech savvy deniers a bunch of Republicans? No. But that’s kind of funny to think about.)

    1. Ha! That’s totally hilarious bc I was going to comment about how the only 2 people I know claiming they were “infected with the bug” both happen to be dim AND Republican. 😉 Super gullible ladies, but I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. (I’M NOT STARTING A POLITICAL WAR! Swear!!) 😉

  13. It’s not just the guys anymore, gals are jumping on the “it’s not true” bandwagon and get upset when you might indicate that Snopes might just be wrong. Private messages between me and someone who needed help with a child abuse situation appeared and I got rid of them quick. But somehow, I am lying about that. Somehow a person posted that private plea for help on my wall and “it’s not really a PM you just think it is”.

    1. It’s frustrating.

      I guess we all hope we have enough credibility with our friends and readers not to be chalked up as crazy internet loon that freak out about every little rumor.

  14. THANK YOU. And again I say THANK YOU. Today I finally took the time to look and found a few known examples plus more that made me suspicious. The known private messages ranged from someone using the words, “Not sure you got my email so am messaging you here” (could that be more obvious proof??) to a friend from high school confirming that he is gay but asking me to not share it since our friends back home don’t know. I can only imagine what is out there on my friends’ timelines that I said (biz ideas, complaints about my husband, confessions of health issues…), and I am more than a little upset that the denials from Facebook are causing my friends to ignore my concerns and therefore opt out of protecting me and our other friends. And in case I didn’t say it enough, THANK YOU.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Amy. Please get screenshots. (Even if no proof is good enough for some people.)

      I hope it works out okay for you – and everyone.

  15. I honestly just hid everything to be safe and then have been going mad checking friends pages to be sure I don’t have anything awful posted on their walls. I haven’t caught anything yet (and partly am disappointed that I haven’t, in a dark sense) but better safe than sorry. And also, wake up call for me to watch my mouth online even when you think it’s private, period.


    1. @AngellaD just wrote that she’s never used FB chat but had private messages on her timeline.

      Simultaneously, the deniers have now turned to words like “hysteria.” I’m waiting for “PMS” to come up next.

  16. If it makes you feel better, I ignored this story until I saw you, Kristen and a few other bloggers post about it yesterday, and I immediately went to check my timeline. So far I haven’t seen any suspicious messages but I’m more concerned about what is on others’ walls than on my own 😉 Better to be safe than sorry!

    I’m surprised people are so skeptical. It is Facebook after all; they have a history of being more personally intrusive than we would like!

  17. I actually read about the facebook bug for the first time on facebook. It happened to me and several of my friends. I responded by deactivating my facebook account, facebook is nothing without secure messaging. I’m sure if it was any other website, or say an email provider, then people would be outraged, but facebook can do no wrong apparently! Can’t believe this isn’t getting more publicity.

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