Think Your Deleted Facebook Posts Are Really Deleted? Guess Again

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News Posted: Wed, Jul 3 2013 2:25 PM
Facebook is tricky. The site layout changes all the time, with menus, settings, and the like moving around, disappearing, reappearing, and being reworked with a slightly different name. Despite that, deleting a post from your Timeline seems mercifully easy: You just click the little icon in the upper right corner of a given post and then click Delete. Boom, done. Except apparently, that post isn’t actually deleted.

Laura of “The Well-Prepared Mind” wrote a blog post detailing how she deleted everything on her Timeline, only to log back in some time later and find that everything had been restored. She says she did this twice, and sure enough, all those items are back.

Facebook Timeline
This doesn't actually delete anything

So what gives? A Facebook engineer named Scott Renfro commented on her post with some very revealing information. “We’ve put a lot of work into making deletions permanent, so I can imagine how frustrated you must be,” he wrote. “I’m pretty sure those story deletions are permanent, and I can’t think of any place where we can or do automatically restore user-deleted content months later.” Then he added, “I couldn’t tell from your description, but one possibility is that you only saw and deleted the stories rendered on your Timeline, which is just a summary of your activity.”

Ah, there’s the key: If Timeline is just a summary of your activity, then deleting something within Timeline doesn’t mean that it’s gone, because the actual data is kept elsewhere.

Activity Log
Activity Log

Renfro linked to a Facebook help page about the Activity Log, which is clearly the place where you can actually delete items from your account. The Help page reads, under the Control What Goes On Your Timeline heading: “You also have the option to delete anything you post on Facebook.” It’s just that in order to do so, you have to delete an item from your Activity Log, or else it will persist, and it could even reappear on your Timeline if Facebook’s mighty algorithm deems it so.

Technically, Laura’s complaint that deleted items from her Facebook account reappeared is not valid insofar as she never actually deleted any content. However, she made the point that if Facebook provides you with a “Delete” button, that button should certainly delete something, which is totally valid.

Facebook delete
Yes, we're sure

She’s right to be annoyed, and that’s part of a larger point to be made here. Facebook is completely obtuse when it comes to helping users understand how to fine-tune their experience. Whether that’s sloppy UI design or deliberate deception is impossible to determine.

True, we are all responsible for what we do, post, and share online, and anytime Facebook or another entity responds to a user complaint by pointing out that the user himself failed to read the terms and conditions or adjust a certain setting correctly, the entity is correct--technically.

But in this particular case, and likely in many others, Facebook is embodying deceitfulness.
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Joel H replied on Wed, Jul 3 2013 3:01 PM

I'm not sure this is deliberate. What purpose does it serve for FB to make deleting content extremely difficult?

I think this is more a consequence of poor decision making and bad communication at multiple levels than an act of sabotage. Keep in mind how this works in real companies: 

Engineer:  "We have a problem. We need to change the system to make it easier for people to delete content?"
Marketing: "Everyone hates it when we change things."
Accounting: "And we don't have anything budgeted for that fix."
Product Q&A: "And we're slammed testing things already."

Engineer: "Right. But people can't do this thing they're supposed to be able to do."
Marketing: "Statistically, no one does that."
Product Q&A: "And we're slammed testing things. You didn't deliver Facebook Graph Search on time."

Engineer: "Guys, this thing is BROKEN!"
Everyone Else: "Yeah. We'll fix it in the next major rollout. That's, what, December?"

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Well, although I'd tend to agree with you that this is more likely just poor decision-making and/or bad communication, it is definitely advantageous for Facebook to keep as much content as possible on the site. Facebook is a data machine; that's how it lives and breathes. Any data that goes away is bad for Facebook, and all data that stays is good for it.

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FreeJet replied on Wed, Jul 3 2013 3:51 PM

I long for the days when it didn't take reading a book to use Facebook. Or is the long-term goal that all books will eventually become Facebooks? Only the timeline will tell and it (apparently) will live on forever.

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Nothing on Facebook is ever deleted.

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This is ridiculous, and a perfect example of just how confusing Facebook can be, either to a n00b or to an experienced user. I had no idea that my ACTUAL data was stored in the Activity Feed... I thought if I deleted (or hid) something on the Timeline, then that took care of it.

Facebook -has- to be deliberately made to be complicated to use. I hate it.

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I am angry because the things that I deleted are not permanent. I am not going to use Facebook anymore instead I am going to start using twitter. Then I will share this news with everybody and it will spread eventually Facebook will become a wasteland!

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I don't think this is one purpose...just another design flaw that Facebook staff really don't care or has time to fix at the moment.

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I would say that the people who actually believe this is a "mistake" are simply being ignorant of the fact that we have ever more increasing surveillance on the american public by other companies, groups, and the government. PRISM itself is terrible, add all the other bills that have past, yeah, your rights and privacy are long gone. No, this isn't a flaw or a mistake, its on purpose so they can track you. If you post that your going to blow up the white house and then delete the post, don't you think the white house would want to know your posted that? Yes, this is completely designed to work like this, not the other way around.

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Steveox replied on Tue, Jul 9 2013 9:03 AM

Love it or hate it; people will still use Facebook. I'm not sure it deliberate or not; But I'm glad I came across this article Yes   I for one did not know that all of my once deleted post are probably still floating around in the background.

 If you have a delete button it should delete the intended item. I shouldn't have to find  or dig for another delete button optoin to dispose of the same thing. 

I've been hearing alot of talk about companies and the government watching,spying , or keeping track of us?  I'm sure it's true to an extent; but who really knows how much of this is true?  Possible: yes/ Probable: definitely



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how can a retrieve a deleted post on a page I follow?

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Lidia replied on Thu, Nov 14 2013 2:34 AM

Hello everybody!

I have a huge problem. Yesterday I deleted one "event from my life" on facebook by accident. I really need to get i it back. Please, help me.

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