Facebook resurrects old posts on Timeline, panic ensues

A French newspaper reports users seeing private messages show up on their Timelines, and sparks privacy concerns. Facebook says what users are seeing are public posts that have been rounded up by year.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
2 min read
Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

A Facebook Timeline feature that rounds up old posts has people crying privacy violations, but Facebook says it's just a part of its ongoing Timeline roll-out.

A French newspaper reported today that users were seeing private messages from past years posted to their Timelines. The messages were curated in a box labeled "Friends," which was created to display all the wall posts from each year.

Media reports and user panic ensued, but Facebook swears no private messages were published.

Facebook said this is a new feature that was incorporated into Timeline, but the viewable messages are not private messages.

"A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline," a spokesperson said. "Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users' profile pages. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy."

Old Facebook posts haunt users
Watch this: Old Facebook posts haunt users

A Facebook representative said the roll-out of Timeline globally may have brought on more attention to the feature and the older messages. Timeline is expected to roll out to everyone by this fall.

Facebook is experiencing some growing pains as it rolls out its Timeline interface. Users may be thrown off by the format of wall posts that read like direct messages. Facebook said this would be particularly true of messages posted prior to 2008 when users couldn't comment on wall posts directly. The difference in the tone and content of the older messages is illustrative of the change in how people interact and communicate on Facebook.

"Every report we've seen, we've gone back and checked," the spokesperson said. "We haven't seen one report that's been confirmed. A lot of the confusion is because before 2008 there were no likes and no comments on wall posts. People went back and forth with wall posts instead of having a conversation."

But some users, including folks in the CNET office, said they were noticing messages in the roundup they believe to be private based on the information in the message. Others said some look like direct messages at first glance, but then realized the format was confusing.

Either way, it might be a good time to clean up your walls, or delete any messages you don't want out there. Click here to see a quick way to delete multiple Facebook messages in Chrome. Read more about how to review your Timeline posts here.