June 14, 2013 -- This week Facebook announced a relatively small tweak. Any phrase with the # symbol before it would become clickable. Yes, it officially brought the hashtag, typically associated with Twitter, to its social network.
It's a small feature change, sure, but it has far-reaching implications, especially in making what you say on Facebook more widely visible to others. Now, including a hashtag in your post will make it more easily discoverable by others. Facebook itself has said it is looking to make more public conversations on the service.
To that end, Facebook has clarified to ABC News that the new feature respects Facebook's current privacy settings, similar to how its Graph Search works. Still, the fact that hashtags will make your status updates more visible across the network can be a bit disconcerting to some. As hashtags begin to roll out on the site, here are some privacy and safety items to keep in mind.
Review status update privacy settings.
Just like when Graph Search was introduced, it's more important now to look at who you are sharing your posts with, especially if you have included a hashtag in it. Underneath any status or update is a small toggle that allows you to select the group of people you would like to share your update with, including friends, friends of friends, the public, etc.
Public posts have always appeared to anyone on Facebook, but there haven't been easy ways to find them. Now, with hashtags, it will be very easy for people to look for posts on specific topics. For instance, a public post like "I'm so excited for #madmen" will appear to anyone who looks for the term "#madmen" on the service.
So what does it all mean? You want to be extra vigilant now at making sure you are only sharing posts with the people you intend to share them with. You can also set it so that it defaults to just your friends: Switch the toggle to "Friends" and it will automatically default to that setting on anything you share.
Review older posts with hashtags.
When Facebook turns on the hashtag functionality, it will automatically make hashtags from previous posts clickable. If you have previously said something with a hashtag that you might not want to be surfaced to a group of friends, you might want to delete that old post. Depending on how particular you are, you might want to consider going back and making sure that you're O.K. with your old posts becoming more discoverable to your Facebook friends or to the public.
Review your friends and lists.
Now's a very good time to review your settings and friends lists in general. As you likely know, you can create different lists of people, which can be given different access to your information. For instance, you might not want your coworkers to be able to see your frustrated updates during the day with the #ihatemyjob hashtag.
Go to your Friends list from your Timeline and you can see which of your friends is on which list. You can even create new lists and permissions for each list. With more precise lists, you can better control who will see your posts that include hashtags.