[Note: please see updates below for feedback from Facebook clarifying the Groups feature]
Yesterday Facebook announced it’s issuing an update to its Groups feature, an element of the site that has needed some clean up. Unfortunately, the new addition to Groups doesn’t make segmenting your friends easier or give you more control over posts — it’s really more of a change to the spectator side of Facebook.
From now on, you’ll know who exactly is looking at your posts on the site. At the moment, there’s an inline control which lets you determine which Groups will see your content show up in their News Feed. As Facebook puts it:
“Starting today when you visit a group, you can view who’s seen each post. This way you can stay updated on the group’s activity. For example, in your soccer group you can post the new practice time and then see who got the update.”
You’ll start to see a prompt that says “Seen by” and clicking it will reveal the list of people who looked at your post. Before getting into the negative consequences of this update, here are the benefits: You’ll know if someone saw a post you wanted them to and, after all, it is your content and you should be able to know who has seen it. And it could be really useful for people running specific Groups or Fan Pages.
But basically, this means you’ll have an idea how your Facebook contacts are grouping you on Facebook; whether you’ve been put into the dreaded Acquaintances category, or even the Restricted box — or whether someone has possibly unsubscribed from you altogether. And thus ends the age of creeping on Facebook anonymously.
The change doesn’t mean that you’ll concretely know how people are grouping you; there will be no notice alerting you you’ve made it to someone’s Close Friends group. But if every time you click “Seen by” and your friend Jack’s name is visible, you can assume you’re in his group of Friends or Close Friends and that he wants to see all or most of your updates.
Now the awkward part comes when the opposite happens. Let’s say you have a friend named Joe. Now Joe thinks you guys are close, but you think Joe is sort of obnoxious; he posts about his cats too much and leaves annoying messages on his girlfriend’s Wall that you have no desire to read. So you unsubscribe from all but the important updates Joe issues and you throw him in your Acquaintances Group or a Group you’ve created for friends’ whose every update you don’t want to see. With the changes, Joe will notice that you are hardly ever seeing his updates, and he can put two and two together.
And there’s the flip side of this: finding out who’s Facebook stalking you. We all know that the entire universe is guilty of trolling Facebook to some degree. Sometimes you might find yourself subconsciously clicking through the Timeline of a high school friend you haven’t seen in 10 years. And sometimes, someone might do this to you. Now, you’ll know: a simple hover over the new read receipt will put in very plain terms who’s been checking out your every move on the site. Depending on a person’s devotion, that could get creepy.
I know these are quite a few for instances, but they’re ones the average Facebook user is going to run into. Remember those scams that hit Facebook every so often advertising an application that lets you see who’s looking at your Facebook profile? Well it’s sort of coming true; which is strange since Facebook once said it would never show users this information. Sure, it’s not exactly the same — but it’s surprisingly close.
Gone are the days of the passive Facebook lurk, because now we’ll know the object of our lurking knows. And gone is the anonymity of Groups, because now we’ll be worried someone can figure out he or she didn’t make the Close Friends cut. And heightened are the days of being creeped out by how much someone is paying attention to you on Facebook.
After getting off the phone with a Facebook pr representative, there are a couple of really important clarifications to make. For starters, your Friends Lists – aka, Close Friends, Acquaintances, etc etc — will not be affected by this change. There was some confusion in recent reports about the relationship between these two features and I’m happy to say that the changes being made to Groups won’t bleed into Lists. So right now, you’ll have to stop stalking any Groups you’re in, if that was an issue to begin with. Suffice it to say that anyone who is dependent on the Groups application might have some issues with this new change, but it won’t affect your general News Feed.
At least not yet: yesterday, TechCrunch reported that when asked if this “Seen by” feature would make its way to the News Feed, Facebook said it was “not going to discuss what we might (or might not) do in the future.” For the time being, everyone who doesn’t stalk someone they are in a Group with can rest easy.