Facebook groups: a gift to framers

I didn’t quite believe what I was seeing until I searched and found several other people noticing the same behaviour.

For background, Facebook recently introduced the concept of groups – not in the sense we’ve been used to, but more like lists. Groups are supposed to be to lists what databases are to bits of paper. You can add friends to groups to organise them, send them group emails, run a collective mailing list, and so on.

Except that in practice, this is another really good way of exploiting lazy users. See, there are some things to know about groups:

  • you don’t have to opt in to one; friends can add you and that’s it – no confirmation necessary
  • it seems that even if the group is closed, members can add other members without any controls
  • if you’re added and you switched off email notifications in general, you don’t even know it
  • the group gets an email address, which sprays inbound mail to every member until they get fed up and switch it off

The second point may be wrong – it’s very unclear exactly what permission is afforded to a group member and when or where information about the group membership is published. Since my day job is in private education, this immediately makes me think of two terrifying scenarios:

  1. A student inadvertently gets added to a large group and nobody notices because there is so much other traffic. Whatever my other privacy settings, anything I or anyone else posted to the group is now visible to him – this is the same as the previous group arrangement. The difference is that he can now go on and add anyone else – Mark Zuckerberg himself even – without any kind of checks by the group administrator. A membership system like this quickly spirals out of control.
  2. Somebody with a grudge – maybe I took too long fixing their PC – adds me to a group with, shall we say, inappropriate  or unsavoury content while I’m away on holiday and tips off the child protection officer. Better yet, he first sends an email to all staff expressing horror and asking them to verify this in case it’s his computer lying. Now there are multiple witnesses to the fact that I was a member of this group, and I return from the sea side to find a P45 on the door mat.

Unlike free software, I can’t fix this. Fortunately, I have: enabled every email notification under the sun; few and trustworthy friends; according to my profile, no interests or contact details whatsoever; and no care for groups. I’m happy with my lists, thanks all the same.


  1. Gregor says:

    Interesting thoughts. But why do you still use facebook?

  2. Arcath says:

    The new groups system its a right pain. Someone i’m friends with added me to a market research group she had made for hew uni work and for the rest of the day my droid was constantly beeping at my with email alerts because $person_i_dont_know has posted $rubbish in $group and floating around inside an RBC and being rather busy that day I had to put up with it until I got home and was able to leave the group.

    Some groups are useful as they let me and some developer friends “talk nerdy” without getting comments made by non technical masses

    Groups need to be swapped to an invite system so that you can accept/decline without your membership or requested membership being made public.

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